Who Will Lead the Gay Rights Movement? Gay Rights Orgs Say “You”


When the history of the gay rights movement is written – hopefully sooner rather than later – the story of Prop. 8’s damage to gays and lesbians may be overshadowed by the way the California gay marriage ban transformed the gay movement. In a survey conducted by Queerty of several high-profile gay rights organizations, we learned some organizations are ceding authority to specialized campaigners to focus on marriage efforts, while others are stepping back from the marriage fight altogether. In the wake of last week’s California Supreme Court hearing, we had a simple question for these prominent gay organizations: “What’s your game plan now?” The collective answer represents a seismic shift, not just for California gay marriage, but for the future of the gay rights movement as a whole.

• Some gay rights organizations that held prominent (and arguably ineffective) roles in the fight against Prop 8 are deferring to others to lead the next chapter of the gay marriage struggle. The Human Rights Campaign will let the Courage Campaign, a non-gay-specific organization, spearhead its efforts.
• The software that powered Barack Obama‘s campaign for the White House will now power a new effort in mobilizing gay marriage supporters

When asked about specific plans to overturn Prop. 8, none of these leaders had any direct plan to do so, though all express a desire to do so at some point in the future

Queerty reached out to a half dozen different gay rights groups in the last two days to ascertain their next moves on marriage equality. Several trends emerged. The first, unsurprisingly, is a reticence to become involved in another marriage campaign. In conversations gay rights leaders engaged in on the condition of anonymity, we learned many of these folks who where involved in the Prop. 8 campaign blame each other for their loss and are looking to move on.

The crowd shouting that Prop 8 leaders ought not be in charge of the next marriage campaign have found an unlikely ally — namely, Prop. 8 leaders.

Kate Kendall of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told a group of San Franciscans last weekend that she would not be involved in any future marriage campaigns; questions about NCLR’s future involvement were passed along to Equality California. Jim Key, a spokesperson for The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, says his organization was in the process of running canvassing operations and it will soon announce an advertising competition encouraging people to submit marriage equality ads.

When asked about specific plans to overturn Prop. 8, none of these leaders had any direct plan to do so, though all express a desire to do so at some point in the future.

This is not, however, another story about how the Prop. 8 campaign screwed up. While it’s instructive to learn from the mistakes of the past, dwelling on it only blinds us to the future emerging before our eyes.


Two major developments within the last week signal a shift in the center of gravity of the gay rights movement, a shift that will have far reaching impacts on the gay movement for years to come. The first is the decision by Equality California to hire MassEquality’s Marc Solomon as their marriage director, a newly created position dedicated to achieving marriage equality in California. Solomon previously defeated the Massachusetts constitutional amendment against gay marriage and is relocating to Los Angeles in April. Solomon says it should be clear why he chose L.A. over S.F as his base of operations: “It’s pretty straightforward. The five largest counties in California are down here and we lost all of them on Prop. 8.”

Solomon says that he plans on running the campaign, whose goal is to win hearts and minds and not necessarily focus on a specific ballot initiative, in the style of Barack Obama’s presidential bid, saying, “We are organizing a grassroots field operation. We’re going to be hiring a team of field organizers for starters. In Massachusetts we had…20 field organizers. We’re able to start with six here, but Massachusetts is about 1/80th the size of California. We’re going to base field organizers in San Diego, Orange County in the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and Sacramento. We’re going to focus on the places where we didn’t do so well.” Solomon foresees “mobilizing the married couples, other gay folks, parents, friends, talking to people.” He points to an especially effective ad he used in Massachusetts that featured the 24-year-old son of two lesbian moms talking about what it would mean if his parents marriage was invalidated. Solomon plans on staying in California “until we get marriage equality for all.”

Many of the groups involved in the Prop. 8 campaign blame each other for their loss and are looking to move on.

The greatest sign that change is in the air, however, came from yesterday’s announcement that the Human Rights Campaign would be sponsoring the Courage Campaign’s next round of “Camp Courage” grassroots training programs. Yes, HRC is letting someone else handle the fight.

