March 4, 2011 at 9:17 am EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Equality Matters looking for a purpose

In December, I wrote about a new organization that was being started by Media Matters for America. It was exciting to see this great organization move into the realm of LGBT affairs. Since the launch of Equality Matters a little more than two months ago, it seems to be an organization still looking for a purpose and trying to define itself.

The New York Times wrote about Equality Matters prior to its launch that it would be great to have a “communications war room” for the LGBT community. Others felt that since Media Matters was so successful at responding to the lies and distortions of public policy in the media that Equality Matters would play a similar role.

But over the past couple of months it appears that Equality Matters may have been launched too soon and before its organizers had a real strategy and mission for what they would do. There are some intelligent and creative people working there, including Richard Socarides, Kerry Eleveld and Trevor Thomas. They all have solid credentials and expertise in communications and LGBT affairs. What I don’t think they have figured out yet is what they should be doing that will complement the efforts of the existing LGBT organizations.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Robin McGehee of GetEqual and shared some thoughts as she told me they are strategizing the future of that organization. GetEqual is an activist group that has become something of a de facto ACT-UP of the modern LGBT movement. It has promoted protest actions, like Lt. Dan Choi chaining himself to the White House gate to push for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and a series of marriage actions on Valentine’s Day to promote marriage equality.

They are filling a void that other LGBT organizations don’t cover. They have a mission and a purpose. They have already proven that they can accomplish something with their role in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although GetEqual is far from alone in deserving credit — HRC, SLDN and many others have worked hard on this issue for years —GetEqual helped bring it to the front pages of our newspapers and to our TV screens in a way that helped Congress and President Obama move it to passage.

While GetEqual has a purpose and mission and is looking at how to continue to fund its operations, it appears that Equality Matters has funding and no real purpose or mission. Why can’t they get together?

A recent update from Equality Matters on marriage equality focused on statements by Socarides and an old interview and column by Eleveld. Yet clearly there are so many others who have spoken out on this who deserve credit for the forward movement of the administration. Thus far, Equality Matters doesn’t seem like a “communications war room” but rather a self-congratulatory effort. That may not be an entirely fair characterization, but many hope there will be more from Equality Matters when it gets organized. That is why there could be a genuine symbiotic relationship possible if they would join forces with GetEqual.

If we are to move the nation toward marriage equality and full civil and human rights for LGBT people, then the focus has to be on the states. We need to find and cultivate leaders in each state and city and find recognizable and respected allies and help them to pen op-eds and make statements on our behalf and get the media to focus on those. We need to build a cadre of young people, such as elected student body presidents at universities across the nation, who support LGBT rights and are willing to speak out in their schools and states. These are actions that could be a great part of the mission of Equality Matters with the folks at GetEqual doing the legwork and the organizing.

GetEqual reportedly needs about $500,000 a year to operate. Equality Matters could help them raise those funds and then capitalize on the work they do by using the media savvy of Equality Matters.

We need to grow our presence in the states and we need to find new leaders to speak out for the next generation of the LGBT community. Both of these organizations could play a pivotal role in accomplishing this by working together.

  • GetEqual was formed to “embarrass, humiliate and threaten people into submission.” It is a counterproductive strategy. After wasting more than $1 million doing a dozen publicity stunts, there is NO evidence that they changed any minds or votes. They have not received financial support or participation (unless paying “activists” to show up).

    EqualityMatters may be headed down the same unproductive path. It isn’t enough to simply run around town complaining – people know about our lack of equality and they know we have religious-based enemies. Confronting that group doesn’t create ANY change.

    Our success depends on educating, enlightening and enrolling people to support our full equality. That requires conversation, not confrontation. Even without GetEqual or EqualityMatters, each of us can talk to friends, neighbors, co-workers and even strangers and ASK them for their SUPPORT.

    In addition, not a single one of our myriad of “non-profit” advocates has a strategy to actually win. They exist to survive and have become good at fundraising, not making verifiable progress. We don’t need more paid activists or another high-spending group like EqualityMatters because they do not have a useful purpose. All efforts must be judged by their ability to enroll support, not simply high-profile complaining.

  • I sincerely hope that Andrew W does not include the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in that category of a non-strategic organization. Our strategy is simple: elect/re-elect open and qualified LBGT to local, state and federal office. What they do once in office is up to the rest of us.

  • I agree with AndrewW that we need to support advocacy organizations that KNOW HOW TO WIN. Here in California, during the Prop8 Campaign, we actually outspent our opponents and we began the year with a lead in the polls. But our national organizations ran the campaign as if there would be no opposition. Of course the enemy emerged late in the year, and the campaign got predictably ugly. Our commercials were vacuous, symbolic, and run largely on outlets like the Bravo Channel. Theirs were direct, hard-edged, and targeted right at the swing votes. We lost 52-48 on Election Day.

  • @John: The Victory Fund seeks to elect LGBT persons to public office and has a strategy for that. That, alone, is not going to create our full equality, but it is certainly a supportable goal.

    HRC, GLAAD, TaskForce, EqualityMatters, GE and others have absolutely NO strategy for winning. Just ask them.

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