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Thoughts on the National Equality March

October 6, 2009

raysLOGO-02Next weekend is the National Equality March in Washington, DC. The fifth of its kind (the first four were held in 1979, 1987, 1993 and 2000), this particular march has a specific objective:

Like all other Americans, LGBT people are guaranteed equal protection by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Free and equal people do not settle for fractions of equality, and that’s why we’re marching on Washington on October 11 with one simple demand: Equal protection for LGBT people in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states. Now.

Despite the march’s inopportune timing (Columbus Day weekend, when Congress isn’t even in session), it’s attracting some high-profile support. The rally’s list of speakers is extensive, including Cleve Jones, Judy Shepard, Julian Bond, Kate Clinton and Dustin Lance Black. Even President Obama will speak at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner, held in conjunction with the march, on Saturday night. But influential supporters don’t necessarily make for a successful event, and there has been some debate within the LGBT community as to whether or not this is the right time for such a march.

Of course, much of the initial criticism has died down as the march has gotten closer; in addition to the Human Rights Campaign, the march is now endorsed by powerful organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). The popular LGBT cable channel, Logo, will go dark for the duration of the march, stating:

“The National Equality March resonates strongly with Logo’s gay and straight audience because we all expect equality in all aspects of our lives,” said Lisa Sherman, Executive Vice President & General Manager, Logo. “Our unprecedented action of ‘going dark’ underscores the significance of the event and what Equality Across America is hoping to achieve. Supporting the March reaffirms Logo’s ongoing commitment to the campaign for equality for everyone.”

And Sherman is right. What the National Equality March hopes to achieve — namely, full equality for all LGBT people in the United States — is significant and worth fighting for. But I haven’t been swayed as many of these other groups have. I still believe that the march is an ill-conceived plan that won’t accomplish the incredible goals it has set out to reach.

Back in June, The Bilerico Project posted a list of 10 reasons why a march on Washington is a bad idea. Some of the outlined reasons have been proven incorrect since then — the march is no longer focused (at least not explicitly) on marriage equality above all other rights, and the organizers did take all the necessary steps to ensure appropriate logistics. But there is one particular point that I feel is still valid and worth considering:

A march on Washington will not bring marriage equality to flyover country. It will help to prod conservatives to rally and focus energy and money into states like Maine (that could repeal marriage) or Indiana (where we’ve successfully fought off an amendment every year for almost a decade). In their zeal to bring marriage back to California, the coastal queers are willing to sacrifice us on the alter of domesticity.

To be fair, the march’s emphasis has moved away from Proposition 8 and marriage equality in California. But the point still applies. While money is being spent on travel arrangements to Washington DC and accommodating thousands of marchers who will be taking a stand while no legislators are actually in DC, the right-wing opposition will be spending money to lobby for anti-LGBT policies at the state-level. Such as overturning marriage equality in Maine.

This point has been echoed by others in the LGBT movement. Toni Broaddus, executive director of Equality Federation, has argued that more constructive progress would be made by spending time speaking to communities and elected officials at local- and state-levels. She proposed the plan of spending Columbus Day Weekend taking a Volunteer Vacation to Maine. In her opinion piece for the Washington Blade, she explained:

You can sign up online, get yourself to Maine, be assigned community housing and an action team and make a real difference in winning and defending equality. Or you can take that money you planned to spend on your $400 airfare and your $300 hotel room in D.C., and donate it instead to the Maine campaign now. As we learned in California, early money is critical to implementing a successful campaign….

…Even if you cannot travel or donate money or participate in a long-distance phone bank this fall, you can still engage in critical work for equality wherever you live. Do you know, for example, what is happening in your own state legislature?

I think Broaddus makes an excellent point. Consider, for a moment, what would happen if everyone who has expended resources to plan or attend the National Equality March instead spent those resources advocating for LGBT equality in their home states? Or advocating for LGBT equality in a state that truly needs help now, like Maine? The heart of the National Equality March is in the right place, but one simple fact remains — as much as we may wish it were otherwise, LGBT rights are not being fought on the national level. Marriage equality, adoption, employment discrimination, hate crimes — much of the legislation concerning these issues has been left up to individual states. So why not take the energy put toward the national battle and move it toward states that need it? If that were to happen, we might actually see tangible results.

