The international escalation and advancement of LGBT human rights over the last five years is beyond remarkable. The next steps need to rise to the occasion. As a movement, we must free LGBT people worldwide and we need all our organizations to work together to make this happen as fast as possible. Lives are at stake.
Happily, in the United States, in December 2014, the beltway movement finally re-adopted the approach begun in 1974, of seeking full federal civil rights equal to those covering all other minorities, and importantly, via one comprehensive bill. This shift represented a monumental change in our legislative strategy and demonstrates our awakened sense of self as a people and our entitlement as a movement. We are no longer asking for employment protections only or willing to allow religious groups to get federal money while discriminating against us. No more willing to accept partial equality under the law or marriage discrimination anywhere.
The shift, which I helped lead working with the grassroots and veteran major donors, further reflects a maturation of the internal workings among some of the key advocacy groups, which are at long last building shared campaigns and hiring professional campaign managers to enact specific goals, such as Americans for Workplace Opportunity (AWO), the first funded and staffed federal campaign for our legislative goals ever. Created in July of 2013 to pass ENDA, the AWO will hopefully now expand its focus to the comprehensive full federal equality bill promised in 2015 by Senator Bob Merkley (D-OH) and Represent David Cicilline (D-RI), and work with other coalitions, like the 250 organizations with The Equality Pledge Network that championed this national change in strategy.
Internationally, remarkably and undeniably, the world's leadership has squarely put LGBT human rights on a par with all others, at long last. In 2008, I lived and did gay activism in South Africa and Ethiopia, and the idea that the United States would exclude The Gambia from a free-trade deal over LGBT abuses, or that countries would end foreign aid to Uganda for us, was unimaginable. The idea that New York activists would protest at the Russian Consulate and Uganda House, calling out foreign leaders as international criminals, prosecute the domestic source of the religious anti-gay fervor abroad, and generally expand our movement internationally, was equally unimaginable. All that has happened, and we are hungry with success and impatient for more.
The United Nations has also stepped up with a major and fabulous campaign called "Free & Equal" and other substantive official reports wrapping LGBT people firmly in international human rights law. Global celebrities and public figures are part of this, stepping up with clear statements against discrimination targeted at LGBT people around the world. Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rickey Martin and Melissa Etheridge are just a few. And the information sheets provided makes it clear that all nations have a duty to protect LGBT people from discrimination, and to protect all of their human rights. This alone is a huge advancement in our position on the world stage and legal standing, directly rebuking opposition from religious-based governments and groups that seek to deny our existence and prevent our lives.
Religions all over are being challenged and transformed by the LGBT cause for dignity. The Catholic Church, blessed with Pope Francis, is in full internal turmoil grappling with the truth of the injustice it perpetrates against us. Meanwhile, the list of clergy and faiths, not only supporting our community, but affirming their duty to end anti-gay religious teachings, continues to grow. While the vanguard among them, in the Evangelical world no less, is claiming the bible has been mis-interpreted and was wrong as applied to LGBT people, calling this religious abuse. In the West, we have toppled the argument that anti-gay bigotry is a real religious value, and religious-based anti-gay sentiment is no longer societally acceptable on the whole in modern world politics. With Islam still largely unchanged, our other chief and highly funded past opponents from Christianity and Mormonism are loosing steam.
All sum, we are on the offense after having played defense for decades. But this is just the beginning really. The number of countries where LGBT people are still not protected from discrimination, including the United States, is mind-boggling. Attacks happen everywhere including New York and San Francisco, the birth centers of our movement. And abject fear is the norm in many places to the point LGBT children are committing suicide.
So clearly, this is an emergency and we need to speed this machine up accordingly and break new strategic ground now.
Here are five things to imagine.
