When the history of the gay rights movement is written – hopefully sooner rather than later – the story of Prop. 8’s damage to gays and lesbians may be overshadowed by the way the California gay marriage ban transformed the gay movement. In a survey conducted by Queerty of several high-profile gay rights organizations, we learned some organizations are ceding authority to specialized campaigners to focus on marriage efforts, while others are stepping back from the marriage fight altogether. In the wake of last week’s California Supreme Court hearing, we had a simple question for these prominent gay organizations: “What’s your game plan now?” The collective answer represents a seismic shift, not just for California gay marriage, but for the future of the gay rights movement as a whole.
• Some gay rights organizations that held prominent (and arguably ineffective) roles in the fight against Prop 8 are deferring to others to lead the next chapter of the gay marriage struggle. The Human Rights Campaign will let the Courage Campaign, a non-gay-specific organization, spearhead its efforts.
• The software that powered Barack Obama’s campaign for the White House will now power a new effort in mobilizing gay marriage supporters
Queerty reached out to a half dozen different gay rights groups in the last two days to ascertain their next moves on marriage equality. Several trends emerged. The first, unsurprisingly, is a reticence to become involved in another marriage campaign. In conversations gay rights leaders engaged in on the condition of anonymity, we learned many of these folks who where involved in the Prop. 8 campaign blame each other for their loss and are looking to move on.
The crowd shouting that Prop 8 leaders ought not be in charge of the next marriage campaign have found an unlikely ally — namely, Prop. 8 leaders.
Kate Kendall of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told a group of San Franciscans last weekend that she would not be involved in any future marriage campaigns; questions about NCLR’s future involvement were passed along to Equality California. Jim Key, a spokesperson for The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, says his organization was in the process of running canvassing operations and it will soon announce an advertising competition encouraging people to submit marriage equality ads.
When asked about specific plans to overturn Prop. 8, none of these leaders had any direct plan to do so, though all express a desire to do so at some point in the future.
This is not, however, another story about how the Prop. 8 campaign screwed up. While it’s instructive to learn from the mistakes of the past, dwelling on it only blinds us to the future emerging before our eyes.
Two major developments within the last week signal a shift in the center of gravity of the gay rights movement, a shift that will have far reaching impacts on the gay movement for years to come. The first is the decision by Equality California to hire MassEquality’s Marc Solomon as their marriage director, a newly created position dedicated to achieving marriage equality in California. Solomon previously defeated the Massachusetts constitutional amendment against gay marriage and is relocating to Los Angeles in April. Solomon says it should be clear why he chose L.A. over S.F as his base of operations: “It’s pretty straightforward. The five largest counties in California are down here and we lost all of them on Prop. 8.”
Solomon says that he plans on running the campaign, whose goal is to win hearts and minds and not necessarily focus on a specific ballot initiative, in the style of Barack Obama’s presidential bid, saying, “We are organizing a grassroots field operation. We’re going to be hiring a team of field organizers for starters. In Massachusetts we had…20 field organizers. We’re able to start with six here, but Massachusetts is about 1/80th the size of California. We’re going to base field organizers in San Diego, Orange County in the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and Sacramento. We’re going to focus on the places where we didn’t do so well.” Solomon foresees “mobilizing the married couples, other gay folks, parents, friends, talking to people.” He points to an especially effective ad he used in Massachusetts that featured the 24-year-old son of two lesbian moms talking about what it would mean if his parents marriage was invalidated. Solomon plans on staying in California “until we get marriage equality for all.”
The greatest sign that change is in the air, however, came from yesterday’s announcement that the Human Rights Campaign would be sponsoring the Courage Campaign’s next round of “Camp Courage” grassroots training programs. Yes, HRC is letting someone else handle the fight.
While the two organizations share the name “campaign”, they could not be more different. For one, The Courage Campaign is not even a gay rights organization, something its founder and chair Rick Jacobs sees as one of its strengths.
