Will the Future of California’s Gay Marriage Be Televised?

QUEERTY EXCLUSIVE — In a piece published yesterday on the blog Towleroad entitled “Big Prop 8-Related Summit Will Limit Media Access,” Rex Wockner reported Robin Tyler, a member of the planning committee for the upcoming Equality Summit that will bring together LGBT groups to plan the next step in the battle for California marriage quality, resigned over the issue of press access to the conference.

Tyler claimed “by a majority vote, the organizing committee decided not to let the press into the entire conference” and the news that gay orgs were restricting access to the first big event designed to bring the community together ping-ponged across the internet. Page OneQ reposted the item verbatim and Joe My God covered the news as well, directing readers to Pam’s House Blend, who described it as “a serious transparency problem.”

The problem? They’re all wrong. Here’s what really happened.

Queerty requested access to the Equality Summit, scheduled for Jan. 27, the moment it was announced. From the beginning we asked Anne Marks, the summit’s coordinator, what role the press would have at the event. The answer we received was that there would be press, maybe not everywhere, but no decision had been made.

So when we read we read Robin’s email to the media saying:

I resigned from the planning committee of the Equality Summit because I felt that the press should be allowed into the entire conference…This issue was discussed on a telephone call last week, and by a majority vote, the organizing committee decided not to let the press into the entire conference. After the call, I … felt very uncomfortable with this decision. I asked for it to be brought up again, as I think total media access is an extremely important issue. When I was told that the newly elected ‘Executive Committee’ had decided not to bring the issue up again, I resigned. … It felt like the same old ‘secretive’ process that had happened during the No on 8 campaign.

… we did a double take. Had the nascent Equality Summit hoodwinked us?

So, we decided, “Hey, let’s call up the Equality Summit coordinators and see what’s up,” because you know, we’re curious like that.

Anne put us in touch with Andrea Shorter, Campaign Director for And Marriage for All (pictured), who is also a member of the planning committee for the summit.

Shorter volunteered for No on 8, but was critical of its minority outreach efforts, as reported in The Nation:

“Andrea Shorter, a black lesbian volunteer for the No on 8 campaign, told me that the outreach to the African-American community began in earnest a week ago. “What’s happened is that there’s been an outcry from communities of color, including African-American communities, who say, ‘Include us!’ Now there’s a GOTV strategy, but for some it seems last minute,” she said in an interview before the election.”

According to Shorter, the question of press access was brought up by Robin Tyler at the very start, something she calls “putting the cart before the horse.” Shorter explains to Queerty:

“It’s unfortunate [that Tyler resigned] because it was so early on, before we even had a chance to discuss the program. It was an issue brought up by Robin. Right now we’re just starting the process of figuring out what the format of the summit will be; whether we have subcommittees or workshops and she was bringing up the issue [of press access] and we began to talk about what the pros and cons of having unfettered media access would be. The vote was on whether we wanted to have that discussion now or focus on programming first…We didn’t get to that part of the discussion yet.”

Shorter tell us she is “appreciative of what people like Robin Tyler has done for the community” and she acknowledges that the No on 8 campaign had a reputation for being a “closed door campaign,” but says of Tyler’s decision to resign, “You can’t have it both ways.”

You can’t complain about transparency and openness and reaching out to as many different groups as possible and then circumvent the process that’s working to make those very things happen. We can continue to stay stuck in a pattern that suggest that nobody can trust anybody or we can move forward and certainly learn from the mistakes of the No on 8 campaign, but this is meant to be a serious and honest discussion with community leaders and groups about winning marriage equality. Are we more concerned with how to move forward or are we going to stay stuck?

Shorter says that while no decision regarding press access has been made, the question is not an all-or-nothing proposition, saying:

We want to be transparent, but we don’t want to be stupid about it.

You’re going to have a bunch of equal right activists, some of them neophytes, meeting an talking for the first time and the question is, “Do we want to be operating in a fishbowl? Are we going to have CNN, MSNBC standing there at every plenary and meeting session?”

The point is we all want marriage equality and we have to have honest discussions to do that.

We asked whether gay media outlets with a vested interest in the issue should be allowed to attend, even if only in an off-the-record position (only a question, and not something Queerty agreed to sign on to). Shorter laughed: “Like I said, we haven’t had this discussion yet, but what’s funny is that there’s also the argument that reporter’s journalistic integrity and objectiveness mean that they can’t really be considered part of the community.”

We explain that Queerty‘s lack of objectivity is stated right in our tag line and that reaching out to gay media outlets will go a long way to embracing the whole transparency ethos. Shorter responds, “Well, we haven’t decided yet, but that sounds like sound thinking.”

And if the Equality Summit isn’t completely open, Shorter will be fine with that as well, giving critics like Tyler a challenge:

“I am waiting for a detailed media report on the strategy sessions and planning of the Yes on 8 campaign. If anyone can give me a blow-by-blow account of the meetings, decisions and strategies of the Yes on 8 campaign, I would be very interested in seeing it. I would love to see it, in fact.”

And since Queerty is not an objective news source, here’s our two cents:

We were as critical of the failed No on 8 campaign as anyone. In fact, if you look at our coverage since last year’s election it’s safe to say Queerty is probably the No on 8 campaign’s biggest critic (it’s a toss-up between us and the L.A. Weekly, really). We stand by those criticisms and will continue to explore why that campaign failed so that the same mistakes are not repeated.

That said, the Equality Summit is an important and useful thing. From all appearances so far, any group wanting to take part is welcome — that’s inclusiveness. As much as we’re advocates for journalistic access, inviting all media to all sessions would turn the summit into a press conference, not a strategy session. Do you really want Sean Hannity attending the Equality Summit? (Or a roving Bill O’Reilly producer ready to ambush?) Of course not, but if don’t want them, you must agree, then, that some decisions regarding press access need to be made — and by all accounts the planning committee of the Equality Summit will do so, but haven’t yet.

Anne Marks tells us that right now, the planning process is just restarting from the holiday break and that there should be an agenda by next Monday. Before branding the planners of the Equality Summit an evil, power-mongering, hermetic cabal, why don’t we give them a chance to act first?

The gay blogger kangaroo court yesterday sentenced the Equality Summit before it’s even had a chance to commit a crime. We know you all want a piece of the Prop. 8 action, but try to get both sides of the story before rushing to judgment.

UPDATE: Story continues here.