1. Nationwide Coalition & State Coalitions
As mentioned above, the Human Rights Campaign and Log Cabin Republicans, along with a few other tight allies of HRC, established an operational coalition campaign team recently, endorsed by many more groups. It was a good first step, but the coalition steering committee and framework needs to be significantly expanded beyond the few in charge. It can be tiered with an executive committee, but it needs to have additional levels of open participation to state equality groups and independent activists, with a mission that includes engaging the wide array of LGBT social groups such as those reflected in the Equality Pledge Network's support of The Pledge for Full LGBT Equality. Most importantly, it needs greater transparency, and a willingness to expand beyond the secretive "D.C. powerbroker" approach, into a public campaign modality with enough information sharing to empower autonomous, yet concerted fifty-state action, similar to the infrastructure of the immigration reform movement.
We need this paradigm shift in strategy to unleash our vast community power, through proactively supporting independent local strategies and varied team building, guiding, but not seeking to control or manipulate the internal politics or to restrain our cause for electoral reasons. We need everyone invested in this game, and for that they need to have real ownership. Our movement structure has been top down until now, with control managed by one group via unilateral relationships. And it really needs more horizontal, multi-lateral power structures and operation centers to maximize our collective capacity. We are too small of a movement and community to change our world as fast as we need to unless we work collaboratively. Our rather slim legislative success rate to date, and the lack of capacity beyond the belt-way, calls for a broader more inclusive process to generate new approaches. No one group can manage this alone, and that means you HRC.
2. A media consortium for equality
The LGBT media world was created initially because mainstream news would not cover us as a people or our movement. It has since become its own institution, professionalized to the point that LGBT reporters see it as a conflict of interest to be activists, or to use the newspapers and magazines as a strategic tool to secure our equality proactively. They have become reporters of the news, instead of activists, which the early gay media people were. This is understandable, but to thrive as a movement we now need to create a consortium of LGBT news entities and bloggers to coordinate information sharing about our collective coalition campaigns, maintain a public whip count, announce and promote grassroots actions (before they happen), generate strategic geo-targeted content analysis and produce general movement updates to create a sense of common purpose. We need donated space in publications, and designated areas on websites to engage our community in our cause to pass our new equality bill.
There are various efforts to collect and disseminate movement news, and the environmental movement has some of this functionality. But the Gay & Lesbian Journalist Association, GLAAD, and key players, like Gay City News & Bay Windows, Huffpost Gay Voices, the Advocate, etc. and bloggers, need to be self-coordinated and in communication with each other -- and with national and state coalitions -- about how to leverage our media capacity in a calculated and organized way as a media arm of a community-wide campaign for global equality. The issues of journalistic independence and integrity can be navigated with this collective process, and each autonomous voice can retain its current approach in their own forums. But this is a global humanitarian crises, and we need a coordinated media process, and those media experts, in the game. We need our gay media to reach the broader mainstream media, to help tell our stories all over the globe. Local activists in most countries and states simply do not have this capacity, and domestically and internationally, to accelerate change, we need to leverage our media reach exponentially.
3. A proactive faith campaign
Our movement has done a great job of garnering religious-based support of our community. Various groups have long lists of supporting clergy, etc., and there is a Religious Roundtable set up by HRC, with groups like The United Church of Christ, with thousands of member churches, and many LGBT denominations and groups. This is all amazing, but we need to mobilize our faith support proactively and with a structured campaign of preaching, educating and advocating for our legal equality, as well as an end to religious-based anti-gay bigotry. The reach of our faith-based allies extends far further than any of our political advocacy groups could even dream of, particularly in terms of reaching voters in the pews, and the ability to communicate through inter-religious forums.
Currently, we have those relationships in place, but they are dormant in terms of being a proactive center of our movement's strategy. We need to raise the testimony, call for national prayer days and invite the clergy to the help lead local campaigns to secure the vote of the elected officials in their areas. We need to get the clergy to lead the charge to get its congregation members to become active in seeking that support, with petition drives, church-to-church outreach, teaching our plight in bible schools and prayer services -- a real campaign with regular meetings of faith teams to affirm the spiritual calling to work for justice and safety for LGBT people as a moral duty of the straight community.
