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.
AB: Obviously ENDA is a perfect example of this: the use of grassroots activism to change elected officials’ minds. As you said, one of the big divisions in Washington right now – even within groups – is the tension between grassroots and institutionalized activism. That can throw off normal citizens and political insiders. People don’t know who to listen to – do they listen to Mary, Joe and Bob outside the state house in Michigan or to the people in the corridors in Washington?
MF: They make a judgment of who to listen to and that judgment is based on self-interest nine times out of ten.
LH: Andrew, to get right to the heart of what you’re asking, politicians have been trained to listen to only a handful or people. Now they’re learning that they can’t rely on those people. They have to look much farther and cast a wider net to decide what they’re going to do about LGBT issues. They’re learning that because of the internet, because of increased communications, there is no longer a sole voice on Capitol Hill for LGBT people.
MF: I think that’s right. The internet and so many other new ways of communication have really profoundly changed the way communities mobilize and the way officials listen to communities. The interesting thing about our community – except on the margins – is that there’s no real disagreement about our priorities, either federally or state. We’ve just been so stuck because of who’s controlled Congress and who’s controlled the White House. Meanwhile, the world has marched ahead – popular opinion and culture has skyrocketed ahead. It’s so ironic that 34-years after our comprehensive civil rights bill was introduced that we’re still struggling to pass just one tiny piece of that comprehensive bill: ENDA. There’s a disconnect between what’s happening on Capitol Hill and what’s happening in popular culture – and not just LGBT issues. It runs the gamut.
LH: I think sometimes we confuse the two things that we want: acceptance in public opinion and equality under the law. It seems like if you only talk in terms of equality under the law, then you take away some of the power that our opponents have in talking about religion and morality. They use that to confuse people and muddle the message. Why don’t we speak in terms of being pro-active? “Discrimination exists in federal laws and we need to end that discrimination. Why don’t you get on board to end discrimination?”
MF: I’ve never understood why Democrats in particular haven’t done exactly that. Given the overwhelming public support for things like non-discrimination legislation and hate crimes – they’re very basic foundations of life, not the walls or roof of equality – but I’ve never understood why they haven’t put our opponents on the defensive. That speaks to this myth in politics that you don’t want to talk about gay people because it’s going be bad for you. Support for basic protections has never hurt anyone in the polls. It’s the perfect wedge issue to go in the opposite direction. We should say to these people, “Oh, you support discrimination? You support violence?” The challenge within our community is, frankly, a resource issue. Public education work and $100 million – which is not a lot of money in the real world – could profoundly change public political opinion in a very short period of time.
AB: Matt, you said something a minute ago – you said that popular culture has outgrown the political reality. I may disagree with you a bit. A lot of the popular culture images of gay people that are disseminated are not necessarily the most progressive or helpful.
MF: I couldn’t agree with you more. What I’m saying is that if you poll the American people now and ask, “Is there a federal law that protects gay people from discrimination?” The majority of them say, “Yes, there is.” A fifth of Americans believe that we can get married. We have these images – I don’t believe they’re helpful or they certainly don’t represent who we actually are, such as Will & Grace – but nonetheless they’re out there and they normalized us in a very real way, particularly among the younger generation.
MF: I want to say something else. When I said that we have virtual agreement in the movement about our agenda, I meant our short-term agenda. There’s no disagreement in the movement that we need hate crimes protections, repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we want some form of relationship recognition – I think where there is a divergence and there is not a consensus is the long-term vision for our movement. Part of this is trying to figure out… We are part of something bigger than just trying to get the technical equality under the law. That’s a prerequisite, but we can’t pretend that’s the end. That’s really a more just society.
LH: We’ve got to be asking for more. The legislation that the Democrats aren’t willing to muscle through and that our organizations in Washington are lobbying for – they’re really crappy laws. They don’t do what they’re supposed to do. The first ENDA was fully inclusive with access to credit, health care and accommodations – all kinds of stuff. Now we only have employment – it’s just scratch on the whole ball of wax. I think it’s absolutely embarrassing that we allow the current leadership of the movement, the people that speak for us in Congress, to act like this a huge historic deal when it’s not. The days of people being happy to be invited to somebody’s cocktail party are coming to an end. It’s time for things to start happening and it’s time for us to say it’s time for it to happen, to expect it and to raise the level of discourse.
MF: I think that Lane is right about not playing real politics, not demanding real action and substituting a cocktail party for that. I do think – you look at this surge in this non-discrimination and relationship recognition laws over the New York and local level: that was the work of grassroots movement, but it was also combined with visionaries like Jon Stryker and Tim Gill who have put real dollars and bundled real dollars to defeat ugly anti-gay bigots at the state level and to elect pro-gay people. There is a sense among a lot of donors that it doesn’t make sense to give dollars anymore, because we’re just not getting a bang for it.
AB: Do you guys think that the marriage argument distracts the movement? Derails, maybe?
