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LGBT infighting only benefits the bigots

Commentary: Politically Aware

Marriage equality would not have saved Matthew Shepard. Whether harsh, obvious – or both, it’s worth keeping in mind before we re-arm the circular firing squad that is often our activist community.

Last week saw a hurricane of events in LGBT politics. Gov. Brown signed 10 of the 12 pro-LGBT equality bills passed by the California Legislature. On National Coming Out Day, it became clear that opponents of the FAIR Education Act failed to gather enough signatures for a referendum to repeal it. Before we could enjoy those victories, however, the executive director of Equality California (EQCA) resigned, putting a spotlight on internal dissent about the organization’s decision not to pursue a repeal of Proposition 8 in 2012. Love Honor Cherish (LHC) then announced they would gather signatures for a repeal referendum.

I have no problem with LHC picking up the torch for marriage equality, but “we do not believe in sitting on our hands while our rights are being decided” was an unnecessary shot at EQCA and other groups who have made a similar decision.

Anyone could have lost some perspective in the storm of events, but the 13th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s tragic death seems a particularly poor time to suggest that marriage equality is the only important LGBT cause.

Matthew Shepard wasn’t killed because he wanted to get married, or because he couldn’t. He was murdered by people who believe it is acceptable to treat homosexual people as something less than human. Opposition to marriage equality is certainly part of that ethos, but legalizing same-sex marriage will not stop people from harboring, or acting on that hate. In fact, data from 2008 suggest a surge in hate crimes related to the intense feelings around Proposition 8. When considering whether to seek a repeal in 2010, some of the most moving “no’s” came from parents in non-LGBT friendly communities whose children needed a break from neighborhood warfare.

Even the Hate Crimes Prevention Act bearing Shepard’s name probably wouldn’t have saved Matthew Shepard. People whose hate is strong enough to kill aren’t usually weighing how long their prison sentence will be. If anything would have saved Matthew Shepard, it would have been preventing the seed of hate from being planted in the hearts of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

Accomplishing that would require teaching people that prejudice and discrimination are unacceptable in daily life; and starting early, school children should learn that bullying is never OK. The societal contributions of people from a variety of backgrounds should be highlighted, so no group can be seen as expendable. That sort of training should be continued in higher education. Seth’s Law (AB-9); the FAIR Education Act (SB-48); and Equality and Equal Access in Higher Education (AB-620) are just three of the 10 pro-equality laws enacted in California this year. These are good laws that will plant seeds of tolerance. But these laws only passed with the help of coalitions largely led by EQCA. It may not be marriage equality, but it’s life saving work and far from hand-sitting.

Including passage of pro-equality bills and defeat of anti-LGBT initiatives, EQCA has led at least 10 legislative victories every year since 2003, save one. The exception was 2008, when their focus necessarily shifted to fighting Prop 8. When the enemy brings the battle to your gates, you don’t get to see what else is on your agenda, or decide if it is the best time for a fight. You simply defend yourself.

Repeal is different. We do get to choose the time and theater, and we should do it carefully. I don’t know why EQCA, or at least slightly over half of its board, decided that 2012 was not the year. Maybe they didn’t want to strip Perry v. Schwarzenegger of the chance to bring marriage equality to the entire nation. Maybe they thought that simultaneously promoting a “yes” vote to overturn Prop 8 and a “no” vote to help keep FAIR Education would be a little confusing (sorry, folks, the failed attempt to overturn SB 48 was the first, not last, battle in that war.) Maybe they decided that ballot initiatives aren’t what they do best. That’s certainly what they heard in 2009, from some of the same people who question why they won’t lead the charge in 2012.

A wise woman taught me that the relevant question in political resource allocation is, “What is the most strategic thing I could be doing right now?” Not the biggest. Not the highest profile. Not even the most important. The most strategic, because it matches your skills and motivators to the movements needs. A repeal initiative may well be the most strategic use of resources for LHC, but not EQCA. More than most, our community should recognize the strength in that diversity. When we spend our time shaking hands with each other, instead of shaking fists at each other, we stand a much better chance of achieving marriage equality, and preventing tragedies like the murder of Matthew Shepard.

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Posted by on Oct 20, 2011. Filed under Politically Aware. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Comments for “LGBT infighting only benefits the bigots”

  1. “We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until ‘justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'” – MLK in 1955.

    “This needs to be balanced with the responsibility of raising close to $2 million by December 2011 for the signature gathering alone; and maybe over $40 million to win this campaign by November 2012. Not a small task. Given the pending federal lawsuit, the economy, critical support among the base and a number of other factors, not winning this campaign could be a very disempowering experience.” – Roland Palencia in 2011.

    The most strategic thing to do, as the author says, is to take the fight to the public. Waiting on the sidelines for the stars to align is the truly “disempowering experience.” And if your concern is first and foremost with protecting gay youth, as perhaps it ought to be, what would you tell them? That now isn’t the right time to stand up and fight for marriage equality, because the adults need to raise more TV money? Marriage equality isn’t just about actually getting hitched, but a proxy fight for equality in society. That’s something youth want to fight for. They don’t just need role models in history class, but standing up on a stage with a bullhorn calling for people to mobilize for a cause. EQCA has gotten lost in polling and politicking and done a disservice to everyone.

