Monday, August 31, 2009

Let Them March

It’s all about visibility, so either applaud marchers' passion or get out of their way
By: Kevin Naff
from the Washington Blade - 08.28.2009

THERE’S MUCH consternation within the LGBT rights movement of late over the issue of the planned National Equality March set for Oct. 10-11 in D.C.

On one side: Left Coast advocates like Cleve Jones and Dustin Lance Black who are lending their celebrity to help promote the cause. On the other: East Coast lobbyists worried about diverting precious resources from state marriage fights so we can have a party on the National Mall this fall.

The inside-the-Beltway take on the march goes something like this: Those Hollywood gays don’t know how D.C. works — duh, Congress isn’t even in session. President Obama will be relaxing at Camp David that weekend. No one will be here to witness the march. Do they even have a permit?You can’t just show up at the Mall and start hootin’ and hollerin’. We should all skip D.C. and go to Maine where the real fight is happening. And they shouldn’t even be calling it a “march,” it’ll bloat expectations in the mainstream media; let’s call it a “gathering” instead.

March supporters, meanwhile, like to portray themselves as modern, progressive, tech-savvy 21st century activists disdainful of the “old ways” of doing things. Indeed, the “old ways” haven’t yielded a single LGBT-related federal law in 40 years of trying. Then again, there’s something to be said for knowing your history.

Some supporters have wondered why the Human Rights Campaign and other national organizations haven’t taken a more aggressive role in planning the march. HRC did issue a press release announcing tepid support (what else could they do?) while others have taken the lead on planning.

But there’s a reason HRC and others in Washington are nervous about the prospect of another LGBT march — the fiasco of the Millennium March on Washington in 2000.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars went missing after that event, much of it cash stuffed into trash bags and hauled away. There were stiffed vendors, shady last-minute emergency loans and mismanagement galore. The theft triggered an FBI investigation, unflattering coverage in the mainstream media and proved an embarrassing debacle for the movement.
THEN, AS NOW, there was no shortage of skeptics who questioned the motivations for the march.

“It’s hard to know what to say, since nothing has been proven, but I think it does seem to confirm a lot of problems we suspected from the beginning,” Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who attended gay rights marches in Washington in 1979, 1987 and 1993, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “What was the point of people going there? In 1979, we were invisible, in 1987 the focus was on AIDS. This one seemed very self-serving for the organizers.”

Some of those objections have been heard in the current debate. There’s certainly cause for pause and HRC is right to take a hands-off approach to this. But after talking to some march supporters, including Black, it’s hard to dismiss their passion and quest for visibility, particularly after the disappointing opening months of the Obama administration.

As we learned in the Proposition 8 fight, the key to legislative victories lies in winning over our fellow citizens, black and white, rich and poor, religious and agnostic. The way to win them over is to get to know them and for them to get to know us. That, of course, is accomplished through visibility. From individuals coming out in their communities to Ellen DeGeneres and “Will & Grace” bringing gays and lesbians to TV and popular culture to Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin demonstrating that open gays can win election to high office, it’s all about visibility.

No one should dissuade LGBT people from coming out — or marching in the streets. If a group of activists, however small or large, wants to stage a march, they ought to do just that.
And there are encouraging signs that organizers have adopted sensible goals that extend beyond the October march.

THE GOAL OF the event, according to the National Equality March site: “Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. We will accept no less and will work until it is achieved. Equality Across America exists to support grassroots organizing in all 435 Congressional Districts to achieve full equality.”

Happily, there’s no flashy concert planned. This is about a grassroots movement of people still angry over Prop 8 and frustrated by the Democrats’ slow progress on our issues in this Congress. They turned out en masse for protests around the country after Prop 8 and now they want to converge on D.C. to amplify their message. For those who can’t join the march, organizers are urging them to personally lobby their members of Congress.

Some state-based activists have expressed legitimate concerns about diverting resources to fund a presence at the march at a time when they’re fighting marriage and other battles at home. Of course, those battles should take precedence over a national march and state organizers worried about the march should skip it and stay focused on their important legislative initiatives at home.
But for those seeking an outlet for all that pent up frustration — particularly younger people energized by the change rhetoric of late and connected as never before by social networking technologies — this march represents a unique outlet and a chance to be seen.
The rest of us should either applaud their passion or get out of the way and let them march.

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