Activism and Schism: Gay goings-on in America
On March 18th, American gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign, had a demonstration planned outside the White House in support of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In true HRC style (my good friend calls it the Human Rights Champagne fund) it was combined with a production of Kathy Griffin’s “My Life on the D-List” television show.
It seems that it was meant to be a bit of a show for the cameras, and a feel-good, unifying display of support for the repeal (which seems well underway).
What happened later has caused all sorts of arguments within the gay community, and may have helped stall repeal talks.
What also had been planned for that day was a protest by new rights group, GetEQUAL. The protest, named GetENDA, started with a blogswarm, and was designed to draw attention to a much ignored piece of anti-discrimination legislation that has been sitting around for a long time, without ever having been brought to a vote. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would — at a federal level — make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity illegal. There are more than a dozen states where this is not yet the case.
The activist group made an appointment to speak to Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, but then refused to leave until she committed to bringing ENDA to a vote within the month. They did not achieve this commitment and 4 of the protesters were arrested peacefully when the Capitol Hill office closed at 7pm. Members of GetEQUAL in San Francisco also occupied Pelosi’s constituency offices.
Twitter was alive that night as protesters, bloggers and observers alike sent updates flying around the world as events unfolded. There is absolutely no doubt that the direct action taken by both GetEQUAL and Lt Choi lit a fire of activism within the larger gay community in the United States.
However, it also started something else.
From a Newsweek interview with Lt. Dan Choi:
Within the gay community so many leaders want acceptance from polite society. I think there’s been a betrayal of what is down inside of us in order to achieve what looks popular, what look enviable. The movement seems to be centered around how to become an elite. There is a deep schism, everyone knows this. But this shouldn’t be about which group has better branding. There is a tremor right now in every gay and transgender youth that these groups are not grasping. I would say to them—you do not represent us if all you are looking for is a ladder in to elite society.
In response, the HRC’s Jarrod Chlapowski issued this statement about the impact of Choi’s protest on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
The majority of members of the defense community—vets and active-duty service members I’ve spoken with on these issues—have expressed displeasure at the use of the uniform in any activism. This is certainly not a tactic I would have chosen, and I’m not so sure this action was worth alienating the defense community. That said, there is room for all types of actions in this movement. And I think that, done strategically and in coordination with broader coalitions working on these issues, there is room for actions similar to what Dan and Captain Pietrangelo chose to do on the White House gates.
I know some people with access to the “defense community” and, as much as I hate to say it, the HRC is right. The action has upset many military big-wigs, including people who are very much pushing for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. One organisation that has been working quietly behind the scenes has had planned meetings with senior Pentagon officials cancelled since the action took place.
There’s been a lot of mud-slinging happening, towards the often targeted HRC (not always unfairly) and towards Lt Dan Choi. In general, the GetENDA protests seem to have been accepted as necessary by everyone.
Embarrassingly, while fighting off accusations of elitism, the head of the HRC, Joe Solmonese, was named one of Washington, D.C.’s best dressed. The HRC office even cooperated with reporters by naming his favourite designers (Ann Demeulemeester, Billy Reid, and Dolce & Gabbana, if you’re curious).
Supporters of the Human Rights Campaign say there’s a need for people acting at the upper end of the legislative process, and have to fit in.
What do you think? Quiet lobbying, or civil disobedience? Or is there room in the cause for both?
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