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 Bilerico.com 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.