Fight the Right, Not Each Other

July 13, 2007 at 9:04 am 14 comments

Even now as the Senate is set to debate the federal hate crimes bill, much of the energy among progressive LGBT activists is focused on attacking the Human Rights Campaign for a political forum featuring presidential candidates. Far less attention has been given to urging LGBT people and our allies to inundate their senators with phone calls and emails about the hate crimes bill, than is being given to whether or not Mike Gravel, who has no chance in hell of being elected, is included in the forum that HRC is co-sponsoring with the LGBT cable network Logo.

This just goes to show that we are not nearly as politically sophisticated as we would like to believe ourselves to be and that our activism is steeped in personal self-expression rather than a focus on political effectiveness. We have the best chance ever of getting a major piece of LGBT legislation through both chambers of Congress and instead of fighting tooth and nail to make it, some of are engaged in another round on intramural bloodletting under the guise of holding organizations “accountable.”

HRC and Logo did make mistakes in both in how they have organized this presidential forum and how the announced it. Some bloggers and activists have made strong points about how HRC and Logo could have done things differently such as Pam Spaudling’s comments about the lack of journalists on the panel and questions that have been raised about the format. HRC staff should have recognized that eternally bitter homocons like Andrew Sullivan and Chris Crain would piss all over their efforts no matter what and that some progressive gays would use this as another opportunity to bash HRC rather than bash the religious extremists who are bashing us politically, mentally and physically. HRC should have included Mike Gravel in the forum which would not have cost them much and would not have given HRC critics an easy opportunity to claim that the group is out of touch.

This forum is a sign of our growing political strength and, yes, some credit should go to HRC for the work that it has done over the years in a hostile political environment to build that political strength. Rather than simply attacking our national organizations, we should be focused on how we can help to make them better, faster, stronger and more effective. The homo-haters at Focus on the Family alone have a budget that is larger than HRC, NGLTF, SLDN, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, National Black Justice Coalition and GLSEN combined. And that’s just one of the organizations that the religious right has built over the years to obliterate us.

Larry Kramer includes this quote from Lewis Powell who helped to mastermind the long-term political strategy that the right has been employing for the last 30 years in Kramer’s book, The Tragedy of Today’s Gays:

Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing only available through joint effort and in the political power only available through joint action.

The plan that they developed was then and is still now funded by some of the richest families in America. They are engaged in the kind of serious action that has helped them to build the political power needed to pass anti-marriage amendments in dozens of states, that gave us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that has prevented us from passing the Employment Non-Discrimination, that has stopped truly effective HIV prevention programs from being federally funded and more.

We should really be talking about how we can best take advantage of this opportunity to encourage the presidential candidates to take bolder action to make LGBT equality a reality. Even more importantly, we should be focusing on how we build, fund and execute a long-range plan to win our civil rights.

The candidates will be holding campaign events, rallies, town hall meetings etc in the various states that we live in. What is stopping any of us from gathering our friends and families and attending these events and raising the questions that we think are important? Want to know exactly why Clinton does not support marriage for same-sex couples? Show up at an event and ask her the question. Want to know what is Obama’s plan to repeal DADT? Show up and ask him. Want to know what is Richardson’s plan to improve the lives of LGBT youth? Ask him.

There is far too much at stake here to expect one organization to do all of the heavy lifting. We all have a role to play and frankly a moral duty to do everything we can to move towards LGBT equality. Don’t wait for HRC to raise the questions that you want answered. Raise the questions yourselves.


Entry filed under: 2008 Election, Advocacy, Campaigns, Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, HIV/AIDS, LGBT, Liberals, Marriage, Politics, Republicans.

How Low Can Bush Go? More Candidates Added to LGBT Forum

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Citizen Crain  |  July 13, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    You gotta love the irony in a blog post with the headline “Fight the Right, Not Each Other,” which then proceeds to fight each other, and not the right.
    So Andrew Sullivan and I are being “eternally bitter homocons” for registering criticism about the HRC candidates forum, while Pam Spaulding’s “comments” about the event were on point. Huh? Pam and I raised the same issues. But I’m bitter while her points are well taken. I’m glad we’re not wasting time on senseless fights with each other!

    In fact, I posted a second time yesterday on my blog crediting HRC with deciding they need a real journalist moderator and saying I wasn’t bothered by the exclusion of Mike Gravel. So, in fact, “Bloggernista” and Pam were more critical of HRC than eternally-bitter me!

