What Did Richard Socarides’ ‘Secret’ Gay Activist Meeting in Knoxville Accomplish?

When Queerty was the first to break news of a secret activist meeting taking place outside Knoxville, we were short on details. We knew a few attendees, that it was a coming-together of power players, and that it was supposedly “all expenses paid” for guests. But who was running the thing? And what was the goal?

Richard Socarides (Bill Clinton’s former LGBT advisor and this guy, pictured left) and Paul Yandura (a Dallas Principles organizer and leading critic of the gay-cash-loving DNC, pictured right) have been identified as two organizers. Jonathan Lewis, heir to the Progressive Insurance fortune and cash-happy Prop 8 foe, paid the bill; Yandura is said to be on his payroll. And in the crowd of about 40 were the “young set” of activists, many of whom — like confirmed attendees Robin McGehee and Kip Williams — worked with Cleve Jones on the National Equality March. (UPDATE: McGehee and Williams posted this note about the meeting.)

Also taking part? Larry Kramer, the playwright, who’s insisting there was nothing “secret” about the meeting — which has some truth to it, given attendees were tweeting the event under the #radminds hashtag, which apparently stands for “radical minds.” But as Laura Kanter notes on her blog No Back Seats, “The tweets were intriguing but vague and almost purposefully cryptic, leaving me first curious, then envious, then resentful, then relieved.” (Kanter did not attend; she wasn’t invited.)

So what was this meeting about?

For starters, it isn’t connected to the Gill Foundation-NGLTF’s just-announced (but also “secret”) project. But it does appear to be another of these grassroots, anti-Gay Inc. strategies to secure equality.

Writes Derek Washington, the Las Vegas activist who attended: “I would be the first to tell you if we were reinventing the wheel up here in a place so cold my cojones went into hibernation. We’re not. What we are doing is taking the Bull by the horns and doing something to make our world, our country, a better place for all of us. … We , the grassroots activists are doing it. Are you Gay Inc.?”

But was there anything “radical” about it? Some names attending include David McElhatton, Chris Miller, and of course McGehee, who tweeted toward the end of the retreat: “As #radminds ends – humbly think about sacred HIGHlander ground I walk and I dream of a revolution that pushes back ALL who stand in our way.” Exactly: It’s hard to tell.

Which means we’re reserving our judgment until we have more details. But at least we’re seeing movement, outside the typical gay rights establishment (your 501(3)(c)s, we mean), to push forward with a cohesive group of motivated individuals with a common goal. This isn’t about self-serving interests, outside of fighting for equality across the board. Which, when it comes to gay rights struggles, is a novel idea.

Or maybe just another opportunity for activists to bitch at each other. Tweets Join The Impact founder Amy Balliett (on right, with partner Jessica Trejo): “I think one of the most powerful next steps I can take for my activism is to take classes to learn to mediate activist groups.”

(Photos: via, via)