THE BLOG
12/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Dangers of Outsourcing Activism: An Open Letter to Gay Civil Rights Advocates

Dear Fellow Civil Rights Combatants,

"Outsourcing" seems to be a political hot potato issue these days, From U.S. manufacturing jobs being outsourced to China and India to our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now largely outsourced to secretive for-profit entities like the mercenaries at Blackwater Worldwide, it's not a particularly popular option these days. So why has the gay community -- and the organizations that supposedly represent us -- embraced "outsourced" activism as our central political strategy in recent years?

I believe it stems from several different factors -- the "activism fatigue syndrome" in the immediate aftermath of the original AIDS battle years, the ascendance of flashy gay civil rights organizations who claim to "know better" than your "average Joe" about how to get things done in this complex political and sociodemographic arena and, most importantly, the sheer laziness and inertia of our own community who finds it easier to make a quick contribution online (and get miles while you're at it on your credit card) rather than take any of one's precious time to learn about the issues and do something yourself.

Despite my recent writings and rantings, I must confess that I'm a bit of a neophyte to these complex and highly-emotionally-charged public battles. I've always been led to believe that I'm a rank amateur and far less seasoned in "standard political operations" than many of our "appointed" gay professional-activist "leaders" at the multi-million-dollar budgeted Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Equality California (EQCA) operations -- groups who seem to enjoy black-tie dinners and rubbing elbows the with the rich and famous as much as they actually score civil rights victories.

In light of this, I've decided to "go rogue" and give my activism a personal touch since these "pros" at HRC and EQCA didn't fare too well this time in their fight against discrimination -- in the form of California's ill-conceived Proposition 8 -- despite raking in millions of dollars from the gay-friendly community. From the overwhelmingly positive feedback I've received for my pro bono efforts so far, I can assure you that it's worth our "amateur" attempts to give personal activism a shot.

Don't be dissuaded by their fancy websites or star-studded galas. Each and every one of us can make a difference in this fight without spending a dime.

How? When you take the time to write or comment on a blog posting, vent publicly on Facebook, forward great emails to your friends and family, march in a protest rally, boycott a "Yes on 8"- supporting business, have honest and spirited discussion(s) with family, friends and co-workers, or simply come out of the closet to everyone around you at home and at work, you are being an "activist."

These days I still donate to worthy organizations and, simultaneously, I personally boycott, debate and expose hypocritical and intolerant people in my immediate world with the power of the written word in the form of impassioned emails and blogs. But there's a new twist in my evolving civil rights philosphy -- I've decided to stop outsourcing my activism to the "pros" at HRC and EQCA.

From the "religious" zealots who organize and fund their anti-gay activities with a passion and fervor as great as their purported love for their Savior to your obnoxious, know-it-all brother-in-law who hasn't read a newspaper or book since his high school days yet somehow "knows" that "traditional marriage" shouldn't be tinkered with, they all share one thing in common. They are dead wrong and no amount of money, ignorance or preaching intolerance from the pulpit every Sunday can stop an impassioned minority group on the correct side of the law who is determined to be recognized by the highest courts as deserving of the same Constitutionally-guaranteed "equal protections" afforded our heterosexual counterparts.

To wit, on Thursday night, I spent an hour on conservative talk radio explaining and debating the whole gay civil rights and marriage struggle with my arch-conservative host and taking live questions from -- believe it or not -- reasonably well-spoken "Yes on 8" supporting listeners. I learned firsthand from those conversations a few shockingly uninformed views that these articulate people still hold:

• Supporters of 8 seem to think that we should shut up and just crawl back into our "gay" rabbit holes after we lost "fair and square" on the ballot Proposition. (Not gonna happen...)

• Even quasi-educated supporters of 8 still think that being gay is somehow under our personal control and is a "moral choice." (I proceeded to educate and eviscerate them with the science and biology of sexual orientation.)

• To a person, the are typical insular Americans who don't look past our national borders to see that gay marriage/civil unions in all those enlightened European nations has not caused the sky to fall on "the sanctity of marriage." (I pointed out the hypocrisy of "protecting marriage" when heterosexual divorce rates are at 50% and infertile couples get all the rights of marriage WITHOUT a child to "protect.")