    Here’s our fundamental difference in strategy, from my point of view (and crazy me for thinking the blogosphere was supposed to be the kind of place we had these types of open discussions without shushing each other up): “Bloggernista” seems to think we win our equality by “fighting the right.” I disagree. I think we win our equality — and much faster, btw — by pressuring those who say they support our rights to expend political capital on our behalf.

    Otherwise, they will act only after the societal consensus is so overwhelming that there’s no risk at all to supporting us. “Bloggernista” can wait for that distant day, and in the meantime make himself feel better by pointing out obvious silliness of “wingnuts” and the like. I’d rather focus on the here and now, and converting gay-friendly rhetoric into the passage of gay-friendly legislation.

    You want to see the hate crime law passed? The immediate problem is not “the right.” It’s whether leading Democrats will make it a priority to keep the amendment in the DoD authorization and won’t blink if Bush threatens veto.

  • 2. Citizen Crain  |  July 13, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    Eternally-bitter, combative me

    Bloggernista, an occasional reader of this blog who hides behind an acronym on his own, takes a shot at Andrew Sullivan and me for criticizing the Human Rights Campaign-Logo forum of Democratic presidential candidates. In a cross-post on his blog

  • 3. bloggernista  |  July 13, 2007 at 3:00 pm


    I do not believe that we will advance our fight for equality simply by taking on the right. I agree with you that we will make faster gains by pushing the Democrats to be bolder in advocating for LGBT civil rights which is something that I say in my post. But, I think we will make even faster gains by being willing to get down and politically dirty to combat the right-wing smear and pressuring the Democrats to expend political capitol on our issues.

    Pam Spaulding smacks HRC when she feels that they do something wrong, but she also acknowledges when the organization does something good. She is tough, but fair and I respect. You criticize without acknowledge the good work. I don’t read every word that you write, so feel free to point out a post or two where you have given HRC credit for its efforts.

    I do appreciate some of the things that you have written about in the past particularly around immigration issues and how they affected LGBT people. I have not tried to shush, so don’t claim that I have.

    Where we differ is, I think, is that I believe in pointing when groups do something good as well as when they do something bad. In my mind that’s only fair.

    In your comment you pointed out that the issue now in getting the hate crimes bill through the Senate is making sure that the Democrats make it a priority to keep the amendment in the DOD reauthorization bill. I could not agree more and that was a key point of my post. Let’s focus less energy on Gravel and the HRC forum and more time urging the Democrats to stand firm on the hate crimes amendment.

  • 4. Amicus  |  July 15, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    The candidates will be holding campaign events, rallies, town hall meetings etc in the various states that we live in. What is stopping any of us from gathering our friends and families and attending these events and raising the questions that we think are important?
    heya blogger! I think that is a FANTASTIC idea. The guys in Washington are so screwed-up and the Internet has made it possible to run a virtual organization. The only problem with the town-hall is that it’s format still allows soundbites. Therefore, go in numbers and have your friends ask the follow-up questions when the inevitable ‘evasions’ come up.

    I disagree. I think we win our equality — and much faster, btw — by pressuring those who say they support our rights to expend political capital on our behalf.

    Otherwise, they will act only after the societal consensus is so overwhelming that there’s no risk at all to supporting us.
    An interesting viewpoint to argue.

    Is there much historical evidence that politicians will expend political capital in the way you suggest?

    I mean, I know that politicians spend ‘political capital’ when … well, there is capital coming their way. In other words, political capital is the quid pro quo of money capital, most often. Otherwise, politicians do, indeed, *follow* the electorate (you don’t get re-elected by being unpopular…).

    What’s more, how does fighting for Mike Gravel fit into that ‘strategy’? First, if I understand your take on the strategy, he’s not there because you like Mike Gravel, he’s there because he can pressure some other people.

    Second, I don’t know his positions, but what if he says something outrageously worded enough that the Right picks up on it and uses it to paint the “forum” as a bastion of Radical Looney Leftism, and starts to push away some of the independent voters and frustrate the efforts in key electoral states?

    As for “professional journalists”, here’s a question: Do you think it is “important” that we know whether Hillary thinks that her husband’s DADT policy (which he got forced into) was a ‘mistake’?

    I can tell you, a journalist asked that question, but I think it looks more like political score-keeping than anything I’m terribly interested in hearing (not the least of which, she didn’t make the decision herself).

