This holiday season, when you throw a direct mail appeal from a gay organization in the trash, you might just be trashing that group's future. The sky really is falling and many groups may not survive the economic chaos. To those who say these dire warnings make me Chicken Little, you are really playing a dangerous game of chicken that may leave our movement vulnerable to attack by anti-gay culture warriors.
By design, the recipe for fundraising is a pound of hype and hyperbole, mixed with a pinch of hyperactivity and a tablespoon of hyperventilation. This is what is necessary to grab the attention of super-busy, multi-tasking donors. Unfortunately, in a time of genuine crisis, donors are seeing GLBT organizations yelling S.O.S and all they are hearing is -- Same Old Stuff.
This time, however, the warnings are very real. Cassandra is in crisis and the crying wolf is weeping, with good reason.
In the Washington Blade was a chilling article on the financial meltdown headlined, "Gay orgs cut staff to cope with recession." GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano told the Blade that he had laid off staff and the reduction "touched all departments."
Kevin Cathcart, Lambda Legal's executive director, was forced to cut 10 percent of the organization's staff. The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association's staff has been reduced from seven to two. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is leaving open unfilled positions.
Last week, my organization, Truth Wins Out (TWO), took out a hard-hitting ad in the Salt Lake Tribune, with the provocative headline, “Lies in the Name of the Lord." The ad was in response to a dishonest ad placed in the New York Times by an anti-gay organization that tried to reduce peaceful Proposition 8 protests to "mob violence." As a result of our powerful rebuttal, donors were responsive -- but the size of the contributions was down significantly.
I have spoken to many other leaders in the gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender movement and not one has been immune from the effects of the recession. Donors are scaling back, grants are drying up and holiday cheer is turning into holiday fear. Instead of reaping the benefits of holiday giving, executive directors are looking over their shoulders for the Grim Reaper.
This is a particularly dangerous time to allow gay organizations to go under or downsize to the point of ineffectiveness. These groups are not expendable unless you consider your basic rights and protection for your family luxury items.
In the very near future, Congress will likely be debating legislation that would protect gay people from job discrimination. The Democrats may also introduce bills to protect our families, end Don't Ask/Don't Tell or crack down on hate crimes. When these bills are dropped in the hopper, anti-gay organizations will try to drop kick our community. Afraid of losing the culture war, they will become more extreme and vicious than ever. It will be a street brawl of epic proportions. The question is, will our fighters be out on the street working on your behalf, or pounding the pavement looking for work?
With Democrats in control and Obama in the White House, only a tidal wave of manufactured backlash can derail our progress. If you are foolish enough to believe that social conservatives are not capable of fomenting such fear and loathing with their backs against the wall, you have a very short memory. That is exactly what happened with Proposition 8, where anti-gay activists lied and finagled their way to victory. If they could pull it off in a liberal state like California, don't be naive and think they could not intimidate a governmental body, such as Congress, with members from states like Mississippi and Oklahoma.
Instead of bailing on GLBT organizations in their time of need, donors should dig deep and offer the equivalent of an economic bailout. There are those who can no longer give -- and it is understandable that they cut back or refrain from contributing. But, if you are able, there are several organizations that need your help.
If we give our organizations a lump of coal for Christmas, we will surely take painful lumps from our pugilistic opponents. In the aftermath, we will quickly realize how important these organizations actually were, and reinvent them from scratch at a much greater cost. This is hardly a sound business model, no less a wise strategy for winning equality.
If you are getting walloped -- please don't open your wallet. But, if you are able, think about your role in keeping our trusted and valued organizations stable. A generous gift to your favorite group, might just give you the gift of liberty in return -- which would make this a perfect holiday season.