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


* 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.

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  • Michael

    “no press – come together as a community w/o media, then release something we agree upon”

    First off, this assumes the “mainstream” media gives a damn about anything at this stage. Ha ha! How risible. Secondly, I would have to agree. Let’s get our story straight, so to speak, because up to this point it’s been a slew of disparate voices feigning to speak as one. In reality, we are a highly factioned “community” that is facing a large schism in the coming decades if we don’t face the reality that the status quo is not working. Not only does it present a distorted picture of the face of Gay America, it is also fails to represent a great number of men and women (especially those outside your average gay Mecca). Year after year, a certain subset of gay society takes upon itself the task of speaking on everyone’s behalf without any real sanction and frequently squashing any voice that dares say otherwise.

  • PearlsBeforeSwine

    Queerty, I’d say you got played yesterday.

    And sarcasm doesn’t come off well when writing.

  • ONTD


    PBS, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Japhy is constantly winning at life.

  • David in KC

    Wow, it’s just like being at work. Lots of meetings, calls, emails, and still nothing ever gets resolved.

  • Drake Roberts

    Japhy, I think you, all queerty readers, and all members of the gay community should take your advice…we all need to take a deep breath, stop lashing out in anger, no matter how justified that anger may be, and start educating!
    I find it ironic that this post takes such a zen attitude to the situation, when other posts have flown off the handle (ie-Warren). We all need to take a deep breath and re-group intelligently.

  • Wolf

    Alot of bullshit if you ask me. Thats been the MAJOR problem with the people who are taking chatge. Its a meeting with the “grassroots organizations: but they want to run it like a formal corporation and then get cuaght up in poetty politics, commitees, sub commitees and bullshit instead of focusing on what they should.

    I thow my hands up with these Groups. I will no longer support them or listen to them/

  • Cam

    Typical problem with our gay groups, they are too busy worrying if the tablecloths and curtains are enviro-friendly, the food is vegan friendly and other ridiculous details rather than being the least bit concerned about furthering our cause. And why should they be, if we get full equality they lose their jobs. Frankly, they should be willing to meet in an old garage with no heat if it will get the job done. Enough with their trivial bitchiness already.

  • Anthony in Nashville

    This was good reporting, and I have to credit Japhy for this new emphasis on original articles. That said, I am growing tired of the focus on the infighting at the Equality Summit.

    Is the internal drama more important than the reason for the meeting? It seems people are getting more involved in finger-pointing or being proven right than in the task at hand.

    Then again, the inability to keep “eyes on the prize” is a long standing criticism of liberals. You see it also in the handling of Burrisgate in Illinois. Liberals get too caught up in minor matters and lose focus. I’m not conservative/Republican by any means but I will give them credit for being able to determine what their objectives are and stay on point until the goal is accomplished.

  • Sean

    SOunds like much to do about nothing to me. Personalities need so much high maintenance stroking it seems and I think that is as much of the “old way” then “change.” The real issue is progress if you asked me not media coverage.

  • Bob

    Bunch of liars and self-serving pieces of shit, ever y last one of them. Yes, Japhy got played by Andrea Shorter, as PearlsBeforeSwing pointed out. It happens with these people, because they’re as accomplished liars as the Bush administration folks. And now involved are backpedaling and spinning away. And telling more lies. Disgusting. We deserve second-class status as a community as long as we continue to support these “leaders.”

  • Bob

    That should be “every last one of them” and “And now all involved…” Should have morning ocffee before posting.

  • Bob

    Jesus. Make the “coffee.” LOL

  • Jaroslaw

    To all the folk who think these groups are BS – well, see how much you can get done on your own then. I certainly understand how you feel, but with 50 people on a committee and Gay people constituting every possible variation in society, getting that many to agree is a Herculean task.

    I don’t see where anyone deliberately lied; group stuff is like this. As already mentioned, go on your own and see how far you get.