    To wit, I have only two or three questions, I think:

    1. Will you veto any measure that repeals DADT, should the Congress send such legislation to your desk?
    2. Will you refuse to accept ‘further study’ by the military as a continuation of the agnostic, but hostile ‘transition policy’ regarding gays serving in the military?
    3. Will you refuse to appoint a ‘blue ribbon panel’ and push your Congressional leaders to move for as quick a transition away from DADT as is practical?

  • 5. Amicus  |  July 15, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    oh, just to be complete, here are ‘weak answers’ to the above questions, so, you know, it is always possible to frustrate the effort to ‘extract promises’:

    1. “I cannot say what I’d do in a hypothetical situation. I’d have to look at the specific bill. I can say that we need to move toward lifting the ban, because you don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.’

    2. “The military are the one’s that have to run this thing, so I will listen to the commanders.” or “I will direct the National Security Council to review all the policies on gays and lesbians and give me his or her recommendations.”

    3. “Well, the military is very busy with at least two major conflicts and will have a major re-deployment underway, should I be elected. I think we have to take care to not ask too much too quickly, to change regs when we don’t have time to re-educate officers about how to implement a changed policy.”

  • 6. bloggernista  |  July 15, 2007 at 8:53 pm


    One thing that someone says in Michael Moore’s film Sicko is that in France the government is afraid of the people and in American the people are afraid of the government. As I see it we should be raising such a ruckus using as many tactics as possible in a coordinated strategy to make it impossible for our elected officials not to take serious action.

    If you look at what happened during the Black civil rights movement, African-Americans waged a full scale assault demanding equal treatment under the law. We are still not there yet, but we have made tremendous progress.

    You can also look at the AIDS activist movement of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Filled with a clear sense of moral outrage, LGBT people and our allies fight for what was needed to speed up the drug approval process, get more accurate media coverage of the issues, increase governmental spending, create direct service organizations and more.

    I believe that in order to win LGBT equality that we are going to have to come together to run a sophisticated political strategy to reach our common goals. That does not mean that we will all share the same tactics or that we won’t have fights about direction, timing and resources.

    We need to play political hardball and stop spending so much of our time getting distracted from our goals.

  • 7. Amicus  |  July 15, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    We need to play political hardball ..
    What do you mean by political outrage?

    Do you mean civil disobedience? Do you mean “kiss-ins”? Do you mean Soulforce trip across the nation? Do you mean HRC’s most-excellent “Legacy of Service” campaign?

    Do you mean endorsing candidates, not just scoring them? Do you mean trying to extract promises from one Party’s candidates? Do you mean giving money in big quantities to certain campaigns or certain parties.

    Do you mean a court-mandated change to legislation, as in Massachusetts regarding marriage?

    See, I think the first group is very, very different than the second group and way different than the third.

    I find the idea that we are going to find “ONE GREAT HERO” of a President, who is going to lift gay and lesbian people out of bondage to be a fantasy. I mean, to me, it seems kinda childlike.

    What’s more, when CC (and others) derides HRC for putting democratic politics ahead of gay politics, why can’t I get a little upset about that, too?

    Seriously, should we all push the Democratic candidates to positions so extreme that they cannot win in the general election, if that is the way the numbers are falling for 2008 (do you really think that CC or AS would vote for Mike Gravel?)? And the result of that will be what? A feel good? On what calculus? It would mean the the GOP would be in control, yet again, and, collectively, they are *actively hostile* to all things gay and lesbian, as we know these long and lean years under King George “The Decider” and his Constitutional Amendments…

    Also, I didn’t think you were being ‘hypocritical’ with your post. Although “homocons” is probably unwanted, you were talking out against bashing (which takes too personalized a form, I think, when it continually casts aspersions at Joe Solomonese so viciously). That itself is not bashing, I don’t think.

  • 8. bloggernista  |  July 16, 2007 at 5:24 am

    I think that all of the tactics that you list above needed to move us forward. And, those things will be utilized by different groups. That’s the way progressive political movements have gained traction and moved us forward.

    In Massachusetts, you could see that. GLAD used legal strategies to win marriage rights. MassEquality with other groups like HRC and NGLTF supporting them engaged in electoral strategies that helped to unseat officials who did not support our right to marry and elected pro-marriage ones. They also organized community forums to educated LGBT and non-LGBT people about why marriage is so important. There were photographic displays that should gay people and our families and direct action. Everything had the goal of achieving marriage for same-sex couples.