While the two organizations share the name “campaign”, they could not be more different. For one, The Courage Campaign is not even a gay rights organization, something its founder and chair Rick Jacobs sees as one of its strengths.

“Yes, I’ll just say yes, even though I know people aren’t going to agree with me,” says Jacobs when asked if not being a gay rights organization made the Courage Campaign more effective at bringing marriage equality about. “How can you possibly talk about marriage equality without talking about the environment?” he asks, explaining, “How could you want to have the right to raise children without being concerned about the kind of world they grow up in?” For Jacobs, the fight for marriage equality is part of a broader progressive movement. “Barack Obama didn’t create a movement, he tapped into one that was already there. That’s what we’re doing.”

Last weekend, the Courage Campaign ran its most recent “Camp Courage” in Fresno, California. Jacobs relates a story, breaking down while retelling it, about how a pair of the attendees wrote a check for $300 asking that it be used to help defray the costs of an upcoming San Francisco version of Camp Courage, only asking that they tell the attendees there that “their friends in Fresno support you.”


Jacobs describes the role of the Courage Campaign as that of a facilitator for all the folks who want to get involved. To that end, they have purchased the software used by Barack Obama to run their web operation and will soon launch a marriage equality version of mybarackobama.com. Jacobs says that he sees all kinds of people at the events, but that many of them are young and they “get this stuff in their bones.” He believes that “grassroots is the only way, the most effective way to get this done,” but also has moved past the blame game of Prop. 8.

He relays a yarn that gay rights activist Cleve Jones, who now works closely with the Courage Campaign, told him about how the gay rights movement came from a radical place. That it was once part of the feminist, anti-war and environmental movement and how Jones remembers that at one point in his friend Harvey Milk’s career, it became obvious that he would need corporate money to win. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but Jones goes on to say that the onslaught of AIDS only made the gay community more reliant on corporations. Jacobs jumps in at this point to defend these organizations. “The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center does a wonderful job providing much needed services to the community, but along the way, groups like these became corporatized.”

It’s not meant as a rebuke, but a fact. In doing the much needed job of providing services, many gay rights organizations shed their political campaigning roots and lost their ability to work as political agents. Jacobs hopes to bring back that spirit.

That’s the news I’ve been waiting to hear. I’m going to jump in for a minute and throw in my own two cents.

First, I’d like to make a brief admission: When I first considered blogging here at Queerty, working for another gay media organization was the last thing I wanted to do. I have conjured up more gay angles for stories than even I could have imagined. Want a story about kittens? “The Secret Lives of Lesbians and Their Cats.” Want a gay story about hot air balloons? I will find the leather daddy whose crafting a balloon shaped like a leather hooded mask.

So why’d I take the job? Because I believe that the gay rights movement is larger than just gay rights. We must move beyond the petty battles of identity politics and embrace our role as part of a larger progressive movement. You can not care about gay rights without caring about the issues of poverty, race, education and social justice that beset this country, because without making progress on those problems, we will never make progress on our own.

You can not care about gay rights without caring about the issues of poverty, race, education and social justice

As frequent readers know, I joined here as your editor just after Prop. 8 passed. With you, over these past few months, we’ve discussed the future of gay rights in this country. Who should lead us, what went wrong, what does the future hold? It has been, and I imagine will remain, a contentious debate. It’s also a vital and necessary on. There are times where there seems to be an endless string of bad news: gays and lesbians being assaulted, religious leaders using us as a scapegoat and of course, the demeaning idiocy of watching gays and lesbians marry five, six or seven times, because the laws governing their relationship are used as a political prop by unscrupulous bigots. I don’t blame the bitter rancor that sometimes erupts. I’ve been at it all of five months and I’m already fifty times more cynical.