Of course, this is happening all over all the time in various ways. But a coordinated campaign could, for example, distribute a prayer bulletin message that could reach millions in a month, or deliver community voters to the politician's door step for the votes we will need in tough political places. And very importantly, such a campaign could reach out to every church in every community on our behalf, clearly revealing where the main problems remain. With renewed faith-to-faith outreach, leaving no stone unturned, especially those previously written off, we have no idea what might be possible. The times they are a changing, and we need to keep asking.
4. Tell the full truth about our harm
In response to the disingenuous and false anti-gay stigma campaigns run against us in the 70s, depicting us as sexual predators and deviants, our movement has worked very hard to paint a more favorable and accurate picture of our community. But in doing so we have ignored and hidden the truths about how discrimination really affects us psychologically, causing multiple mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, high rates of alcohol and substance abuse and of course child and adult suicide. It was necessary in a way, to rebuke the overwhelming smear campaign we endured. Yet even though we've made great strides with this approach, we have gotten stuck in the pollyanna modality to our own detriment as a political movement. Because, as a part of our public policy argument, it is very important to explain the nature and fact of this type of horrible impact on our community. This will help to break the die-hard resistance that we are not reaching, those who are fermenting this abuse abroad out of a conviction that we need to break. And we also need to add the clear argument that this constitutes a public health emergency for our community, squarely placing responsibility for our suffering and this harm on those who seek to block our human rights protections.
This is actually the basis for most human rights laws -- to protect people from the harm that discrimination causes. So it's really not enough to point out that we face employment or housing discrimination. We need to say clearly: discrimination kills and torments our children, creating life-long struggles that are simply inhumane. Any resistance based on any religious argument, or bathrooms or parental choice on how homosexuality is presented in educational settings, etc., must then be subordinated to the main social responsibility we have to make a safe world for LGBT people everywhere, including, and especially, in the home, church and schools, where our community's children, our opponent's gay and trans children, are tormented with messages that destroy our peace of mind and sense of self.
We are using this information behind the scenes in government testimony, and several new reports by CAP, HRC and MAP are painting a better picture of the social discrimination we face. But it is the message about the harm -- known as "minority stress," still skimmed over, that is really needed to change the most hardened hearts, like no law can. It is also important to get this message out to the LGBT community itself, which is suffering these impacts, largely unaware of the causal relationship between societal rejection and stigma and their own emotional and relationship struggles. Ultimately our human right is to be free from the harm discrimination causes, and to make that point, we must communicate better about the harm we endure. It's the least we can do to help avert the lonely suicides of our youth.
5. Protest & Action Everywhere
For decades, we've had an intra-beltway, polite and professional political game in motion, building our political clout and respect, which is good, but not adequate. For example, without President Obama, it's very unclear where we'd be on repealing DADT or at the Department of Justice, and obviously, we still have a lot of work to do in the Republican side. Our political power is simply weak, partly because we are not feared as a movement among our cosy friends, and partly because we have never demanded our rights from our opponents. We need to demand them, and not wait until after the ever-looming next election. Then we need a public list of everyone who doesn't support our full equality, and a plan to encourage local activists to take action and protest as strongly as necessary until the vote is secured targeting all 435 Congressional districts.
Basically, we need to name, shame and annoy the hell of them until they cave. Generally, politicians really like having a smooth day. So it's time to make it uncomfortable for them, with a smile, but acting like you were saving a child's life every day, because we are. We need this in all districts, including those where we are already supported. Those elected officials can be engaged differently, of course, but we need their engagement, contacting other officials, helping to do community education and bringing parties together to collaborate throughout their state. Protecting the public from harm is our government's primary duty, and thus their individual job. It is their responsibility to secure our equality under the law, not ours, and we need to ask them to own this campaign, all of them. (This is where HRC needs to loosen the reigns most!). And we also need a campaign in each of the 435 congressional districts because the campaign we create to change the law is ultimately about creating safe space for us to be open and free about who we are, wherever we are. And there is not a single district where that is not still an issue. So the deep works remains to be done, and we need a concerted, collaborative plan in motion with action everywhere to inspires everyone to action.
