June 13, 2013 | by Mark Lee
Will LGBT advocacy survive as a business model?

Last week the Pew Research Center released comprehensive polling results on American attitudes regarding marriage equality. While the number in support of allowing gays and lesbians to legally wed was, at 51 percent, slightly lower than some other recent national polls, that was not the significant finding.

Fully 72 percent now believe that the legalization of same-sex marriage is “inevitable” – and this number varies only modestly among all demographic segments of the population. Regardless of sex, ethnicity, age, education, political affiliation, religion or geography, overwhelming numbers anticipate adoption of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Among those who oppose gay marriage, 59 percent expect it to become law. Even among white evangelical Protestants, only 22 percent of who favor the idea, 70 percent view legal recognition as a foregone conclusion.

One single factor is significant in both support for marriage rights and the growth in its perceived inevitability. Eighty-seven percent of Americans now know someone who is gay or lesbian, including half who have a family member or close friend who is. Familiarity has engendered growing support and LGBT “coming out” has had a substantial impact on public opinion over time.

A once skeptical community has discovered that the fight for marriage equality has become the lynchpin to an array of rights and protections that intrinsically flow from it. Rather than a behemoth battle fraught with a high failure factor, it turned out to be the aspect most easily understood.

It’s been an amazing time – a couple of decades and more – of incremental change now cascading in one direction. The accelerating acceptance of the LGBT community nearly everywhere is nothing short of astonishing.

There will be disappointment if the expected partial measure of civil equality anticipated in Supreme Court decisions on marriage this month prove accurate, followed by a likely decade-long slog winning marriage measures state-by-state. In the long scheme of history, however, it will occur in an amazing blaze of speed.

While there will always be more to do in securing full freedom and broadening respect for the many facets of our diverse community, essential civil protections will gradually become the norm for the overwhelming majority of LGBT Americans. For many, including those living in the District, it is already a basic assumption of everyday life.

D.C. residents enjoy both protection of the law and acceptance by our neighbors. LGBT issues are noncontroversial in city politics and local living.

The reality is that accomplishments on our behalf have always been achieved by a dedicated few working tirelessly within small groups. Whether those organizations will remain robust in a post-equality period is difficult to predict.

The experience in Canada and the Netherlands suggests they may not. Following approval of same-sex marriage in both countries, LGBT rights organizations immediately encountered substantial declines in funding and community involvement. Canada’s largest group experienced a 40 percent drop in contributions after the ratification of gay marriage in 2004, and the LGBT movement essentially collapsed in the Netherlands after legalization in 2000. Since then, advocacy groups have managed to remain viable, although now smaller and less well financed.

The same might also be expected here. Organizations should anticipate shrinking funding and diminished volunteer involvement. Consolidation of groups will likely become the norm.

Bottom line, non-profit groups are business operations, subject to similar financial and organizational pressures. The smart ones will anticipate a changing landscape, re-focus their activities and strategically prioritize projects. Like other groups and many businesses, they will need to live with less.

Assimilation and integration into the larger culture is the burgeoning achievement being celebrated by both a generation accustomed to estrangement and those who have mostly known acceptance.

If LGBT advocacy groups are to survive, adapting to a new era will need to be the first order of business.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

3 Comments
  • I, for one, will celebrate when these organizations can shut down because their goals were met. I’ll be thrilled when the HIV/AIDS clinics and advocacy groups can close, too.

  • I can vouch for the instant shrink (near-collapse, really) that happened in Canada, and while things have recovered somewhat, we still don’t enjoy the same kind of infrastructure that we probably should have (i.e. we don’t have a PFAW or GLAAD equivalent, no counter to the right-wing think tanks, law societies,etc that have sprung up).

    I know trans issues aren’t popular with a lot of LGB people (or even considered to be a part of the mandate), but you can bet that there will still be issues (trans and otherwise) remaining long after the privileged folks have all gone home.

    And if the surge in the past 2-3 years against abortion and even contraception — when for decades those were considered “settled” issues — and the widening gulf between Canadian LGBT and right-wing infrastructure are any indication, I believe it would be very unwise for people to do what happened here and believe that the “last big battle” had been won, and that everyone can relax in suburbia, that it’s “over.”

  • No it won’t survive, which is the reason their rationale of “let us get our rights and then we’ll come back for you,” makes no sense. After that, there won’t be any LGB activists left to come back for us…We need to work for ourselves as transsexual individuals (because the TS individuals are who need the protections, not so much the GQ, GN-C and CD individuals) because no one else is going to do anything to help. Now is the time to start stocking our coffers at NCTE, TLDEF, and other groups because there is a fight, and I doubt we are going to get much help from the LGB patriarchy/matriarchy.

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