But we are all aware that the world is undergoing rapid change. None of us live in a vacuum and the time has come for us to stop thinking about ourselves as a gay rights movement and begin thinking of ourselves as an equal rights movement. Equality is not just about equal rights for ourselves, but equal rights for all. The way forward will require us to be smarter then we’ve been, no question about it, but it will also require us to take a broader view of who we are and what we want. If we wish to weave our lives into the fabric of America, we have to weave our movement into the broader tapestry as well.

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  • Sebbe

    Soloman’s move to California is great news. He did an excellent job with the ConCon here in Massachusetts. The ad he is referring to was very effective. The field organizers were great. Of course California is a totally different landscape. California has 5.5 times as many people as Massachusetts. Massachusetts has only one media market and California is 15 times the area.

  • AKA William

    Since Prop 8, there has been so much in-fighting between gays and so much lashing out by gays at other minorities (black, Latino, Mormon) that I was beginning to wonder if we’d all taken one big civil rights step backward.

    But this article is a great reminder that civil rights are, once again, civil rights — for all of us. This article was such a relief to read. And a joy. And, you know, if nothing else, the firestorm of the past months can serve to highlight the unity that animates fighting the good fight.

  • BillyBob Thornton

    bravo! Well said!!!

  • Singlelady

    This is the type of new article that I have been waiting to hear since the passing of Prop 8. Thanks you! It is a relief to see that people are finally getting it and stepping back to see the big picture. The numbers we could acquire if we joined together would create a political power that would be unprecedented and ultimately unstoppable. The next step is to figure out how to combine forces and reach out to our natural allies. For reals this time.

  • Chitown Kev

    It’s early, and I still have to down my coffee and read this closely but here is my question:

    Will there be similar “Camp Courage” workshops nationwide as needed? Again, it seems as of California is sucking ALL of the air and the resources

  • boarderthom

    Compare and contrast; one of my high school english teachers drilled that into my head.
    Compare and contrast: Slave rights and gay rights; the contrasts are easy, the comparisons are profound. Slaves could not get legally married either. They could not create and sign contracts, and what is marriage mostly (legally speaking) but a huge contract with thousands of rights and responsibilities.
    Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke there last year saying, “That just like apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between different races, laws against homosexuality are increasingly becoming recognized as anachronistic and inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion, and respect for all.”
    Apartheid: A system of laws applied to one category of citizens in order to isolate them and keep them from having privileges and opportunities given to all others.
    Stop gay apartheid…

  • Chitown Kev

    Japhy, can you delete or edit Comment #7?

    The comparison of “gay rights” to “slave rights” is insulting, racist, and unnecessarily inflammatory.

    The apartheid portions of the comment are cool, I even agree with them to a certain extent.

  • Mad Professah

    @Chitown Kev:

    HRC is supporting Camp Courage financially so that it will happen in more sections of California.

    The Task Force is also holding what it calls a “power summit” which is similar to a statewide version of a CampCourage. THey do one a year and in 2009 (April 24-27) it’s in Portland, Maine. I’m sure Maine was chosen because they will be passing a marriage bill this year, as well as supporting marriage efforts in nearby Vermont and New Hampshire.

  • Chitown Kev

    @Mad Professah:

    Thanks, MP, I ask only because this might be something I’m willing to participate in, even if I have to travel and hobo a bit to do it, but I’ll research on my own.

    Just don’t forget us in Illinois and Iowa!

  • Scott

    Who will lead the gay rights movement? It better not be one who practices that Gandhi shit!

    “Christian”: “all homosexuals are pedophiles, all homosexuals will destroy the world, so we must destroy them first.”

    Gandhi gay activist: “Oh, ok. I appreciate your opinion. Do what you must. Would you like me to help you order some prussian blue? I can also help you clean the gas chamber beforehand.”

  • Bill Perdue

    The shakeup of the GLBT rights movement is just beginning.

    It’s fueled by our unnecessary losses and the arrival on the scene of larger and more radicalized layers of GLBT youth. It’ll be spurred ass widespread social radicalization in response to recession/depression and war begins to unfold.

    American society is fracturing and a new GLBT leadership is just beginning to shake out. Don’t count on most existing groups surviving that process.