Overall as a cause and community we have thousands of LGBT-oriented organizations and allies all over the nation, although they are not working together yet. Other movements have considerably more infrastructure for coordinating mass action and planning, systems of state coalitions connected to a national coalition, leading national organizations with state chapters and offices working on policy, like the ACLU or NAACP, where members actually vote on the leadership and the grassroots is involved in running their movement directly. There is of course top-down leadership in all of this, but it is fueled and blended with real local offices, staffs and activists tied into a system. The LGBT movement has none of this, except the fledging workplace coalition mentioned earlier, which so far, is more of a central committee as opposed to a truly functional national coalition campaign with wide participation at various levels.
Such a coalition campaign could create sister-state relationships where states with much already accomplished partner up with states with no protections, to develop capacity where it's needed, to channel fundraising for something specific beyond home-based institutional needs. Imagine if New York and Massachusetts doubled-down together on Texas and Mississippi. The states of Illinois, California and Washington are also far along and ready to help elsewhere. Activists and staffs in those states are waiting for their next gig and have the experience and capacity to really help states in need.
The full equality campaign could also rally local Pride committees -- that reach all the groups -- all over the country with shared messages, creating a loud common plea and call to action, like all the Whos in Whoville, that would reverberate through the media like a drum. And once we win our equality here at home, we can build on this structure and experience to free our people globally.
All of this is within our existing abilities and capacity. It is simply a matter of leadership and willingness to step out of our political and organizational comfort zones to do the work each organization is already doing, but through cooperation with others, to exponentially increase our impact and expedite this process. None of this need supplant the existing work of any organization, but all of us need to add our collective work to our mission statements.
If over 50 percent of LGBT Americans weren't still in the closet at work; if every child didn't fear that moment of telling their family they are gay or transgender; if we could walk down the street even in New York holding hands without being self-conscious; if 40 percent of our community didn't cope with alcohol and drugs; and if our children were not committing suicide, then, perhaps we could sit on the past organizational structures and continue chugging along until whenever the job gets done. But we do not have that luxury.
It is time we mature as a movement and become far more sophisticated, including in our hiring of political professionals and coalition experts picking the best of the best without regard to their sexual orientation. There is not a single straight person in a position of leadership in our entire movement. How much talent are we excluding? We have the money, we have the clout, we have celebrities and newscasters. We have tireless volunteer activists and professionals devoted to our cause, but we don't yet have the coalition campaign we could create.
It's time to dream bigger. With such an effort, we could have Oprah and Barbra co-chairing a celebrity team. We could have Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice as ambassadors for our cause. We could have James Carville and Mary Matalin advising our activists on the ground. We could have fabulous events like the Global Citizen's Festival where 60 thousand people had to take action before qualifying to buy tickets, the Prime Minister of India announced new programs and the Secretary General of the United Nations joined star performers from Jay Z & Beyonce to Carrie Underwood! We probably organized the whole thing anyway -- ha -- and we can have it too.
Just remember, we're gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, and we have survived against incredible odds. Remember that we are Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt and Bayard Rustin. We are Jane Adams and Susan B. Anthony and Ellen! We have been at the forefront of every major human rights cause in history. We are yesterday's and today's heroes against terrorism and tomorrow's spiritual liberation.
We organize every party, every event. We sparkle and shine in every field and it's time we linked together to free the world of the scourge of homophobia and transphobia so that our unique gifts to humanity can be fully realized, so that every blessed LGBT child is cherished, and every adult is welcomed and safe. It is time to free our souls.
Organize huge! Liberation now! Equality now!