“Yes, I’ll just say yes, even though I know people aren’t going to agree with me,” says Jacobs when asked if not being a gay rights organization made the Courage Campaign more effective at bringing marriage equality about. “How can you possibly talk about marriage equality without talking about the environment?” he asks, explaining, “How could you want to have the right to raise children without being concerned about the kind of world they grow up in?” For Jacobs, the fight for marriage equality is part of a broader progressive movement. “Barack Obama didn’t create a movement, he tapped into one that was already there. That’s what we’re doing.”
Last weekend, the Courage Campaign ran its most recent “Camp Courage” in Fresno, California. Jacobs relates a story, breaking down while retelling it, about how a pair of the attendees wrote a check for $300 asking that it be used to help defray the costs of an upcoming San Francisco version of Camp Courage, only asking that they tell the attendees there that “their friends in Fresno support you.”
Jacobs describes the role of the Courage Campaign as that of a facilitator for all the folks who want to get involved. To that end, they have purchased the software used by Barack Obama to run their web operation and will soon launch a marriage equality version of mybarackobama.com. Jacobs says that he sees all kinds of people at the events, but that many of them are young and they “get this stuff in their bones.” He believes that “grassroots is the only way, the most effective way to get this done,” but also has moved past the blame game of Prop. 8.
He relays a yarn that gay rights activist Cleve Jones, who now works closely with the Courage Campaign, told him about how the gay rights movement came from a radical place. That it was once part of the feminist, anti-war and environmental movement and how Jones remembers that at one point in his friend Harvey Milk’s career, it became obvious that he would need corporate money to win. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but Jones goes on to say that the onslaught of AIDS only made the gay community more reliant on corporations. Jacobs jumps in at this point to defend these organizations. “The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center does a wonderful job providing much needed services to the community, but along the way, groups like these became corporatized.”
It’s not meant as a rebuke, but a fact. In doing the much needed job of providing services, many gay rights organizations shed their political campaigning roots and lost their ability to work as political agents. Jacobs hopes to bring back that spirit.
That’s the news I’ve been waiting to hear. I’m going to jump in for a minute and throw in my own two cents.
First, I’d like to make a brief admission: When I first considered blogging here at Queerty, working for another gay media organization was the last thing I wanted to do. I have conjured up more gay angles for stories than even I could have imagined. Want a story about kittens? “The Secret Lives of Lesbians and Their Cats.” Want a gay story about hot air balloons? I will find the leather daddy whose crafting a balloon shaped like a leather hooded mask.
So why’d I take the job? Because I believe that the gay rights movement is larger than just gay rights. We must move beyond the petty battles of identity politics and embrace our role as part of a larger progressive movement. You can not care about gay rights without caring about the issues of poverty, race, education and social justice that beset this country, because without making progress on those problems, we will never make progress on our own.
As frequent readers know, I joined here as your editor just after Prop. 8 passed. With you, over these past few months, we’ve discussed the future of gay rights in this country. Who should lead us, what went wrong, what does the future hold? It has been, and I imagine will remain, a contentious debate. It’s also a vital and necessary on. There are times where there seems to be an endless string of bad news: gays and lesbians being assaulted, religious leaders using us as a scapegoat and of course, the demeaning idiocy of watching gays and lesbians marry five, six or seven times, because the laws governing their relationship are used as a political prop by unscrupulous bigots. I don’t blame the bitter rancor that sometimes erupts. I’ve been at it all of five months and I’m already fifty times more cynical.
But we are all aware that the world is undergoing rapid change. None of us live in a vacuum and the time has come for us to stop thinking about ourselves as a gay rights movement and begin thinking of ourselves as an equal rights movement. Equality is not just about equal rights for ourselves, but equal rights for all. The way forward will require us to be smarter then we’ve been, no question about it, but it will also require us to take a broader view of who we are and what we want. If we wish to weave our lives into the fabric of America, we have to weave our movement into the broader tapestry as well.