Wrong Moves

It’s OK To Be Terrified Over How Gay Rights Organizers Might Bungle Things (Again)

Gay Marriage

What do closed door gay rights meetings get you? A massive public relations and logistical nightmare, that’s what. And it’s exactly what organizers of October’s march on Washington for gay rights are looking at after their top-down attempt at organizing to get hundreds of thousands of Americans to hit D.C. on October 11 got hit with a snag: No fewer than three organizations already secured permits to march on Washington that day, all but guaranteeing the gays will be denied. Sure, they can pick another date, but let’s be clear: Their big attempt at publicizing our struggle was bungled because of poor organizing. (Literally, one phone call to the National Parks Service would’ve cleared things up. But Cleve Jones, who chose the date, didn’t lift the receiver.)

You read on Queerty yesterday about how, after the Saturday Meet In The Middle rally in Fresno, a group of gay rights organizers met on Sunday.

We shared with readers the words and frustration of activist Michael Petrelis, who called bullshit on the meeting for instituting a closed-door invite-only policy — the same anti-democratic organizing effort that sunk the No On Prop 8 effort. We also noted Queerty received no notice of the meeting. But our comments were flooded with folks who said they attended the meeting, that it was well publicized, that they had an open-door policy.

But — and there’s a big but here — even folks who were there admit there was a closed meeting. (Here’s commenter Jon, who says he was there: “The meeting was streamed live on UNITETHEFIGHT.com (except for the closed portion).”) Indeed, hub site unitethefight.blogspot.com mentions that after a problem with the wifi connection, “they asked all press and friendly bloggers like me to stop recording anyway (sensitive information discussed at the meeting – full story in article tomorrow).” Queerty could not find a “full story” that followed on that blog. And even if we could, it still wouldn’t erase the fact that Unite The Right had no plans on even live streaming the event to the public until Petrelis, on May 30, asked if MITM organizers would do it.

(NB: The event was supposedly open to the press, except for all the alleged openness, the only videos we could find on YouTube from Fresno are clips of public spaces from Saturday’s rally and some from Sunday’s anti-equality reality by opponents; search for “Fresno Sunday” and there’s nothing. We also could not find any press photos from major news outlets from the Sunday event. If you can, please share the links.)

Gay Marriage

So what was so secret that organizers needed the press (who did manage to attend, like the Associated Press’ Lisa Leff freelance reporter) to go off the record while bloggers and Twitters were commanded to go offline?

Organizers like parent-turned-activist Robin McGhee (pictured), who founded MITM, were going to share polling data with attendees, which was what the media was actually most hungry for (nevermind that the results may be inaccurate, given the recent California Supreme Court ruling on Prop 8). Also, nevermind that in the bungling of No On Prop 8, it was the decision to keep that poll data — which conflicted with the polls the media reported on — a secret that drew some of the loudest criticism toward organizers.

(Clarification: The AP’s Lisa Leff did not attend the event, but the newswire sent a reporter to cover Sunday’s meeting — only after Leff heard about the meeting through the grapevine, and not because organizers invited the AP.)

In discussions leading up to Sunday’s private meeting, Queerty has learned there was still no official decision made whether organizers would open things up for reporters. On Friday when organizers distributed the weekend’s agenda to insiders, recipients were asked not to share it with the media. Not exactly the beacon of democratic organizing we’ve been led to believe.

Meanwhile, we hear the Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs is calling around insisting he had nothing to do with Sunday’s closed-door meeting. And not to get too “conspiracy theory” on you, but one source with knowledge of the goings-on says Jacobs and the Courage Campaign organized an effort to flood Queerty‘s original post with criticism of our report and leave positive notes for the organization, throwing the comment thread’s credibility into doubt.

Sounds like someone doesn’t want to be associated with this mess?

Gay Marriage

Or, maybe Jacobs really doesn’t have anything to do with that how that meeting was run. That, at least, would explain why the Courage Campaign’s Thursday email invitation to attend the Fresno rally, with a special note from star-power-flower Charlize Theron, didn’t include any mention of this oh-so-open Sunday hotel meeting among insider-y organizers (reprinted below).

As for October’s planned march on Washington, it may still go on. Cleve Jones, who sounds like he really had no idea some 135,000 people from other organizations were expected on the National Mall on his day of choice, tells Gay City News, “We are flexible on the route, flexible on the location. The mall is not my top choice. I would rather have the march in the streets and end at the Lincoln Memorial.”

