Saturday, May 21, 2011

Scenes from a Gay Marriage Forum:
EQCA's Not Ready

The first in a statewide series of town hall meetings with leaders of Equality California took place on May 19 at the SF gay community center, and the take-home message was clear: they're not ready for 2012 repeal. Oh, and they sure as hell don't have deep, wide or anything approaching enthusiastic support among the 50 or so attendees. I've jotted down a few impressions of what I recall and hope they give you a small sense of what happened on Thursday night:

1. Organizers were not ready at the announced start time of 7 PM, so I stood up and deplored that EQCA had not reached out to the SF AIDS Foundation or the Milk Club, both of which were holding important events the same night. "You're wrong," someone said. "The Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center is also holding an event tonight." Lack of coordination through basic communication on EQCA's part would have avoided competition with other groups, and shows they're not ready for 2012, I said, putting the organizers on the defensive before their meeting started.

2. No formal agenda or ground rules, forget about details on the town hall process guiding EQCA's decision-making, were laid out by Andrea Shorter who served as a lackadaisical facilitator. Panelists included interim ED and EQCA's second-in-command Jim Carroll, legal scholar Shannon Minter, pollster David Binder, and youth advocate Tawal Panyacosit. Only Shannon and David made presentations.

3. Worst panelist award easily goes to Jim Carroll. Projected discomfort, refused to use a mic when requested, showed nervousness and befuddlement as he busied himself looking over a printed copy of David latest polling numbers. Why is Jim a key state leader?

4. Best comments came from a trans woman who repeated her castigating questions several times. Why wasn't EQCA illustrating what it learned from its mistakes of 2008, how they would operate differently in 2012 and were they really ready to not be wimps and get aggressive with our opponents, the woman demanded to know. When she finally stopped, the panelists were silent and none of them rushed to respond.

5. One 50-plus man cogently kvetched about the failures of No on 8 leadership, his distrust of them, and noted how lame the displayed "I Do" posters were. He strongly was against a repeal effort in 2012.

6. Sitting next to him, his mature bear friend took the opposite position. "I'm not looking back at yesterday's mistakes and problems. All I'm focused on is tomorrow and the good that will come out of working together. Count me ready to volunteer for 2012's repeal campaign," he said.

7. I, of course, said trusting EQCA with even a million dollars was a mistake, never mind giving them a minimum of $55 million to waste in 2012. I'm over putting sugary wedding cakes first on the California gay agenda, when gay seniors need rental subsidies, our youth on Castro Street deserve affordable housing, trans folks lack enough health care services and people with AIDS need cocktails, was another complaint I lodged.

8. Matt Foreman of the Haas Jr. Fund sat in the back row for most of the meeting, didn't introduce himself and made no remarks. Might have created community and fostered friendliness if organizers gave thought to breaking the ice at the start by going around the room asking everyone to state their name and a very brief few words about themselves. Or maybe have folks turn to those around them and introduce themselves. 

9. A middle-aged lesbian who recently moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area stood up, announced how pleased she was that her friend Roland Palencia was picked as the new EQCA top honcho because he is a dynamic leader with solid political experience and a healthy vision for the community's future.

10. My friend and lawyer Stephen Zollman pointed out that David Binder omitted who paid for his polling research and that several years ago in the very same room at the gay center, he presented similar basically hopeful findings among voters that might lead to victory at the ballot box, and we all know those findings didn't produce a win on Prop 8. I can't remember if it was David or Jim Carroll who spoke, but we learned that EQCA and two other organizations paid for the polling.

11. An under-30-something man was the most gung-ho person for 2012 repeal, no matter the cost of a campaign, whether we win or lose, was of no concern to him. What was vital was to show our adversaries and voters everywhere that we will fight hard and spend money to secure equality for sexual minorities, he said.

12. Two blocks away, I was informed by an eyewitness before the forum began, at the swellegant, pricey Cafe Zuni restaurant sat Geoff Kors and Kate Kendell at a window table having dinner. We thought there may have been an informal get-together with them and Matt, Andrea, David, Jim and Shannan before the town hall meeting.

13. Forget about a coherent message from EQCA folks not just about the potential 2012 repeal plans, we never heard a thing about the rest of their agenda or what to expect with the new ED. This meeting has got to be the laziest, disorganized town hall put on by any Gay Inc group in the new century. But what should we expect, when EQCA struggles mightily to stay relevant.

14. Afterward, as I spoke with Stephen Zollman and blogger Patrick (Uppity Fag) Connors, in the lobby, a 40-ish dark-haired woman came over to me and said how much she loved my proposal that EQCA hold regular town halls around the state, and let the community decide the agenda. She practically gushed with enthusiasm to bring EQCA leaders and all community folks together for public discussions. Her name? Suzy Jones, and she recently joined the EQCA board!

Oh, let's hope she brings her enthusiasm and support for on-going EQCA public forums where it should be delivered: to her board colleagues.


Patrick Connors said...

Hey Michael -

Thanks for the link! I finally wrote (a probably too long) piece on the Town Hall meeting.

Check it out!

Mark Snyder said...

Personally, I think if they are going back to the ballot (dragging me along reluctantly) I want to see EQCA promise that for ever dollar spent on marriage another dollar will be spent on housing, healthcare, youth and other vital infrastructure needs for the queer community. Thank you Mike for raising these issues.