Sunday, March 13, 2011

Some Equality Bloggers are
More Equal than Others

For a community that sure talks a good line about wanting openness and equal access for all, there are way too many organizing meetings that are invitation-only. Democracy is very lacking in our movement and here are recent examples of gatherings that were not open to the wider the community, gatherings that were supposed to inspire non-attendees.

There was the May 2009 weekend of the Dallas Principles, no public meetings were held by the organizers of the October 2009 March on Washington which failed to produce the promised network of 435 Congressional district captains, the February 2010 gathering in Tennessee launching GetEqual, plus the recent OutGiving 2011 conference put on the Gill Foundation.

And this past weekend saw the Haas Jr Foundation host its second invitation-only blogger meet up in San Francisco. A key organizer of it, Bil Browning of on Friday blogged about it, which was the first I heard of this effort:

I'm convening a gathering of 30-some top LGBT bloggers, journalists, and newspaper editors to talk about major issues facing our community that currently don't get nearly the amount of ink as some of our more sexy and popular problems. The focus this time will be on immigration issues and teen homelessness and bullying. This is the second year in a row for the convening. ...

The good folks at the Haas Foundation are paying for everyone's travel expenses because they believe in the power of spreading knowledge. Quite a few bloggers would never have this experience or be able to sit and speak to some of the folks shaping our movement, so I'm really proud to be playing my part in selecting attendees and facilitating the trip. Plus, everyone invited can live-tweet, blog, Facebook, whatever they'd like; it's all on the record and there's no secret information! ...

Sure, it's great that the top bloggers invited can write about the happening, but notice that Bil says not a thing about any part of the confab being open to anyone, nor does he write about a public forum component. He is just so happy to be singing the praises of the Haas Jr folks to notice the lack engagement with the local community beyond those elite enough to snag an invite.

Frankly, with Haas Jr paying for everyone's travel costs, and maybe other expenses, I don't expect the attendees to offer up any public criticism about the non-democratic aspects of the confab or anything to do with the foundation and how it spends its substantial endowment.

I sent off a snarky note to Haas Jr's gay director Matt Foreman and Bil, saying my invitation was lost in the mail, and Matt replied:

Your name is on the list and I just saw your nametag.

We only have so much room and we’d like to keep this as interactive as possible, which becomes increasingly difficult as the numbers go up.

There’s a welcome reception at Trigger at 7:30 to 9pm. The day starts tomorrow at 9 am for light breakfast, with the program starting at 9:20. If you arrive after 9:30 you can’t get in as our building has no [guard?] on at the front door on weekends.

Nice to know if I wanted to attend I could, but I wrote back to Matt explaining that I already had Saturday plans to hang out with my husbear. If I had been given more advance notice that I could be there I might have gone, after first asking about full transparency or totally open parts of the confab, and if I could have seen an agenda of who was speaking, when, on what topic, etc.

Let's be honest. The Haas Jr organizers probably didn't want me around, not when I've been requesting town hall meetings with Matt ever since he went to the foundation, and he's not willing to hold such events. There's also my continuing campaign with the Haas Jr-funded Equality California demanding that EQCA put on open meetings.

I not taking the lack of an invitation until the day before personally, since I spoke with my friend and blogger Tommi Avicolli Mecca. He's a longtime radical queer advocate who now works for a housing rights group in San Francisco helping homeless gay youths get shelter, mental health services to prevent suicide, and assisting gay immigrants with housing and other needs.

Tommi didn't make the cut of Bil Browning's 30-top bloggers and he wasn't invited to attend.

One top lesbian blogger, Pam Spaulding, blogged last week about her speaking engagement and role at the OutGiving meeting, and her tone was disappointingly one of sneering and defensiveness about it all. From her headline alone, "Tin foil hats off - primer on what OutGiving 2011 was not", the concerns of people criticizing the lack of transparency with the Gill Foundation and its conference are dismissed by Pam.

I must add that she was also one of the select few to attend the Dallas Principles meeting, and I'm not sure she quite gets the transparency and democratic engagement demands folks like me and Tommi are putting forward. Who knows? If I were in the high echelons of the gay blogging pecking order and asked to observe and advise a Gill Foundation confab, or ask to be at any of the many other invitation-only meet ups put on by other foundations, I might feel differently.

But my gut feeling is that the Haas Jr/Gill Foundation/GetEQUAL/Equality California way of very selective engagement not just with bloggers but the wider gay community too.

If I lived in a city where the likes of the Human Rights Campaign, EQCA, Haas Jr, Horizons Foundation, the local community center, all worked together to hold joint town halls to discuss how we organize as gay people and what our issues are, I'd show up at their next meeting and put these matters on the agenda.

However, San Francisco is simply not a city currently meeting the transparency and full democratic engagement needs of the at-large gay community.


Anonymous said...

I love how you never fail to see through the bullshit.

Michael said...

thanks, anon, for your praise, but i'm sure i deserve it. it's really pissing me off that tommi avicolli, who daily works on the issues that were the agenda at the haas confab was not invited. when do we get some real democracy in this movement and open the meetings?

bigolpoofter said...