MF: I think that we as a movement – and I’m right in there taking responsibility for it – when the marriage train started coming down that tunnel in Hawaii, most of us were pretending like it wasn’t coming and we were focussed on things we’re still focussed on, like non-discrimination. Legal folks and strategists got way ahead of our political strategy so that every single legal gain we made, the voters took away from us. The Right Wing saw the situation and they ran with it. And I would have, too. It’s a delicious issue for them to run with – our public education wasn’t what it needed to be, our political strategies weren’t where they need to be and they made hay with us. That said and as depressed as I am about these 29 constitutional amendments. there is no doubt that without the marriage equality fight on the table, we would not have civil unions in New Jersey, in California, in Oregon, in New Hampshire and potential breakthroughs coming right down the road. We had always taken the incremental strategy, but there’s a very good argument to be made that the way you get the most the quickest is to set the bar as high as you possibly can, not to always be negotiating from a position of weakness and say, “Oh, please, sir, give us this little right”.
LH: I agree. Simply talking about marriage does not hamper our movement at all. Here in DC, I’ve been very active in trying to figure out a way to [achieve] marriage equality in the District of Colombia. One of the debates that we’ve seen here in DC – and it’s a debate we’ve had nationally, but you can’t apply it everything – is incrementalism. To some young people, incrementalism means “Wait for our turn.” For some other people, incrementalism represents whether they were able to achieve equality where ever they were at the time. Whether it works or not, you have to look in local communities and you have to look on the national level. It’s been very successful in some states – in New Jersey, for instance. We got civil unions and I think it’s clear to everyone it’s a step to full marriage equality.
What we are not getting on the federal level is in any way shape or form incrementalism. I’d be happy if they were like, “Alright, next year we’ll pass hate crimes and the next year we’ll pass ENDA…” But right now we are not seeing any progress. If you look north to Canada, when the liberal party came up, they set out on a grassroots agenda to provide equality for gays in Canada and they delivered it year after year and it only took them a handful of years to get there. They should be an example to the Democratic party in the United States on how they can return the favor to LGBT America has done for them in providing large amounts of money, time and votes to put them into power.
They make a nice argument, but lesbians rule. Popular culture wants to see Brittany lick Paris, Ellen put her dildo in another woman, or any other attractive female.
Gay men are despised, still………
Bottom line, lesbians advance our (LGBT) cause in America.
OK, didn’t it use to be GLBT in the days of Harvey Milk ?
BTW, LGBT is the stock symbol for Planet Out that is facing bankruptsy. Perhaps they would have had better luck with GLBT.
Can gay men advance the movement ? And we must refer to a movement rather than a community. The only thing really progressing is on the Internet with these blogs. People expressing themselves, telling their stories.
So how did LGBT activism grow since the 1980’s ? It was because of AIDS and panic from those infected. “I am dying, the government is doing nothing and does not care” Larry Kramer was infected, so he made noise and got others angry as hell, juices flowing. Fast forward 2008 = He now has a new liver and no longer tests for HIV, according to his former lover, now head of the Gill Foundation.
Activism today depends on the impetus of the gay marriage struggle, because middle class America thinks we are worthy enough to be married becaue we are not just one man fucking one woman to produce one baby.
America thinks we are unworthy citizens.
What a ridiculous, useless discussion! Matt Foreman, the failed former leader of NLGTF offering up the same spin and lies he used during United ENDA, and Lane Hudson, the failed HRC staffer and self-important gadfly. Both stroking each other while agreeing on just about everything. Some debate!
BTW, Lane should get over his messiah complex. Elected officials in DC have been on board with marriage since he was still in diapers, and he’s done nothing in DC but bleet at people who’ve been aronud much longer and know exactly what they’re doing.
These guys are so thoroughly pickled with left-wing ideological purity, they can’t accomplish anything. They seem to exist to complain bitterly at any hint of pragmatism and do their best to sabotage people who are actually trying to accomplish something that is achievable.
Confronted with another bill in DC to dramatically expand domestic partnership and make them very much like civil unions, all Lane can do is bitch, moan, scream, and throw a tantrum because the bill doesn’t have the m-word in it. Confronted with the prospect that after 30 years Congress might pass ENDA, all Foreman can do is bitch, moan, scream, and throw a tantrum because the bill doesn’t include the brand-new transgender language that is utterly unpassable.
If they so bemoan working pragmatically and realistically through the political process, I look forward to seeing them form their little left-wing queer army to overthrow the government. Yeah, right! All they want to do is bask in self-satisfied ideological purity and sabotage people who are actually trying to work within the system. Grow up or shut up, boys.
Oh, and this “marriage as opening” bid rhetoric is the newest scam to come out of the ideological purist politburo. People who have enacted relationship-recognition laws around the country have succeeded by downplaying marriage, not storming the legislature screeching about marriage.
Ask Washington State Representative Jamie Pederson, the out legislator leading the charge to enact comprehensive domestic partnerships in his state. His campaign – which has already succeeded in enacting basic relationship-recognition legislation – has studiously steered clear of marriage.
But why would purists try to mislead people and get them to talk about marriage when we know that undermines efforts as passing civil union bills? Because the ideological purists WANT to sabotage civil union bills. They apparently deem them so personally offensive that they’d rather gay couple go without any protections or rights at all during the decades it will take in many places to enact marriage bills. They realized that their “marriage or nothing” mantra was too transparent, so now they’re trying to reach the same result by pretending to support civil unions but hawking a political strategy designed to sabotage attempts to pass civil union legislation.
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