Equality Summit Backroom Struggles See the Light

Emails obtained by Queerty yesterday offer up a glimpse into the backdoor politics of the planning process for this month’s Equality Summit, scheduled for January 24th in Los Angeles. The conference will be the first major meeting of mainstream LGBT groups and grassroots activists since their defeat in November, and it aims to begin planning the next steps for a newly energized gay movement. The emails, sent between members of the planning committee, show internal strife and debate over the question of media access and also appear to contradict the public statements of Equality Summit leaders.

If you’re interested in seeing how the sausage gets made – or rather, if you’re interested in seeing how the sausage gets made in the discussion over whether the press should be allowed to see how the sausage is made – have we got a story for you.

Here’s the short version: Our gay leaders need to take a deep breath.

Now for the extended editor’s cut with bonus features (small children and folks who like things to be clear-cut and black and white should close their eyes):

Yesterday, Queerty interviewed Andrea Shorter, Campaign Director of And Marriage for All and co-chair of the planning committee for this month’s Equality Summit. She talked about Rex Wockner’s interview with Robin Tyler, a member of the planning committee, who said she quit the committee after it made the decision to limit media access.

Shorter responded to Tyler’s public accusations by telling Queerty:

“Right now we’re just starting the process of figuring out what the format of the summit will be; whether we have subcommittees or workshops and [Robin] was bringing up the issue [of press access] and we began to talk about what the pros and cons of having unfettered media access would be. The vote was on whether we wanted to have that discussion now or focus on programming first…We didn’t get to that part of the discussion yet.

You can’t complain about transparency and openness and reaching out to as many different groups as possible and then circumvent the process that’s working to make those very things happen.”

Based on what Shorter told us, it seemed pretty clear the Equality Summit had not yet made any decision regarding media access.

Then, yesterday afternoon, Robin Tyler forwarded us a whole bunch of internal papers from the planning committee as a way to defend her allegations.

The first document is an internal draft of the minutes of the planning committee’s December 18th meeting, attended by 28 representatives of LGBT community organizations. The minutes show a discussion of press access occurred:

“Determining the Media Policy

Comments:

* no press – come together as a community w/o media, then release something we agree upon
* LGBT media should be allowed in
* Media should have media able to report on the event, but not necessarily full access
* have media for only a portion of the day
* we need a space free of media so people can bring up whatever they want to bring up; we need to control the message; can’t let media air dirty laundry
* want to avoid media zoo
* not afraid of the LGBT media to tell our story
* allow media only for certain portions
* allocate several people to be media speakers

Consensus Decision:

Media will have access to cover only a portion of the summit. Co-chairs will determine which section that is.”

At the time, Tyler voted to endorse the decision and voted for the five co-chairs, which includes Andrea Shorter. Then, on December 24th, in an email thread going out to 50 LGBT community leaders and organizers, Tyler wrote that she no longer was confident she made the right decision.

” I would like to once again propose and have people think about the media being allowed into the entire conference. I am not afraid of showing the process, and if we are not open in our communications, I believe we will fall into the same trap as No on 8- which is “us” and “them.”… We are not doing anything that media shouldn’t be able to cover. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable to limit media to a time-frame..say..only the morning.

On December 29th, Anne Marks , the coordinator for the summit, replied to the thread:

“As for Robin’s suggestion that we revisit the consensus decision made by the planning committee last time, I did not feel comfortable adding it to the agenda (particularly since others on the committee expressed dismay over revisiting decisions that had already been made) without consulting with your committee co-chairs. The co-chairs, whom this body elected at the last meeting, approve the agenda… They have been consulted and have decided not to revisit the committee’s decision on media policy.”

It was then that Robin resigned. Tyler declined further comment with Queerty, other than to send us the emails, which appear to contradict what Shorter told us about there having been no decisions made regarding press access. It does seem from the emails that two decisions had been made: The first, on December 18th, putting the co-chairs in charge of the decisions regarding press access and declaring that media “will have access to cover only a portion of the summit.” The second, on December 29th, stating that the committee was “not to revisit the … decision on media policy.”

So, did Andrea Shorter lie to Queerty? Well, it all depends on your definition of “decision.”

Ron Buckmire ,Board President of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition is on the Equality Summit planning committee and attended the Nov. 18th meeting. He tells Queerty (emphasis ours):

The minutes are not an accurate description of the consensus on the call. What Andrea told you is exactly how I remember the conversation going on the call. Robin Tyler from jumpstreet was going on and on about whether the media would have unfettered access to all aspects of the summit and there was clear consensus that was NOT the position of the committee. When she discovered vast majorities did not agree with her position, she quit the planning committee and said we were all making a terrible mistake.

It’s really about phrasing.

We (planning committee) definitely agreed that not all aspects of the summit should be open to the media. That could be characterized as “portions of the summit will have media access restricted” but what that portion would be was not decided, it was to be decided at a later date. That portion could have been ZERO, depending on the agenda which was not developed yet.”

Anne Marks explains her email this way:

“Before the committee’s next meeting (and before an agenda was even drafted), Ms. Tyler apparently changed her mind and stated that she wanted to change the committee’s decision… The co-chairs agreed that the decision was made already and that there was other important work (such as determining the final agenda) for the committee to focus on during the next meeting.”

And Andrea Shorter addressed the discrepancies between the minutes and previous emails and what she told us by saying:

Bottomline on committee’s media discussion: Yes – we did make a collective, consensus driven decision early on to limit press and media access vs. moving forward with an unlimited access situation. Again, it would appear that much of the confusion seems to have derived from described meeting minutes per the planning committee and co-chairs decision to not revisit the press access issue before an agenda was set.

As we both acknowledged, the phrasing in the meeting minutes summing up the committee’s consensus per media covering ‘only a portion’ was probably not the best wording to capture the intent and spirit of the planning committee’s interests — as supported by the co-chairs — to move forward on first preparing an agenda before finalizing a media policy.

Japhy asked if the option of opening the whole summit to the press was ‘off the table’. The answer is no – that option is not off the table. As the agenda is coming together, it remains possible that the majority of the summit, if not all the summit, will be open to the press. We will have all of the general sessions webcast so that press and the public alike can observe and participate.

The planning committee’s process is expressly underway to complete and forward a relevant program agenda. Once the agenda is complete, the planning committee and the co-chairs will weigh all interests and decide the best media policy for the summit.”


So what does all the “she said, she said” shenanigans mean? It comes down to this: While there have been two process decisions made regarding the media access policy for the Equality Summit, there’s been no final decision. That said, it looks like the position of those inside the planning committee continues to evolve. It’s hard to see which part of saying that the media “will have access to cover only a portion of the summit” can be construed as the media will have access to cover the whole summit is an option to have an “is not off the table.”

Still, with 50 members on the planning committee, it was only Robin Tyler who felt the need to resign. Does this mean that the other 49 are corrupt, or does it mean that Tyler misunderstood the true intention of the decision, or that the decision was made solely for Tyler’s benefit, as the other members of the committee felt the media access question was premature?

Should Marks and Shorter have made it more clear to the other members that the decision was to hold off on a making a decision? Were Marks and Shorter originally against the idea of full media access and only now have come around because Tyler went public with her criticism? Why didn’t Tyler look for allies among the 50 other members before packing up her toys and going home?

One thing is clear: In their quest for transparency, the Equality Summit is off to a good start.