listen up

What the National Black Justice Coalition Just Did That Every Gay Inc. Group Should Mimic


What a novel idea: A leading Gay Inc. activist organization is actively soliciting suggestions from its own members. Suggestions about how to move forward and what type of agenda they should work on. Excuse our excitement, because this is sort of groundbreaking.

Yes, there are groups like the Courage Campaign, which actively polls its members to determine next steps. (That polling resulted in CC initially deciding to move forward with a 2010 Prop 8 repeal effort; that effort has since been dropped.)

But the National Black Justice Coalition — which just appointed (heterosexual) Sharon Lettman as its executive director — is now asking its own members how to “reimagine” NBJC in 2010.

It’s unclear, of course, just how much these suggestions will weigh on the agenda of NBJC, which is just six years old. Will filling out your name, email address, and a brief message put you in direct contact with Lettman? Unlikely. But we really want to believe that, in an email blast to members soliciting their advice, Lettman is serious about listening to supporters and implementing their goals moving forward. And she’s making a promise to take those instructions seriously: “We take the ‘coalition’ part of our name very seriously, and consider you as a stakeholder in our work. Tell us what NBJC can do on your behalf, and what we could be doing better. What issues are important to you? How do you envision NBJC making a real difference in the everyday lives of our African American LGBT brothers and sisters? Put a critical eye to what you’ve seen and what you would like to see. For the next twelve months, [email protected] is your direct line to our listening ear. Each and every constructive email is welcomed and will get the personal attention it deserves as we remake NBJC into your organization.”

Why is this such a revolutionary idea? Because an organization that’s just six years old, and devoted to gays of color, and now helmed by a straight woman, is looking to the very people who donate to and mobilize for it to shape its future.

Is lobbying Congress to pass ENDA most important? Or securing financial commitments to fight HIV/AIDS? What role should NBJC play in killing DADT?

NBJC’s policies and activism will surely be shaped by Lettman’s own goals, and the board’s. But we’re thrilled to see a Gay Inc. group open itself up to the very membership that keeps it alive. Particularly because NBJC’s kin — we’re looking at you, Human Rights Campaign — seems only interested in its membership’s money, not ideas. Looking through a month’s worth of emails from HRC, and one thing is clear: This organization is telling its members what to do; HRC isn’t asking for input on anything.

We’d suggest going one step further. As Michael Petrelis has recommended, listening tours — whether in-person public forums or live webcasts — are an absolute must for activist groups moving forward. We demand action from our lawmakers when we donate money; we must demand the same from our activist groups. (Remarkably, one fellow Gay Inc. group is doing this; GLAAD is hosting a web-based “house party” on Dec. 14 where anyone can interact with chief Jarrett Barrios.)

And the one way to show us you’re listening to the community’s needs is to, well, listen to the community’s needs.