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Report from the Front Line: Challenges to Proposed Millennium March for Gay Rights Growing


This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich

Village, NY. The three nights of confrontation with the NYC Police Department

is celebrated as the beginning of the contemporary lesbian/

gay/bisexual/transgender movement. There is plenty to celebrate as the lives

of lgbt people have changed dramatically in those 3 decades. But what has

grown into one of the major civil rights struggles is riddled with serious

political problems.

Here’s a look at one struggle within this movement., something I’ve been

invovled with for over a year. This snap shot should shed light on the bigger

picture.

In February 1998, the two largest national lgbt organizations, Human Rights

Campaign and Metropolitan Community Church, announced an event to be held in

Washington, DC, in the spring of 2000. The decision to bring the lgbt

community to DC was made by a handful of people in Washington without any

input or involvement from activists around the country. The original conveners

were joined by the Latino Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization

(LLEGO), and in June of 1998, an invitation-only meeting was attended by close

to 40 executive directors of lgbt organizations/ They agreed to move ahead

with the MMOW and began selecting a board of directors. Since then, the hand

picked board has expanded itself, hired an executive producer, lined up a

major corporate sponsor, held one public meeting in Minneapolis and sent out

some press releases. They have done virtually nothing to let our community

know about their plans, or to develop structures for meaningful participation

in decision-making about the event.

Right from the beginning, critics have argued that a decision which will

have a powerful impact on our community’s time, energy and resources was made

by a self-selected group without even a gesture toward community involvement.

The MMOW’s top-down, closed door process flies in the face of this

movement’s history. The 1979, 1987 and 1993 national marches were run

democratically: each time, the decisions to march, the date, the name and the

demands were made with the most open participation possible. Instead of

building upon these models, the initiators of this event did not include

grassroots organizers who do the daily work of the lgbt movement, or even

other national organizations. As if this arrogance is not bad enough, the

initial decision was made by five white people meeting in Washington, DC.

The Ad Hoc Committee for An Open Process came together in the spring of

1998 and brought a proposal to create a democratic process to discuss the

possibility of such an event to the invitation-only meeting last June. There

were 65 signatures on the call: today more than 500 people have signed on.

By the spring of this year, there were new signs that the event was not

gaining momentum. In April, the executive director of the National Gay and

Lesbian Task Force resigned from the MMOW Board and issued a letter critical

of the Board’s process. The head of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition had

resigned from the MMOW Board earlier. Pride At Work, the AFL-CIO recognized

lgbt organization, has endorsed the Call for An Open Process, as has BiNet USA

(the nation’s largest bisexual organization) and It’s Time America (a national

transgender organization). The National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum

withdrew an early endorsement of the MMOW and the National Organization for

Women is reconsidering its conditional endorsement. The newly formed National

Stonewall Democratic Federation (a network of lgbt Democratic Party clubs

around the country) added their name as a signer to the Call for An Open

Process.

In response to the challenges the board of the MMOW has said they are open

to input from community activists. Yet, they hold steadfast to their position

that there will be no reconsideration of the most important decision: to hold

their event on April 30, 2000.

Recently, changes in how they operate were announced, giving the appearance

of addressing issues the Ad Hoc Committee and others have raised. There is a

real concern about the cosmetic nature of the changes; for instance:

The MMOW Board has been expanded to include a majority of people of color

and a majority of women: not selected by the diverse lgbt communities, they

were hand picked by those in charge. Future board meetings are supposed

to be open, although there’s been no announcement of when or where they will

be. There will be some time for "community input," and beyond that

it’s not clear what role, if any, community people will be able to

play. The MMOW Board is supposed to establish a "Leadership

Council" – two people from each state and a representative from each

endorsing organization. It’s still not clear how state representatives will be

selected, or what decision-making power they will have.At the end of May, the

Ad Hoc Committee sent a letter to their board requesting , among other things:

1) MMOW projected income and expense budget.