  • seitan-on-a-stick

    In the Age of Blogging, even the Gay Press (with it’s anonymous criticisms) can eviscerate any Gay Org, and rightly so. While I’ve criticized Japhy in the past, he is doing the journalistic effort which is needed to demystify this group who speaks for the entire Gay Population (let’s stop kidding ourselves with the word “community”) Andrea Shorter has proven herself to be untrustworthy with the simple fact SHE LIED! Who are the Co-chairs of the Equality Summit and can they be interviewed immediately as their very reputations of solvency and trust are being questioned? Given the Exalted Gay Leaders past monumental failings to prevent Prop 8 from passing in California and other measures across the country, we demand transparency within our own camp first. To not include the Gay media, or restrict ALL media is becoming the story itself. Too bad they didn’t have their act together before the Inauguration for maximum exposure or is the delay on purpose so as not to tread on Obama’s shiny new loafers? And, what of the absolutely necessary March on Washington (How soon can we get a permit for July 4th weekend?)

  • Cam


    You said “”No. 13 · Jaroslaw
    To all the folk who think these groups are BS – well, see how much you can get done on your own then. I certainly understand how you feel, but with 50 people on a committee and Gay people constituting every possible variation in society, getting that many to agree is a Herculean task.””

    Um, HRC has been lobbying and taking our money to get ENDA passed for over ten years. In that same time they were pressuring couples NOT to sue for things such as marriage or Civil unions. So what has happened? We have Marriage in MA. Civil Unions in Vt. CT., and a number of other states, Recognition of outside marriages in NY state and still no ENDA. So please don’t try to tell me that these groups are good at getting anything done.

  • 24play

    That’s more like it, Japhy.

    Well done.

  • Dave

    @Cam: Just because they haven’t gotten the big things we want passed does not mean that they haven’t laid out a lot of ground work – that being said of course more can be done that goes without saying. And HRC was discouraging couples from suing to have their marriages recognized because in some states like Utah, Oklahoma (hell didn’t what’s her face win by an even bigger margin after coming out as a bigot?), and sadly even Texas its likely that not only would the state supreme court rule against it but that a conservative minded state AG might well choose to seek the ruling of a federal court which would give conservatives a nasty weapon in any subsequent court cases. In many ways these bigger groups are like ducks drifting on the pond they seem so aimless and effortless in their actions when in reality their feet are peddling like all bloody hell – that’s not to say they couldn’t learn to do things better but just complaining about how their not doing enough is not nearly as helpful as saying for example Congressmen A, B, and C do not support any of our issues we should raise money to support a better candidate in the districts or its we need to improve our relations in communities of color perhaps we should try and get a group of comedian and musicians of color to speak out on our behalf. Like in Kindergarden its incredibly easy to knock over and play Godzilla with some other kid’s sky scrapper but its a hell of a lot harder building your own skyscraper… particularly when the bugger who’s skyscraper you trashed comes by ;)

  • Jaroslaw

    Thanks Dave, I was going to reply something like that but will emphasize – groundwork is important – one person didn’t just walk in to MA and boom! We have marriage. If the SCOTUS had gotten involved and it turned out a different way, it would have been tragic. It might just be luck that it turned out OK.

    And another point – even if a few groups take your money and get nothing done, it is unfair and counterproductive to lump all the groups in together.

  • michael

    God am I glad that my Canadian citizenship is coming through any day now.

  • HopeSpringsATurtle

    Queerty, your “sausage” analogy is a good one keeping in mind that watching the sausage being made does not include watching the slaughter of the animals it contains.

    “Transparency” does not necessarily mean observing the in-fighting of GLBT organizers. Much of what goes on behind-the-scenes of any organization deserves to be private. If monkey business occurs, let someone be a whistle-blower. I support the “limited” media approach. I would much prefer to present a united face to the public than give any media outlet fodder to undermine ‘the Gay Agenda.’

    Anyone who has done such organizational coordination knows bringing the GLBT community to consensus is like herding cats.

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