Thursday, February 04, 2010

BAR Slams FTM's Wolfson, NGLTF:
Let The Sunshine In

Rare is the occasion when Bay Area Reporter news editor Cynthia Laird uses her editorial space to publicly spank a community organization or leader. Memory says when she has editorialized thus, it's been over a transparency or accountability issue. Part of Laird's editorial today raps a recent anti-sunshine decisions and should be of concern to all of us.

This BAR column must be seen in the larger context of Gay Inc's collective failure to regularly provide open, on-the-record, unfiltered community engagement. Consider these examples of less-than-transparent ways of organizing:

The Human Rights Campaign's Joe Solmonese doesn't hold town halls. After the Prop 8 loss, it took four long frustrating months to convince the No on 8 leaders to hold an accountability forum in San Francisco. Not one public anyone-can-attend meeting was held for the Equality Across America rally in DC on October 11.

The May 2009 weekend meeting in Texas for the Dallas Principles was invitation-only. That example was repeated in January when a few dozen LGBT activists met at a secret retreat in Tennessee.

Here are my two suggestions to overcome our leadership's fear of sunshine and some community organizers' methods of limiting their invitation lists just to their cool friends.

First, let's establish Queer Question Time at HRC. Our largest political organization, and the community it purports to serve, would greatly benefit from unscripted public forums, streamed on the web, where anyone can pose a question to HRC leaders.

Second, with all the hollow talk about a new ACT UP coming to life after the secret Dallas and Tennessee get-togethers, the organizers should heed this lesson that made ACT UP the force it was to change the world: Open meetings = power. Start with open doors in the organizing process, and avoid the automatic criticism of elitism.

Here are excerpts from Laird's BAR editorial today:

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's annual Creating Change conference – taking place this week in Dallas – is one that many grassroots activists and organizers look forward to. Long considered the more progressive national LGBT organization, the Task Force, while not funded to the level of the Human Rights Campaign, plays a key role in the ground game for full equality toward which the LGBT community is working.

It was, therefore, deeply disappointing to learn that a marriage institute session being presented at the conference by Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson is closed to the media. This decision is reminiscent of a similar effort last year by members of both the Courage Campaign and Meet in the Middle to kick reporters out of a leadership summit because so-called secret polling results on same-sex marriage (that reporters already had) were going to be discussed.

Such moves are counterproductive and only serve to make many people in the community even more distrustful of what they see as a top-down approach to community organizing.

In an e-mail, Wolfson defended his decision. He pointed out that the marriage institute isn't closed to the press, rather, it is off the record. To us, that is a fine distinction that hardly results in unfettered reporting from that session. [...]

If the session had been about hate crime victims, or victims of sex abuse, we could see the rationale about keeping discussion off the record. [...]

And for goodness' sake, if progressive activists and others can't articulate their views in a public forum, how are they ever going to accomplish the hard, on-the-ground work of talking to people – in public and private settings?

The Task Force blew it when it acquiesced to Wolfson's request, and we, the greater LGBT community, are poorer for it.

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