2) A copy of, or at least a summation of, any contractual arrangements

already entered.

3) The guidelines, if any, being used to determine corporate sponsorship.

4) A complete list of the members of the MMOW Board with their contact

information.

5) Clarification of how decisions are made within the MMOW structure, and

information about how their proposed leadership council will be put

together.

The Ad Hoc Committee received the following reply: "In response to

your certified mail memo dated May 27, 1999, all public MMOW information is,

or will be, on our web site at www.mmow.org." So far, virtually none of

the information requested can be found there.

Two questions keep coming up:.

1) "Is this the fourth national lgbt march on Washington or

something different?" They try to project their event as the fourth

national march, attempting to tie it to the inspiring, energizing

experiences of those three marches. Don’t be confused – the planning for the

MMOW is a complete break with our movement’s history and our commitment to

inclusion and democracy. For one thing, there is not even a plan to march .

. . the only plan is to hold a media event on the Mall!

Their own statements indicate the point of the event is to identify and

exploit our community for a marketing strategy. In the announcement about the

sponsorship of PlanetOut, they say:

"Corporate sponsorship of the Millennium March on Washington offers

extraordinary visibility, promotional and brand-building opportunities to

companies looking to reach the affluent and loyal gay/lesbian market through

the largest community event in history. Sponsorship packages include extensive

on-line presence on the March web site, millions of impressions through our

advertising and promotional materials, and high-visibility on-site

recognition."

2) "Isn’t there some value in periodically marching on

Washington?" There are many times when it was important to march on

Washington. In large part, the success of these events came from an

organizing process that included a strategy for how such an event helps

build a movement. We are not opposed to marches on Washington or other

public expressions of our demand for justice and equality.

Some suggest going to Washington is not a good use of our community’s

resources or energies and that our focus needs to be on local/state

organizing. While the foundation of our movement is in its local organizing

projects, a strong national presence can help give us greater coherence and

visibility. Instead of pitting local and national efforts against one another

we should be looking for the balance between the two.

The issue is not whether marches on Washington are useful but how our

community decides when the political environment and the state of the movement

make such an action opportune. That decision is difficult and complex,

requiring an open, broad-based discussion. With the Millennium event that

discussion has yet to take place . . . and it looks like it never will.

Much More Is at Stake Here What’s happened with the MMOW sheds light on

other problems in the lgbt movement. Many of us are deeply concerned about the

increasingly conservative direction taken by some of the national leadership,

and we’ve found there are many lgbt activists around the country feeling the

same way. A few examples of what’s so troubling:

Last fall the Human Rights Campaign endorsed NY Senator Al D’Amato for

re-election, even over the strong objections of grassroots activists. In

the summer of 1998, twelve national lgbt organizations signed on a full page,

supposedly gay, ad in the New York Times. The ad was a response to earlier

hate filled anti-gay ads. The anti-gay ads needed to be countered, but the

piece from our organizations bought into the framework of the right wing by

projecting only the most mainstreamed version of who we are as queer

people. In the fall of 1998 we learned that GLAAD, our movement’s media

watch-dog, had accepted $110,000 from the Coors Foundation. The Coors family

continues to be one of the largest donors to right wing think tanks and

organizations.The open and ongoing challenge to those in charge of the MMOW

has sent a signal to others: it is not only possible to question authority, it

is necessary to do so!

And we have begun a discussion about the possibility of helping to organize

something we are tentatively calling a queer radical congress. Motivated by

the success of last year’s Black Radical Congress, we have started to reach

out to other lgbt groups – mostly locally based efforts – to explore this

idea. To be honest, the Ad Hoc Committee is not interested in, and believes it

would be a bad idea, to initiate a call for such a gathering by ourselves.

This project will only be successful if it grows out of the work already

unfolding around the country . . . if it is built from the bottom up.

Ad Hoc Committee for An Open Process P.O. Box 1114 Old Chelsea Station

New York, NY 10011 email: [email protected] web site:

www.foranopenprocess.org 

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