Go get 'em, Michael! As I was following the tweets from #haas11 I was immediately struck by the lack of diversity among the invitees, esp the heavy urban coastal presence, and the absence of many outstanding thinkers and doers in LGBTQ health who could have been there. I adore many of the attendees, but how many times do orgs and individuals in our movement need to fall into the echo chamber blunder before it stops?!

Michael said...

hey poofter,

i'd like to see a list of attendees, a budget for the weekend, find out who presented and spoke and if the presenters were paid and if yes how much, learn if any bloggers were paid for their participation, and have it clarified if any independent contractors outside of haas jr were hired to put on the weekend.

you're so right about the phrase echo chamber. it applies to the same folks who put on these invite-only weekends or day-long sessions, with a lot of the same folks in attendance, and the same old silence about opening up the process, letting some fresh voices into the room.

Patrick said...

Hey Michael -

I was freaking out on Twitter Saturday morning during the event where participants were tweeting under the hashtag #haas11 - asking followers for questions and announcing what was happening from one moment to the next.

Best I could tell there was ONE SFan in attendance - Cynthia Laird. I FBed Matt Baume / Paul Hogarth and tweeted Bajko to see if any of them were invited. ONly heard back from Baume and he ended up snagging an invite for the final hour or so of the day.

Karen Ocamb was there as was Wockner and Chris Geitner. What is the point of having journalists and bloggers attend a "summit" or whatever the hell this was? Who are the experts that have a message to deliver - and doesn't anyone feel like they are being used as mouthpieces?

Bil (and others) tweeted me asking if I was a conspiracy theorist and I told them I wouldn't be one if they weren't acting like Dick Cheney hiding in an undisclosed location. Bil said "Yeah - I didn't create the agenda. I just invited the national bloggers & journalists"

He bears no responsibility to do anything other than suck up the gravy that he gets as a result of his willingness to do what he is told.

Patrick Connors

Michael said...

hi patrick,

not only do they need democracy and a breaking of the barriers between the elites and more ordinary folks in the middle, but so do the gay foundations, gay inc orgs and the organizers of the haas summit.

interesting to see you use the word mouthpieces because i feel there are too many times when the 'top bloggers', as bil browning calls himself and the other invitees, simply run the latest vid from HRC or p.r. from glaad.

do you think there will ever be an open summit for bloggers that isn't controlled by just a few queens?

finally, lemme know if you get wind of info on the budget for the haas summit or if the presenters or anyone else involved was paid.


Anonymous said...

Will from here. I hear you Mike. I didn't make the cut but Queerty did.. Maybe we should start posting Davey Wavey videos "snort'

Rowan said...

I feel you but you've got it all wrong.

The Gill Foundation does not ask us for donations like HRC, so it has NOTHING to do with us who or how they decided to put on an event.

They have their aims and objectives, like other philanthropic organizations do as well-some concentrate on aids, some on the arts, some on curing cancer, some on technology research in Africa etc etc

The person who has worked hard either through their brilliance-Tim-or through inheritance, does not owe us anything but what will make their organization survive.

These organizations indirect competitors are the right wing Christian groups and it appears also some gay GOP groups. If they reveal to all an sundry their strategy as well as finances, how the fuck will they ever stay ahead? Or beat the competition? That would be stuff of lunacy! Insane! Mad! We'd be over before we can even start.

I also agree with Pam-for once-that it is mind baffling that fewer then 4% of LGBT people contribute to LGBT organizations, yet have such a strong opinion on what they do. Furthermore, if someone is using their hard earned money to advance the cause, why should they let some angry online upstart decide what to actually do with that money?

Either way, you have a massive but naive point about these organizations. Get Equal et al-it's all clickey and driven by the agenda of the funders and the elite members involved. Invitation only means they want you out. Nothing is clearer is it? But thats life and it's woefully naive to think these guys actually care about the gay oi polloi! Please!

I dont know what goes through the head of these people bury I do know being involved in stuff like this back here in Europe, you need to have your USP before they take a gamble and invite you to the table, should wish to join the table that is?


Michael said...

hi rowan,

i wish you had provided me with a list of all the times we have seen gay inc and the a-list equality bloggers hold open, public meetings that everyone could attend. all i'm asking for is more democracy in our movement, our institutions and from the organizers who put on summits.


Sidney Brinkley said...

The photo I saw of the "event" showed a room full of White folks. Where were the Black bloggers/journalists?

DaveF said...

I first heard about the event from reading about it over on JoeMyGod. My reaction was that if they opened it up to all the bloggers who would have liked to attend, just from the Bay Area, they would have needed to rent out the Cow Palace.

That being said, it would have been nice if there had been a webex so bloggers would didn't make the "A-list" could follow the event virtually. Especially since one of the topics was LGBT immigration issues. It would have been nice for those of us who deal with that particular issue on a daily basis to have had the chance to offer perspective and input.

Michael said...

hi dave,

i'm not sure that if the weekend junket had been open to anyone that hundreds of people would have attended. what i think would go a long way toward democratic engagement beyond a small list of invitees, is if there had been one part of the junket open to all.

there is simply not nearly enough transparency and engagement for all with the foundations such as haas and gay inc groups.