In last week's column, I pointed out that the GLBT movement might be the first where a majority gets to vote on the rights of a minority. If the basic freedoms of women, immigrants and African Americans were subject to the whims of voters, there is no doubt that this nation would be decades behind. Yet, we continue to blindly accept that these degrading and un-American referendums are tolerable, when they are not.
Ironically, ballot initiatives were once helpful in gaining visibility. The 1977 anti-gay vote in Miami, led by beauty queen Anita Bryant, put our issues on the national radar. Even though we lost, we were given a rare forum to introduce ourselves to the American people.
In 1978, California voters defeated the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay schoolteachers, showing that victory was attainable. But whether it is a loss in Miami and a win in California in 1977-78, or a defeat in Maine and the victory on domestic partnerships in Washington State last week, success or failure is beside the point. All Americans are losers by virtue of participating in a disgraceful process that is an affront to human dignity.
Unfortunately, we have never had the luxury to stop, take a deep breath and consider if these grotesque referendums are the best use of our time and limited resources. With a record of 0-31 in marriage initiatives, now may be a good opportunity to review our complicity in a process that doles out or strips away basic rights by majority vote.
We must first recognize that a virtual campaign-industrial-complex has been built and financed around these fights. There is an army of field staff, media consultants, signature gatherers, advertising experts and fundraisers who work (and in some cases thrive) on these ballot initiatives.
In California, both sides spent as much as $73 million. Even in the small media market of Maine, both sides spent a combined nine million dollars for campaign staff and advertisements. The financial burden for these wars repeatedly falls on the same besieged philanthropists and everyday people who care enough to open their wallets. The four key questions we must ask ourselves before we continue down this road:
1)Are referendums the best use of our human resources?
2)Are they the best use of our finite capital?
3)Are these votes legitimizing the un-American concept of mob rule?
4)Are these quixotic and narrowly focused battles the best way to educate and create lasting progress?
Perhaps, these campaigns are unavoidable and we must soldier on and slog through the muddy terrain of lies and fear-based thirty-second ads. I won't pretend to know the answer, but there is no doubt that our traditional tactics must be looked at with fresh eyes and vigorously debated.
There has been much disagreement as to whether our ads in these campaigns are too "soft". I think this misses the larger point that campaigns are not conducive to education. "Vote No on Prop 8" may be a good campaign slogan, but it is hardly a compelling message for changing hearts and minds.
Campaigns by their very nature go for the short term fix, when we may be in need of more enduring strategies. Repeatedly investing in such hand-to-hand combat has potentially precluded deeper discussion with the American people, so they fully understand how our families are harmed, the damage caused by discrimination and the inequality we face, from taxation to immigration law.
It is also clear that our opponents are trying to bleed us to death financially. We can never outspend the combined forces of the Mormon, Catholic and Evangelical churches, which can afford referendums in every burg in the nation. To put the monetary imbalance in perspective, the annual budget for the largest GLBT organization is only $30 million. Meanwhile, in 2007 the Archdiocese of Los Angelespaid a $660 million settlement to 508 victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
Instead of investing millions on referendums, what if we used the money to send our field experts into communities to educate, without asking people to take sides on a divisive measure? What if we built powerful outreach programs geared towards minority communities? How about training talk radio hosts and buying airtime in small, conservative media markets like Lewiston, Maine or Bakersfield, California?
By turning away from such votes, we strengthen our position by increasing our moral authority. At the very least, it forces our foes out of campaign mode and into an ongoing, intelligent discussion, where it is more difficult to twist the truth and manipulate emotions.
Winning in California and Maine would have been exhilarating. But, would you have felt less dirty and exploited by the referendum process in victory?
Event to Counter Notorious 'Pray Away The Gay' Therapy Conference
What: Only three months after the American Psychological Association released a landmark report that claimed attempts to change from gay-to-straight do not work, a notorious "ex-gay" therapy group will come to South Florida to peddle its fraudulent cure for homosexuality. In response to the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality's (NARTH) infamous conference, Compass will host author and activist Wayne Besen who will give a multi-media presentation on the harm of so-called ex-gay therapy.
Who: Wayne Besen is the founder and Executive Director of Truth Wins Out, an organization that researches ex-gay organizations and the Religious Right. Besen is the author of "Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth". Earlier this week, Besen was named one of Instinct Magazine's "Leading Men 2009." Besen has appeared as a guest on news and political talk shows including: Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, NBC Nightly News, CNN, Fox's O'Reilly Factor and Hannity and Colmes and MSNBC News.
Where: Pray Away the Gay Town Hall Event featuring Wayne Besen Compass GLCC in Lake Worth 201 N. Dixie Highway Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009 7:00 -- 8:30 PM
Quote: "NARTH is a notorious and discredited fraud that peddles shame and profits from pain," said Wayne Besen, Executive Director of Truth Wins Out. The American Psychological Association made it clear that there is no evidence that people can go from gay to straight. Unfortunately, NARTH members are only interested in evidence that the checks they take from vulnerable and desperate clients can be cashed."
Background: NARTH's conference will be held at the West Palm Beach Marriott, Nov. 20-22. Besen's talk will kick off a week of protest and educational events that will culminate with the 2009Anti-Heterosexism Conference, sponsored by SoulForce and several other organizations, including Truth Wins Out.
Truth Wins Out is a non-profit organization that counters anti-gay misinformation, exposes the "ex-gay" myth and educates America about the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangender people. For more information, visit TruthWinsOut.org. - 30 -
On Nov. 7th, Focus on the Family brought its absurd "ex-gay" roadshow Love Won Out to Birmingham Alabama. This is a conference that tries to help people "pray away the gay". (Cue uproarious laughter)
Truth Wins Out joined several local groups in protest. More than 50 people greeted conference attendees as they entered the church parking lot. Movie star Glenn Shadix, who had once undergone shock therapy in a failed effort to become straight commented on Joe Openshaw's blog about what he saw at the demonstration:
"An image that will always stay with me is that of a young teenager being driven by what seemed to be his parents, into The Metropolitan Church of God," said Shadix. "He slowly raised his hand and, hidden from those in the front seat of the car, waved at us as he was driven into the all day seminar. His sad face haunts me. I have been there. My prayers are with him."
Truth Wins Out joined The Alliance for GLBT Equality at UAB, Covenant Community Church, Equality Alabama Birmingham, Central Alabama Pride and PFLAG.
Special thanks to Bob Palmatier, Joe Openshaw and Rev. J.R. Finney (and many others) for a powerful action against the intolerance and bigotry of Focus on the Family