By Frank Pizzoli
You go to Pride. Maybe you march in a gay parade. You write a check to an organization fighting for your civil rights. Would you participate in a demonstration?
Are the “times a changin’” in 2010 for gay people as Bob Dylan sang in the change-making 60s?
“We’ll be making some new noise in the old ways,” Clinton White House insider David Mixner told Central Voice last March. With AIDS Quilt founder Cleve Jones, he set into motion the Oct. 11, 2009 National Equality March.
Mixner is hearing some noise.
University of Rhode Island’s GLBT Center and Gay-Straight Alliance recently staged a sit-in. Protest organizers hoped the “non-violent, direct action” would spur administrators to “take immediate steps to ensure the safety and inclusion of lgbt students, faculty and staff.”
“We have had students throwing used condoms into students’ rooms, drawing offensive images on people’s doors, and an epidemic of people yelling ’faggots’ as they drive by the GLBT Center,” said junior Brian Stack. Sophomore Justin Willner said the campus atmosphere “makes it clear I am second rate and my well being is not valued.”
Launched about six months ago, GetEqual.org, has is making some of the noise Mixner hears.
Cofounded by Oct. 11 national march co-organizers Robin McGehee and Kip Williams, the mostly 20-something group isn’t afraid of direct action. “They parted ways in order to add a direct action component as a tactic to move the national lgbt civil rights movement forward,” said GetEqual’s managing director Heather Cronktor.
GetEqual.org’s “Action Video” of street-blocking a San Francisco demonstration urging US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move ENDA legislation (Employment Nondiscrimination Act) can be seen at http://www.thecentralvoice.ning.com. The group said Pelosi is “blocking legislation that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.” ENDA is a pending Congressional bill first introduced in 1994 to prohibit workplace discrimination against homosexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Following the Pelosi demonstration, GetEqual and Join the Impact-Chicago held a non-violent, civilly disobedient “flash mob” targeting Illinois congressman Rep. Daniel Lipinski. They called on Lipinski “to show leadership and demand that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – who he supported for that position – fulfill her promise to call for a House vote on ENDA this year.
In Philadelphia, three activists staged a six hour sit-in outside of Pa. Congressman Chris Carney’s office (D-10th Dist.) calling on him to support ENDA. A Carney spokesperson confirmed that he voted for ENDA in 2007 but McGehee said Carney’s staff have indicated he may be leaning toward a “no” vote in the future. Carney voted against hate crimes legislation and DADT repeal.
In another recent action, the activist group rallied about 20 people to the White House in support of DADT repeal. They also took action in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s home state. “GetEqual’s action drew attention to the DADT issue. Their arrests and blocking of traffic in Las Vegas helped a great deal in focusing attention on Sen. Reid’s inaction,” Mixner said. The US Senate defeated DADT when a national defense budget that contained repeal language failed. During the debate, activists stood up in the middle of the hearing room to demand Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) immediately end his threat to filibuster debate.
Locally, Zack Ford says differences in strategy throughout the lgbt movement are subtle and complex. Like any demographic, especially one as broad and hybrid as gay people, not all issues are important to everyone. “There are some in the community who couldn’t care less about issues like marriage equality,” Ford says. “They see marriage as a heterosexual institution they want nothing to do with.”
“GetEqual isn’t so different from other lgbt civil rights organizations,” Ford said. “My impression has been they’re pushing ENDA passage and DADT repeal as their two biggest issues, which I think is fair. The benefits of marriage don’t do you much good if you don’t have a job.”
Although issues may overlap with other organizations, GetEqual’s focus on direct action sets them apart.
“That has been controversial, but mainly because I think we have a new generation of potential activists who simply do not understand direct action. They understand giving donations, corporate lobbying, and creating visibility, but they’re not used to being empowered to stand up for change themselves,” Ford said. GetEqual changes that, he noted, by creating transparency about where our elected leaders stand on our issues. “Rather than back room lobbying, GetEqual creates a very public accountability for the inaction of our supposed allies.”
Does media visibility create the false impression of equality? Ford thinks “there is a public perception” that visibility equals equality.
For example, the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy in a new study says that only 1/3rd of adults who have had same-sex sexual experiences identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. While 3% of adults identify as lgb, an additional 6% identify as heterosexual but say that they have had same-sex sexual partners since age 18. “Given that nearly half of Americans still believe that homosexual relationships are morally wrong, it is not surprising to find ambiguity between how people behave sexually and how they identify their sexual orientation,” said study author Dr. Gary Gates.
Ford said “The popularity of shows like Glee and Modern Family create illusions that everyone has gay people in their lives. That all those gay people are just peachy, a continuation of the Will & Grace syndrome: All the gays are white, affluent, just living silly lives like the rest of us. This perception ignores transgender people in general, who face the most overt injustice and discrimination. The perception ignores the reality that outside of ‘gay Mecca’s’like New York, D.C., San Francisco, and L.A., gay lives are till pretty tough.
“Here in Pennsylvania, I can be denied housing, employment, and any sort of civil security for my relationship all because of my sexual orientation. That is not equality; that is still a culture of fear. Nobody reports that half of homeless youth are lgbt or that elderly lesbian couples are twice as likely to be living in poverty as their heterosexual counterparts. These are facts, but they don’t fit the rosy portrait of gay life that the media likes to paint,” Ford said.
Although stories about injustices are out there Ford thinks mainstream media is eager to ignore them, preferring to milk the provocative nature of gay issues. “It’s always about ‘giving both sides equal time,’ and you see MSNBC talking to anti-gay Tony Perkins, CNN talking to anti-gay Exodus International, or FOX News completely ignoring conservative Ken Mehlman’s coming out.” The two sides aren’t equal, Ford said. “One side has facts while the other has only ideology. Conflict gets better ratings than accountability, so we just keep hearing ‘both sides,’ which diminishes the real pain and injury of persistent discrimination.”