We’re not going to pretend we have every fact in this saga; we don’t, and no amount of reporting can gather them. But what we do have is evidence of another systematic fuck-up by gay rights organizers — of the same variety that tanked our effort to defeat Prop 8. It’s hard to fault activists whose end goal is admirable, but how many times can we forgive and rationalize a strategy that’s proven to be weak and inadequate?

Perhaps we’re lucky, this time, that we’re “only” talking about a march on Washington, and not something serious … like our civil rights.

COURAGE CAMPAIGN’S EMAIL INVITATION (No mention of supposedly open-for-all Sunday meeting)

Date: Thu, 28 May 2009 18:09:58 -0400
From: “Charlize Theron, Courage Campaign”
To: Rex Wockner
Subject: We need to meet on Saturday

Academy Award-winning actor Charlize Theron asked us to send this important reminder to the Courage Campaign community. Please spread the word by forwarding this message before Saturday’s big event.

Meanwhile, you can follow @CourageCampaign on Twitter for Meet in the Middle updates this weekend.

Rick Jacobs
Chair, Courage Campaign


Dear Courage Campaign supporter,

We need to meet.

All of us. At 1 p.m. this Saturday, May 30.

In Fresno, the heartland of California.

Four days after the state Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, thousands of people organized by more than 100 organizations are coming together in a major event unlike any other in the post-Prop 8 era.

We know the people whose lives are on the line — those who identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender — will be there. But we need everyone there.

Especially straight people.


It’s called “Meet in the Middle for Equality” and it’s going to be historic. This will be a moment you don’t want to miss — an unforgettable event in the history of the movement for equal rights.

I’ll be there. Will you? Please come to Fresno to “meet in the middle for equality” this Saturday. Click here to RSVP right now — it only takes a minute:


Why Fresno?

The battle for equality has to be fought in Middle America — in places like Fresno, California — not just in gay-friendly cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

California’s Central Valley population is far more reflective of national attitudes towards LGBT equality — and until we engage the communities of Middle America, we will not achieve full equality in California.

Please come to Fresno to “Meet in the Middle for Equality.” We need you. We need everyone — especially straight allies — to show up on Saturday. Will you?


This isn’t just about California. It’s about America. This isn’t just about marriage. It’s about human rights.

That’s why I’ll be there. And I hope you will as well.

See you on Saturday!

Charlize Theron

P.S. Do you want updates on Meet in the Middle texted to your cell phone? The Courage Campaign is teaming up again with CREDO Mobile to send cell phone users info as it happens. To sign up on your phone, just text “MEET” to 27336.

Courage Campaign Issues is part of the Courage Campaign’s online organizing network that empowers more than 700,000 grassroots and netroots supporters to push for progressive change and equality in California.

To power our campaign to repeal Prop 8, please chip in what you can today:


PLUS: Queerty received this email from Grassroots Equality Network’s executive director Brandon Santo, who tells us, “I promise you, as long as I am working with this project, it will remain a project of the community, that is not saying that some of the ego in the boys club won’t try to force me out and change it, but I am trying to set all this in place hoping that it will keep that from happening!”

I read your post about the day after the rally in Fresno, and I agree with your concerns, I hate closed door meetings and secret discussions of strategy. That is why I feel compelled to tell you a little bit more about the March on DC and what is going on with the planning.

I am one of the very first people involved in this, in fact I had discussed this march with Cleve back in November, and we were thinking about doing it in 2010. After he went and announced that he wanted it this October, I was one of the first people to become involved so I could help gear the planning structure and desires to a strong bottom up grassroots structure, where the “centralized” leadership will not be making the decisions, instead they will be acting on decisions that the grassroots committees make. There will be 435 committees that are formed by volunteers in the 435 congressional districts. Each committee will have a representative in the national committee that will relay their vote or opinion on a specific topic to the national committee, who will then act based on the vote or opinion. All of these discussions and votes will be able to be viewed in an open space online where any one can view it, allowing for transparency and accountability, as well as insuring this project remains grassroots and not in the hands of a few elite.

anyone can get involved in this planning by visiting www.nationalequalitymarch.com as of right now, the system is not fully set up, so we are just gathering information so when it is ready we can inform everyone of where they can go to join the committees and start planning.

This was actually not supposed to be announced until the system was in place, but someone leaked it and spread info that was incomplete and false. Since then I have been working overtime to get the system ready and functioning so we can start getting this movement back into the hands of the community before it is too late.

Brandon Santo
Executive Director
Grassroots Equality Network

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