  • getreal

    I attended Camp Courage this past weekend in Fresno and was blown away. It was incredibly diverse. There were gays and lesbians of course but there were also straight blacks and latinos and asians and a large number trans people’s.

  • Ben

    @Chitown Kev: And can you delete or edit your knee-jerk quasi-fascist reaction to shut down an opinion that you somehow find insulting?

    Oh you can’t?

    Well guess what: the compare/contrast exercise with gay civil rights and black civil rights is apt. And not leaving public discourse about this issue anytime soon. Guess that makes me and others insulting and inflammatory racists. Oh well, we’ll sleep tonight.

  • Jason

    When asked about the California Constitution last week Ric Jacobs said “we need to stay away from God, guns and gays at all costs” and now he’s going to be our leader?


  • getreal

    @Jason: Actually the whole point of Courage Campaign was to train new leaders and to give them access to resources to build their organizations. Rick jacob said at both of the camps I’m not the leader you (pointing out into the audience) are the leaders.

  • Chitown Kev


    Now this is acceptable. Note that I said the apartheid comments could remain.

    You may want to read a little about the rights of slaves, whether they be sex slaves in Eastern Europe, the Sudan, ancient Rome, or (my frame of reference) black slavery in the Americas.

    Any comparison of a gay man to a slave is ridiculous and insulting.

  • getreal

    @Chitown Kev: I was at Camp Courage and there were comparisons made to the civil rights movement of the 60’s to the current gay civil rights movement so if that is not a comparison that you feel comfortable with i would take that into account before taking part in these events.

  • Ben

    @Chitown Kev: “Any comparison of a gay man to a slave is ridiculous and insulting.”

    Tuff titties. We’re still going to do it. Compare AND contrast the inequalities that black people and gay people endure. Because it’s what rational people do. Injustice is always measured against other injustices. Why is this so hard to digest? What makes comparing and contrasting the injustices of black people to other social injustices a sacred cow, not to be “insulted”? Nothing does.

    And you reveal your sexist bias when you single out “gay man” to the exclusion of lesbians. I guess we’re allowed to compare lesbians to black people, then? (The general downplaying of lesbians from the topic of gay civil rights drives me crazy.)

    And still no defense about your thin-skinned pleading for censorship. Unsurprising. There is no defense for it.

  • Bill Perdue

    @Jason: @Jason:

    Jason, where did that statement appear. Do you know of a good political analysis of Jacobs and his group? Are they run by people soley interested in GLBT equality.

  • getreal

    Courage campaign is run by Lgbt activists who aim is gay rights but they hope to be an organization that will continue to fight for equality and justice for other oppressed minorities.

  • Chitown Kev

    OK, I’m through with it.

    Because the only place that I am aware of that gay men were ever slaves were in Nazi concentration camps.

    I am all for comparing and contrasting. In my experience, I have experienced far more unequal treatment as a gay man than as a black man, no argument there. But would I compare my experience as a gay black man to that of a slave? Nope.

    No one ever forced me to suck a dick. I am paid a wage for what I do for the work.

    And my sexist bias? I cop to that, though I am better than I used to be. But the stereotypical gay male sexist pig, been there, done, and sometimes it still slips out.

  • Chitown Kev

    I am not going to get drawn back into this yet again, what’s up, getreal.

    I am interested in these workshops.

  • Ben

    @Chitown Kev: “Note that I said the apartheid comments could remain.”

    I forgot to mention that this concession is extremely magmanimous on your part, acting as you are on behalf of the intellectual legacy of black civil rights.

  • Ben

    @Chitown Kev: “OK, I’m through with it.”

    I’ll take that to mean you’re through with calling for censorship of the discussion when comparing the two civil rights movements. We’re making progress. Sweet.

  • getreal

    @Chitown Kev: I would highly recommend attending I attended one in LA and in Fresno. They are highly enjoyable but no nonsense training’s on activism and how to use what you have learned in your community.