    For me, its less about electing Democrats than it is about advancing LGBT civil rights. I don’t believe that we will get anywhere by simply waiting like good little gays for the nice straight Dems to give us our rights. We have to push for them. To paraphrase Debbie Allen from the tv show Fame, “Equality costs. And, here is where we start paying in sweat.

    I am not about pushing Dems to extremes, but I do think we need to push them. The vast majority of Americans support hate crimes and non-discrimination legislation. That is something that should be past and if Bush vetoes the bills, the GOP will have have to pay the price for that.

    AS, is frankly, a mystery to me. He claims to be a big supporter of LGBT equality, but opposes non-discrimination and hate crimes laws. He supported the GOP which helped Bush to get elected. And, he trashes our LGBT advocacy groups in a manner I consider vicious.

    I believe that CC and I have differences of opinion on a number of things. He says said some good things regarding gay immigration issues and has covered hate crimes in a pretty good way.

    I am less interested in simply finding fault with our advocacy groups like AS and more interested in figuring out how we can help them be more successful..

  • 9. Amicus  |  July 16, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    For me, its less about electing Democrats than it is about advancing LGBT civil rights.
    I’m not sure how that translates exactly, as a best of all worlds situation or a realistic assessment. Sure, I’d like IDEALLY to be in the no compromise, LGBT-NOW!-or-Bust crowd. Realistically, while I wait for The Dream to arrive, I’d very, very much rather have even a wet noodle Democrat, than an *actively hostile* Republican, in the White House. Does that mean I cannot get involved in say, a “Zap!”? I don’t think so. Does that mean I cannot support a group that sets up a “Legacy of Service” tour? Does that mean I cannot get in the face of some people who have deeply prejudicial views about marriage and its role in society? Again, I don’t think so – one can engage all of these people in quite a principled way.

    So, I think CC and Co. are wrong to insist on a universal politics of no-compromise (perhaps even more so, when it is so lopsided a demand, applying only to the Democrats).

    I don’t believe that we will get anywhere by simply waiting like good little gays for the nice straight Dems to give us our rights. We have to push for them.
    The “trick”, then, is how to get the most, without going too far, but this is a subtly that is lost on CC, it appears, in his reply to you. Or pretending about the likelihood that the world is going to change fiat.

    If, one day, as Political Director of the HRC, you can sit down and say, “M. Nominee, you can support this and here is our polling that suggests you no longer have to be afraid”. That is political power. If you can say, “Here, we can use our money and organization to get your candidates elected, but we are going to expect an active voice from you when the legislation comes up, without qualification”, that is power. What is not hard “power” is to sit there and entreat national politicians to ‘do the right thing’.

    [aside: on the other, sign me up and I’ll have a look / give it a try. historically, I haven’t been very successful with such things. I have what turns out to be a unique ability to make people with vested interests … unhappy, let’s say.]

  • 10. Amicus  |  July 16, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    “no compromise” probably doesn’t convey way I mean. Maybe “no gradualism” is more on target. Of course, the time for ‘equality’ is Now!, but everyone realizes that just throwing tantrums isn’t going to do it – there is the hard lifting to do that does take time.

  • […] the things I said in a post on the presidential forum is that while HRC does really great work, there is a definite need for […]

  • 12. Amicus  |  July 17, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    See, it’s comments like this one that continually give me pause that the “outside” criticism of the HRC isn’t, in fact, politically motivated.

    The complaint is that the Democrats are “no better” than the Republicans because National Demoratic candidates for President will not yet move out ahead of the electorate.

    You are right to ask that people move past these empty “criticisms”, I think.

  • 13. bloggernista  |  July 17, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Candidates know that if they move too far ahead of the electorate that they will be looking for jobs the day after election day. Its not just about candidates to take stronger positions, its also about us doing the unglamorous, back-breaking and grinding work that wins the hearts and minds of the majority of non-LGBT Americans and creating the political will to advance LGBT civil rights.

  • 14. permo  |  July 20, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    I don’t give a damn if Sullivan or the other guy are ‘eternally bitter homocons’ if they are taking to task HRC for being too partisan. Was it really best policy and political hardball to snub Specter last time around? I say we LGTB folk need our allies and becoming a wing of DNC is not the way to go. As for having pop singers ask the questions instead of journalists, it strikes me as unserious. We get the guy from HRC, way to go. There’s a coup for the process.


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