One Nation: The progressive march that wasn't

10/04/2010 05:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Over the weekend I had the chance to attend the One Nation Working Together march that was billed as the "progressive" march to answer last month's Glenn Beck rally for teabaggers. The event had been planned for months - mostly by the NAACP and unions - but it had one small logistical problem. They forgot to be progressive.One-Nation-March3.JPG

Event organizers reached out to the LGBT community late in the game, but a number of queer organizations - both national and regional - signed on to sponsor the event. In fact, more orgs signed on to support the One Nation march than supported the National Equality March which focused solely on LGBT issues.

But while organizers put out statements about how great the march was for LGBT people and we were included in most news reports as part of the communities organizing the event, it all rings hollow. The truth is that LGBT visibility was incredibly muted, LGBT activists with signs highlighting the recent spate of youth suicides were disrespected, and our issues were definitely not part of the larger agenda.

This really highlights the bigger disconnect that most progressives and Gay Inc seem to have with the modern everyday LGBT person.

While Pride At Work put out an e-blast Sunday congratulating themselves for accomplishing so much, One-Nation-March2.JPGI can't help but point out that it's so full of fluff that it would make a marshmallow look heavy. Pride At Work, for those who are unaware, is the gay union group so it makes sense that they would be quick to pump the rally since unions were one of the main organizers.

Our community was well represented from the podium by a diversity of speakers including Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality, Darlene Nipper from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Gregory Cendana with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. Additional openly gay speakers included Mary Kay Henry, SEIU; Randi Weingarten, AFT; and Dheepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change. Numerous straight allies, from veterans to ministers, spoke of the importance of inclusion of and support for equality for the LGBTQ community. The entire speaker line up was extraordinary, from Congressman Luis Gutierrez to Wendell Pierce to Rev. Al Sharpton to UAW President Bob King to NAACP President Ben Jealous to the legendary Harry Belefonte.

This was a history-making day of LGBT inclusion in a tremendous progressive organzing effort. We also must thank the One Nation Working Together team, the labor union leadership and the NAACP who committed and followed through on creating space for us as equal partners in this inspiring effort.

That's right, out of 4+ hours of speeches, we were well represented by three speakers according to Pride At Work. After all, some of the other speakers were gay too! They count, right?!

Except that our "LGBT" speakers weren't there for LGBT concerns either. Mara Keisling shared the podium with four other speakers and each read a sentence from a teleprompter quickly followed by the next speaker. They did this round robin game several times, but can you guess how many times the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," or "transgender" crossed her lips? None.

The closest we got was her statement, "We march to advance human rights, civil rights, equal protection, and dignity for everyone."

The same segment got shout-outs to school segregation, military spending, the environment, wage discrepancies based on sex, and union busting. Apparently there wasn't enough time to name drop the LGBT community in the mix - even when it's a transgender woman saying it.

Here's the segment featuring Mara. She starts speaking around the 2:30 mark.

NGLTF Deputy Director Darlene Tipper did mention LGBT issues specifically, but you can hear the response she got from the crowd. It's not like she was hugely popular. One-Nation-March4.JPGThe most interesting aspect of Nipper's appearance though isn't what she had to say, but the color of her skin.

One of the most muttered about aspects of the march was that LGBT activists were practically shut out of the march in the beginning. Why? The religious African-American organizers didn't want to champion LGBT issues. To make a speaker on LGBT issues palatable to the audience and organizers, Nipper, an African-American lesbian, was chosen and she framed her message in a very Afro-centric manner.

She was put at the very end of the program when most attendees had already left after standing in the hot sun for four hours to listen to speeches. She did her best, but her message was mostly lost on the hot and tired crowd. It was extremely too little too late. If you watch the video below, you can see the people streaming out of the mall as she speaks.

Sadly, the socialist movement had more attendees than the LGBT community. One-Nation-March.JPGThey brought a huge group of folks while there were small groups from GetEqual, HRC, Stonewall Democrats and other orgs floating through the crowd.

In an e-mail to me, Lt Dan Choi of GetEqual reported on the reception the group got as they carried signs with the faces of six LGBT youth who recently died by suicide.

We attended the "One Nation" progressive march on Washington today and were met with mixed reactions by "progressives."

All we intended was to bring visibility to the recent gay suicides. Some remarked: "Yeah...If y'all just stop killing yourselves, and turn to God..." and "You guys are stupid."

Why wasn't the LGBT community front and center as part of the progressive community? Because, as we've seen with the current crop of "progressive" leadership - both inside and outside of the administration - our rights are not a priority for our friends and natural allies.

We are the group that is always the easiest to lop off when the going gets tough - when people start to feel "uncomfortable." We are the group that gets "support" if we'll promise to keep our mouths shut and not remind people of butt sex. We're the group that should quietly give our dollars and our votes while our teens give their lives, but "progressives" can't be bothered to give a damn.

LGBT organizations that purport to represent us and our issues signed on to this march to increase our visibility and support among progressives - even though some of these same orgs refused to even add their name to a list of orgs supporting the National Equality March. I hope they're satisfied with the results they got.

When I saw one of the LGBT organizers of the march the week before it happened, I was complaining to them about how little support our community got from the "progressives" who were planning it. The person agreed, but made it a point to say that our community had their own page on the march's website and a customized logo that included a rainbow. "No one else got to customize their logo," they said.

Pride At Work's e-blast ends with an exhortation for LGBT people to vote in November. Now "is not the time to sit on the sidelines," it says.

By signing off on supporting this march for "progressives" which was shamefully inadequate and disrespectful to LGBT issues, Pride At Work and the other orgs who signed on plopped our community squarely outside of the mainstream. They silenced the LGBT community; they sidelined us for the "greater good" of electing "progressive" Democrats who continue to pay lip service to our issues while ignoring our very real needs.

And they did it for the price of a rainbow.


(Crossposted from my home blog, Bilerico Project. Come visit me there to see why both the Washington Post and the Advocate magazine named us one of the top 10 LGBT political blogs in the nation.)