• And then, of course, there's the Bible (I thumped them over the head with their own Bible by reminding them of all the other things that Leviticus admionishes the faithful not to do and I called the impassioned religious listeners on their selective Bible-quoting hypocrisy).

Bottom line (caution, long run-on sentence coming): we need to educate the people of this troubled nation about who we gay people really are, we must have a coherent and well-laid-out political strategy about how to attain our full civil rights, we need to disseminate intelligent and irrefutable talking points from which to support our arguments and then stick to the same script, and we must craft a way to help our peers stay involved and motivated so that we can continue to move our interests forward in a productive manner.

One problem: I'm getting the feeling that all this web-based activism that's been dominating impassioned Internet discussions in recent days can be a double-edged sword. Although it's highly efficient, it can result in political anarchy when too many well-intentioned humans are moving in too many different directions all at once.

To remedy this general lack of coordination of efforts, I suggest that a "manifesto" of sorts be created which succinctly explains in a few bullet points what our mission statement is. For example, we could put forth something to guide our peers and remind them that:

• Our current struggle is that of civil rights, not religion or morals.

• Our civil rights demands are non-negotiable and are not appropriate to be voted in a popularity contest like the unfortunate Proposition 8.

• We must learn from the history of ultimately successful civil rights movements throughout the 20th century and embrace their wise tactics, most notably the non-violent civil disobedience philosophies of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

• We must always attempt to win "hearts and minds" rather than alienate potential supporters with overly aggressive invective.

• We must use the power of boycotts, the media, the courts and civil actions/protests judiciously so as to minimize the "collateral damage" of our actions on "innocent bystanders" -- an unfortunate outcome which would invite more backlash than forward movement

• We should be fearless in "outing" all major supporters of discrimination as embodied by Proposition 8 -- no matter how powerful or seemingly well-respected these supporters may be -- and target their sources of revenue to cut them off at the knees.

• We should demand specific actionsfrom corporate America, like written (and enforced) non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation, public repudiation of those in a leadership position in their organization(s) who contributed to "Yes on 8", ask for matching contributions to gay civil rights causes, and of course, full same-sex domestic partner benefits for all of their employees.

Finally, I suggest that we introduce a modified form of the key slogan from President-Elect Obama's superbly organized and executed political campaign -- "change" -- into our civil rights activities. I believe that we need to rethink our passive strategy of "checkbook activism" at organizations like HRC and it's ilk and take more responsibility for our own activist dollars and efforts.

This time, it's personal and we should behave in a manner consistent with that phrase. We must take personal responsibility for our own civil rights.

Our well-paid professional activist representatives must be held accountable for their massive strategic failures on Proposition 8. Like the U.S. automobile industry, their methods are outdated, their leadership is tepid and short-sighted and their inferior, poorly-designed "products" come with a hefty price tag. Our dependence on the imported activism of of HRC and EQCA is both unwise and anachronistic. We should offer these bloated and outmoded organizations no "bailout package" because their days of representing our interests are being quickly overrun by a new generation of gay people who make up for what they lack in cash by their sheer ingenuity, passion and social networking skills.

Expensive, old-school, bricks-and-mortar outfits like HRC and EQCA are being quickly supplanted by the inexpensive yet highly effective ideas, activities and groups that emerge from Facebook and MySpace every hour and which is fueled by a sense of righteous indignation at being treated like second-class citizens.

You need to look no farther than last weekend's massively successful nationwide rallies which came together with lightning speed after a brave young woman from Seattle shared her idea for a "day of protest" with her Internet friends. The concept "went viral" and expanded exponentially in a matter of hours. The result? Every major city in the United States saw many thousands of gay people and their family and friends stand together in solidarity and protest with picket signs, rainbow flags and an enthusiasm that hasn't been seen since the Stonewall riots 40 years ago. I seriously doubt that bloated bureaucracies like HRC could pull that off with the same speed, efficiency or success, at any price.

We must demand change at the very top of the gay leadership hierarchy. We need to take our civil rights struggle back from these corporate activism entities and, to paraphrase a witty blogger, adopt a new catchphrase for our movement -- "Grassroots Political Activism is the New Black."

Thanks for listening. Your thoughts/ideas are most welcome/appreciated.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Gary