Lane Hudson and Matt Foreman know a little something something about the gay rights movement. As the outgoing leader of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Foreman has helped spearhead a number of movements in Washington, New York and throughout the rest of the United States. The activist tells us he caught the activist bug after witnessing the atrocities of West Virginia’s coal mining industry and only later got involved in the nascent gay rights movement. Foreman later got caught up in the more progressive, grass roots-oriented gay rights movement. Hudson, meanwhile, has been involved in activism since his wee years, when political active family members informed his social consciousness. The former Human Rights Campaign staffer gained notoriety after exposing Mark Foley’s inappropriate exchanges with congressional pages. He lost his job for his involvement in that scandal and now works as an independent gay rights activists and contributes to Huffington Post. Just in case you didn’t know…
The editorial union of these men counts as the first in a sporadic series called “Homo Encounters,” during which our editor moderates a conversation between two notable homos from various fields. Today’s one super Tuesday, so we thought Hudson and Foreman could offer some interesting thoughts on where the gay movement remains today – and where it’s meant to go tomorrow. We don’t want to give too much away, but be prepared for the pros and cons of incrementalism, how the Democrats can shape up (or ship out), why the federal level ain’t the shit and which political enemies should be our mentors – after the jump, naturally.
Matt Foreman: Hey Lane! How are you?
Lane Hudson: Good. Long time no chat!
MF: I know, but I see your name everywhere!
Andrew Belonsky: Lane, I understand you had some topics that you wanted to discuss, so why don’t you start?
LH: I want talk about the future of the movement. We’re at a crossroads: a time where more of our issues are in public discourse and are covered in the mainstream media. It seems like we’re almost ready to fast-forward. I just wanted to get your perspective, Matt, because you’ve been in the movement a long time.
MF: [Laughs] Before we had power, yes.
LH: Well, you’re seen as a progressive leader within the LGBT movement and I wanted to hear your thoughts on where we’re going.
MF: I actually think the movement has been on both fast-forward and backwards for the last six or seven years. On the positive side, this last 2007 legislative session was the most productive in our movement’s history: over half the population now lives in a jurisdiction that protects gay people from discrimination; a fifth of the population now lives in a state that offers broad-based recognition and protection for same-sex couples. We’ve seen a spike in those areas over the last three years, but particularly the last year, which was due in large measure to the flip of state legislatures from Republican to Democratic control.
MF: The fast-backward part of it, of course, is the 29 anti-marriage, anti-family constitutional amendments that have been passed. But I think we – I think the struggle around ENDA really represented the tectonic plates underlying our movement. They shifted in a profound way. That struggle demonstrated both the grassroots strength of our movement on Capitol Hill and the grassroots values of our movement. Never again will one or two people or one organization on Capitol Hill speak for all of us – or be seen to speak for all of us. That is a very good thing. I think that means we are going to continue to make progress at state levels. The locus of activity is going to continue to be at the state and local level.
LH: Clearly almost all the progress that’s happening in our movement is going on at the local level, which, ironically, is not where the money is invested in our movement. We think at the federal level, but the only legislative victory we’ve had there is giving federal pension benefits, I think.
MF: And that wasn’t even a gay issue.
LH: Right. So, why aren’t we getting stuff done on the federal level?
MF: We have for way too long assumed a very top down notion. The way in which you win power federally is by building grassroots strength. The Right Wing did not seize power from a top down DC-based drive. They did it by working the ground up. Politicians care much more about their voters than a $5,000 PAC donation. We have not been able to demonstrate grassroots strength until very recently – not just form emails that go into a member of Congress, but getting LGBT people and our allies talk to that person. That’s how you get members to come along. It is absolutely not by having lobbyists go door to door up on Capitol Hill. Yeah, that’s helpful, but that’s not ultimately what moves a member. What moves a member is constituents.