  • Chitown Kev


    I’m here in Illinois, so I’d have to take time off to do it (and pay for it)…so…we’ll see what happens.

    Ben, what does slavery have to do with black civil rights?

  • getreal

    @Chitown Kev: The more support they get the more camps will happen email them and give them reasons why a camp is needed in illinois and offer to help organize it. You WILL be listened to.

  • Chitown Kev



    I suspect that it was Ben’s comment that I flagged early.


    Trust me, it’s no picnic being a gay black man but compared to female sex SLAVES in Macedonia…

  • Captain Freedom

    HRC finally decided to throw in the towel! That is the best news I have ever heard. The HRC is an abominable organization that has taken tens of millions of hard earned dollars out of the gay community to create their center in DC and throw black-tie affairs for bigwig Democrats who don’t care about our rights but love our money.

    Thank god Marc Solomon is now on board. We’re going to really need him here in California. For starters, they need to redo their canvassing operations. Stop giving phonebankers 5 sheets to write stuff down on and SIMPLIFY it. We should send canvassers only into areas they are familiar with. It doesn’t make much sense to send a bunch of white gays into Chinatown or a black neighborhood if they have no familiarity of the community or its values.

    We need more outreach and less reliance on political strategists who have no clue what they are doing.

    Oh and last but not least… STOP SENDING CANVASSERS TO DEMOCRATIC PARTY HEADQUARTERS! On election day, I wanted to only work on Prop 8 but the Prop 8 people sent me to campaign for Democrats who I didn’t give a flying f**k about. It was sickening how the Dumbocrats hijacked our campaign and neutered it along w their buddies in the HRC big-money operation.


    @getreal: Just curious. not trying to pick a fight. Are you aware that people who see themselves as transgender/transsexual/gender queer also identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual?

    Gender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation. FYI

  • Ben

    @Chitown Kev: “Ben, what does slavery have to do with black civil rights?”

    Um, in the US, slavery was an institution perpetrated upon black people that resulted from the poisonous racism of white people. It denied black people many civil rights and privileges. So strong was the effect of this racism and resulting slavery that even after the institution was abolished, black people were still denied for decades various civil rights and privileges, as well as being subjected to other heinous discriminatory social consequences, including up until the present day.

    How’d I do? Do I get a gold star?

    We get it: it’s worse to be a persecuted slave than a modern persecuted gay person. In broad general terms. Everyone knows this.

    But injustices are RELATED. They are not necessarily the SAME in terms of degree of consequences. But they have certain similarities and parallels by which we can compare them. Everyone SHOULD know this.

    One group purposefully disenfranchising another: Women’s sufferage. “No Irish need apply.” Anti-Catholic laws at the founding of our country….and so on. All unrelated? No comparisons allowed?

    from boaderthom: “Slaves could not get legally married either. They could not create and sign contracts, and what is marriage mostly (legally speaking) but a huge contract with thousands of rights and responsibilities.”

    In this context of gay marriage equality, it’s gobsmacking this simple point eludes you (and people who think like you.) Especially since you have membership in two disenfranchised groups (which have overlapping injustices!).

    But more than that, it’s outrageously quasi-fascist and arrogant of you to plead for censorhsip when some brings it up.

    Rousseau weeps.

    Also: “No one ever forced me to suck a dick. I am paid a wage for what I do for the work.”

    Unnecessary explicitness aside, your point is muddled. It’s like you’re implying you turn tricks for a living. Which is not necessarily an ignoble profession, in my eyes.

    And now I’m done. I need to go experience Watchmen on IMAX. yay!

  • getreal

    @BMWLK: Actually I met a lot of trans people this weekend and some told me they did not identify as gay or lesbian but as trans. I was surprised to hear that I think that there is more than one way of thinking on trans issues, that trans people feel many different ways about identity. For instance I met people who preferred to be referred to a ze instead of he or she.

  • Anthony in Nashville


    Slaves had rights? Umm…I would think that by definition a slave doesn’t have any rights. Bad comparison.