Are any of you attending the National Equality March? Volunteering in Maine or another state? How will you be spending the upcoming weekend?

2 Comments
  1. Amber Baldwin permalink
    October 6, 2009 8:45 am

    “The heart of the National Equality March is in the right place, but one simple fact remains — as much as we may wish it were otherwise, LGBT rights are not being fought on the national level.”

    I will be attending the National Equality March (NEM), and trainings on this Saturday before the march. I wouldn’t change my choice to take part in this national event and I will tell you why.

    First, I am sure that we wish each other well in our our endeavors, and I believe a defeat in Maine is a defeat for us all including myself. I do not, however, see Maine’s struggle to maintain marriage equality as unrelated to the mission, as I see it, of the NEM.

    Equality in all things governed by civil law is very much at the heart of Maine’s struggle as well. I believe that the main difference between this national event and the state focus on Maine is……..it addresses all issues faced by LGBTQ individuals including those who don’t see marriage as their priority issue and wouldn’t otherwise get involved. (though it is very relevant for me personally since my partner of 17 years is about to give birth to our 1st child….in Texas!)

    Second, the march is not the only thing this weekend is all about. I see the march and rally as a national battle cry following a weekend of training and galvanization to help us take the energy of our communities collective concerns (equality in all things governed by civil law) back home with each of us. For example, there is the GLAAD Media Training, a training by Soulforce on nonviolent resistance for social and economic justice, and a workshop/training called old divisions, new coalitions: Race and the LGBT movement. These are only 3 of the 49 scheduled trainings, workshops, protested, and vigils this weekend. There is something for virtually all of us!

    I believe our community is too diverse to limit our focus to marriage or to limit our focus on local and or state level events/issues without some unifying thread to keep us all connected and moving and working in the same direction, even if not together on the same issues at once. Not everyone in our community is passionate about marriage equality but may be attending rallys and protests and/or vigiles focusing on don’t ask don’t tell (DADT) or the employee nondiscrimination act (ENDA), and I believe one thing for sure…..there will be more local activists around the country following this national event then there were before it!

    AND……We get to march baby………and be visible…..we are here….we are queer…and here we come back home to a neighborhood near you!

    So, even though this weekend is about the national effort to gain equality in all things governed by civil law for our community, it is very much a weekend to train and galvanize local and state level movements and or participation following the event, as I see it.

    One final thought for me……we will not have a national movement until we are a more united community. Once we are united, I believe there will be no stopping us at the national level.

    Sincerely,
    Amber Baldwin

    • Carrie Polansky permalink
      October 6, 2009 9:51 am

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Amber. And I certainly wish you – and everyone else participating in the march – luck in achieving your goals.

      I also agree that the LGBT movement is too diverse to limit itself to marriage. My point in bringing up Maine wasn’t to say that marriage is the most crucial issue right now (in fact, I don’t think it is). My point was that Maine is currently experiencing a specific LGBT civil rights battle. It’s the exact same situation that we saw in California last year. Our community didn’t do enough to defeat Proposition 8, the conservatives came out in full-force, and we lost. And we’re going to lose again next month in Maine if people don’t step up to the plate and volunteer or donate.

      Maine is just an example. Other states right now are dealing with adoption, employment, safe schools, and so on. Why aren’t we talking about those tangible issues and how we can fix them in the specific places where they’re creating problems? It will be much harder to make LGBT equality a national issue if we don’t first address what’s happening locally. The local level – where activists can more easily address politicians and voters on a direct, one-on-one basis – is where those seeds of change are planted. If you want them to grow on a national level, I really think you have to tend to them directly, locally, before anything else.

      A national march and training seminar is great for visibility and educational purposes. It’s one step. And it’s an important step. But it’s not action. And while I think it’s great that so many people are getting excited about that opportunity for visibility and education, I have to wonder how much more direct change would come out of actually volunteering/donating/canvassing for specific issues happening now. Would it make a difference in Maine’s outcome this November? Hard to say. But I think it would.

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