April 26, 2010 at 11:05 am EDT | by Erwin de Leon
The best way forward?

There is a debate occurring within the community about what the best way is to secure our civil rights. With the midterm elections looming and the window of opportunity to pass legislation fast closing, activists, bloggers, advocates, the gay media and armchair strategists have been arguing about how we should, as a community, proceed.

At one end are those who believe that we should present a united front, falling in line behind LGBT establishment leaders and trust that as Washington insiders, they will get things done. At the other end are those who have given up on the establishment and think that it is time again to protest.

Before jumping into the fray and sharing my two cents, I think that we have to accept the fact that nothing will get done by November and that progress in terms of federal legislation will halt after the GOP wins more seats in Congress. The Obama administration has made it pretty clear that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not be repealed through defense appropriation and that any action taken will be after the Pentagon releases its findings sometime in December. And the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, in spite of having close to the 216 votes needed for passage in the House, does not have many backers in the Senate.

As for the Uniting American Families Act and the repeal of the odious Defense of Marriage Act, well, we might as well forget about these two for now. UAFA as a standalone bill still requires more sponsors in the House and will ultimately be shot down by the Senate, anyway. If it is included in a comprehensive immigration bill, I predict that it will eventually be discarded by immigration reform proponents to appease and secure the support of more conservative backers, namely the Catholic and Evangelical leaders who are pro-immigrant but anti-LGBT.

In order to repeal DOMA, the majority of Americans need to support same-sex marriage. We’re not there yet.

So what is the best way forward? I’d argue that it is not an either-or proposition. The Human Rights Campaign and other inside-the-beltway veterans do know how things work in D.C. and that means connections, access and a whole lot of horse trading and compromise. They have been around long enough to know that things don’t change overnight but through slow and painstaking effort and increments. They realize that patience, tenacity and commitment are necessary to their advocacy. I have worked beside rank-and-file HRC staffers and I do not doubt for a second their passion for our cause.

Protest and civil disobedience, on the other hand, are indispensable to any social movement. We would not be where we are were it not for the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, the Stonewall Riots and subsequent action by queer activists. The disruptive and shocking measures taken by Act Up in the late ’80s and early ’90s spurred much delayed action on the HIV/AIDS crisis. Activists that choose this path know that they need to keep everyone honest and stop movement leaders from getting too cozy with power. They realize that society needs to be challenged out of complacency and empowered. I have marched with Lt. Dan Choi and GetEqual.org’s Robin McGehee and I likewise do not doubt their commitment to winning our civil rights.

Another fact we have to face is that no movement has ever had a united front. There are far too many opinions, egos and agendas. There will always be those who work with the system and those that buck it. The LGBT movement is no different and it has a place for all players. If we are to prevail, we should all be doing what we do best and are most comfortable at.

When our legislative window closes in November, it is crucial that Gay Inc. continues to quietly work the corridors of power while radicals raucously call attention to our second-class status. It is also important that the rest of us continue what we have been doing: coming out, telling our stories, writing checks to pro-LGBT organizations and candidates, calling our elected officials and not giving up until we are all equal under the law. The best way forward? All of the above.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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