  2. LGBT infighting only benefits the bigots | Matthew Shepard

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  3. Joel,

    I could not agree more. Shaking someones hand does not mean I agree with everything you do. You and I can have a glass of wine and agree to disagree and part with a smile. Our community spends more energy than necessary fighting each other when there are so many more things we could fight together.

    I think positive role models now will help to stem the tide of violence and help us to come together as a community. We are no more a one issue community that any other. The more we work together, the more we fix it.

    Just my thoughts. Keep up the good work!

  4. I think Marie hit the nail on its head. Repealing Prop 8 is not just about marriage equality, it is about our basic dignity about human beings. As long as it sits in our constitution as an abomination it sends a message both to out youth and to the bigots that gays and lesbians. If it truly is a civil rights issue, it is unconscionable not to stand up and fight. For more information on the campaign to repeal Prop 8, go to lovehonorcherish.org.

    Love Honor Cherish has submitted language for a ballot initiative that will allow same-sex couples to regain the right to marry in the state of California. This is why we believe the time is NOW to take back our constitution:


    • In 2008, we would have defeated Prop 8 had we gotten just 300,000 more votes, just 2.3% more.
    • Since the passage of Prop 8, there has been huge progress towards marriage equality, legally, culturally and among ordinary Californians. All leading elected officials in California now support marriage equality, and Barack Obama’s view has moved from opposition to “evolving.”
    • EQCA, Vote for Equality, Latino Equality Alliance, Jordan Rustin Coalition, Restore Equality 2010, Love Honor Cherish and other coalition partners have had more than a million conversations with California voters about marriage equality.
    • In its 2009 analysis, Equality California concluded that we needed to move 5% between 2008 and 2012 to be confident of success. Polling shows that goal has not only been reached but exceeded. (http://www.eqca.org/site/pp.asp?c=kuLRJ9MRKrH&b=5376931)
    • In an affirmative initiative to repeal Prop 8, we would control the language before the voters and include a protection for religious freedom, taking away from our opponents the argument that priests and pastors would be forced to marry same-sex couples. Polling shows that 58% of likely voters in California would support an initiative that would make same-sex marriage legal if we include a religious exemption.
    • To be on the ballot in November 2012, we need to collect about 1.1 million signatures and submit them by March 2012. If we don’t go in 2012, then our next opportunity to repeal Prop 8 would be in 2014.
    • We have 17 months until the election. Setting a November 2012 deadline will motivate all of us to make huge strides for equality and gives us ample time to raise money and organize, including doing further, vital work in communities of color and faith.
    • At a minimum, we should gather the required signatures and be prepared to put repeal on the ballot if the Court case is not successfully resolved, with marriages beginning again, by March 2012.
    • As Chad Griffin of the American Foundation for Equal Rights has stated, “While the courts determine procedural questions, gay and lesbian families will continue to suffer. Life is not eternal – sometimes it is tragically short….” (http://www.afer.org/news/afer-asks-u-s-court-of-appeals-to-lift-the-stay-on-marriage-for-gay-and-lesbian-couples/)
    • The Perry v. Schwarzenegger/Brown court case may not be ultimately decided for years. As Ted Olson has stated, “substantial additional, indefinite and unanticipated delays lie ahead.” (http://www.afer.org/news/afer-asks-u-s-court-of-appeals-to-lift-the-stay-on-marriage-for-gay-and-lesbian-couples/)
    • Victory is not at all guaranteed. Nine Supreme Court Justices will ultimately decide Perry v. Schwarzenegger/Brown, but at least four of the nine are believed to be vehemently opposed to LGBT equality.
    • Some people suggest that the Prop 8 court case may somehow be delayed or derailed by the threat of a ballot measure. Nonsense. Judges decide on the law and should give no consideration to a pending ballot measure, which is just a question to the voters.


    • People suggest that we shouldn’t ever have to put our rights up for a vote. In an ideal world that should be true. Unfortunately in the real world our rights are put up for a vote all the time in this country.
    • By repealing Prop 8 at the ballot box, we would debunk forever our opponent’s claim that the people will not vote for marriage equality and deprive our opponents of one of the major arguments that they make in courts and legislatures against us. Similar efforts are underway in Maine and Washington State.


    • We must stop being afraid. We must stop playing defense and act affirmatively. Just as we did when we came out. We took a risk of rejection, but the act made us who we are. Indeed, any willingness to wait for full equality undermines its importance. Don’t we owe it to our youth to show them that we are willing to stand up for what’s right and moral?
    • How do you want history to remember where you stood during the first successful struggle to restore marriage rights in this country? Waiting on the sidelines hoping and praying that court procedures on “standing” miraculously restore marriage? Or taking to the streets and to the ballot box demanding the same respect that every other Californian takes for granted.
    • What would Harvey Milk do?

    Expect some important announcements coming soon.

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