    It is moments like this that make a lot of black people (straight and gay) feel like gay people are a little to eager to compare themselves with black people without knowing the history.

    You can reference the ways in which the discrimination against gay people is similiar to blacks, but to go straight to slavery is a bit much.

  • mz.spears

    its a shame but the article is the truth :s

  • Chitown Kev

    Japhy, I just took the time to read your spiel. Right on!

  • Charles J. Mueller

    Hmm…I wonder when the gay Savior is coming? ;-)

  • strumpetwindsock

    Just a comment on Boarderthom’s post.

    I think part of the confusion is that he referred to “slave rights”. If he’s talking about recognizing human rights, there is no such thing as a “slave right”.

    Slavery is not an innate human condition like gender, race, orientation or age. Nobody would ever write conditions for slavery in to any charter of rights. Slavery is a socio-economic class – one which many people are trying to erase from the face of the earth.

    There ARE agreements which relate to the rights of classes – prisoners of war, workers, refugees – but they are all built on the foundation of basic human rights.

    In the case of slavery, at least slavery in U.S. history, “slave rights” actually refers to the denial of rights based on race. While there were free African Americans during slave times, that freedom was by virtue of contract law – the fact they were not owned by someone.

    The U.S. institution of slavery specifically violated the human right of racial equality, because it allowed non-whites to be bought, sold and abused.

    So I get Boarderthom’s point, though many have said (including me) there may be parallels between GLBT and black oppression, it is not accurate to say they are equivalent.

    I think his post might have been more accurate and perhaps less offensive without the “slave rights” reference.

  • strumpetwindsock

    Actually I just went and did a bit of reading about the ending of slavery in the British Empire and came across this BBC article (point form, sorry).

    There are interesting points in it – that the campaign was largely driven by women (and as in the U.S. churches, which is not mentioned), and that it was primarily a moral decision – not one based on war or economic force.

    I mention this only because it is a good example of one group of people being the driving force in helping another, and doing it through largely non-violent means.

  • Chitown Kev


    I get your point about contract law, the problem is all the other baggage that went along with that denial of rights (sexual explotation, complete and total demoralization and humiliation, beatings, etc.) For African Americans it’s not a matter of contract law and it would be humiliating and insensitive to discuss it in that matter. I can’t even think of an ancient Roman law that defined a slave as being less than a human, for example.

  • strumpetwindsock

    @Chitown Kev:
    No… that’s not what I meant.
    Sorry if I didn’t explain it clearly enough. I agree with you about the absolute degradation and denial of rights that African Americans suffered. As I have said, if you want to talk about who has suffered as much as black people, some of the indian nations might have a case, but our situation pales in comparison – in my opinion, anyway.

    My point was that there is no such thing as “slave rights”. The institution of slavery violated the right to human racial equality because it did not afford non-whites the same protection from slavery that whites enjoyed.

    I did not mean that slavery was simply a contract matter. In the days of slavery it fell under contract law because slaves were considered property – but only because laws allowing slavery were a gross denial of human rights.

    Really, I only brought it up because I felt the inaccurate “slave rights” term made a potentially volatile post even worse. It wasn’t my intention to throw gas on the fire myself.

    But your mention of not being considered a person reminds me of the fight for women’s suffrage here in Canada. Until 1917 (earlier in some provinces) women were not allowed the vote because they were not considered human beings under the British North America Act, which was our de facto constitution until the 1980s.

    Women did enjoy some protection under the law, and protection from slavery (unlike African Americans), but they were in a legal limbo. One of the events which did a lot to change things was actually a piece of theatre, which took place in the city I come from, Winnipeg. A group of women activists stages a mock parliament in which they argued why men should not have the vote:

    I know we’ve been talking a lot recently about how to challenge those who deny our rights. In my opinion real progress usually doesn’t come down to building walls or fighting, but rather opportunities to show the bigots how we are all the same, and demonstrate how ridiculous and hurtful their ideas are.

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