How Queer Activists Are Getting the Better of Conservatives
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LGBT organizations are behaving in unconventional ways – and their strategies may just outfox conservative bigotry in the long run.
Take the organizing around New York City’s “stop and frisk” program. In 2011, the NYPD stopped nearly 700,000 people, mostly young Black and Latino men. Nine out of 10 were innocent of wrongdoing. So what do we make of Al Sharpton, the NAACP, and LGBT mainstream groups all working together to stage a protest later this month at NYC police headquarters?
This promising alliance beyond simple identity politics – highlighted in Kate Taylor’s recent New York Times article, “ Black Leaders and Gay Advocates March in Step ” – shows both that we are all getting more sophisticated politically and that the “divide” between gays and Blacks is largely the result of manipulation by the Right. The court-ordered release of documents last March from Maggie Gallagher’s anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage illuminated the ulterior motive for opposing same-sex marriage: “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies.”
While the Right continues to skillfully use homophobia and racism as tools in its overall strategy to seek and maintain power, its campaigns are losing support. Queer activists have managed to win substantial victories in the recent past with little attention from mainstream media. Their success is not the result of an untethered shift in public opinion. It is evidence that queer groups are learning how to out-organize their opponents.
However, a dynamic of victory and pushback also exists, in which the Right capitalizes on every equality milestone to mobilize its own followers. Last month, members of the anti-LGBT Right like Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, lauded President Obama’s decision to come out in favor of same-sex marriage as handing Republican challenger Mitt Romney “the key to social conservative support.”
LGBT organizers and writers from across the country share lessons about how to win despite this pushback in a new report by Political Research Associates, a premier research organization about the U.S. Right based in Boston. At its core a primer on dealing with anti-LGBT political forces in 2012 America, Resisting the Rainbow: Right-Wing Responses to LGBT Gains analyzes campaigns for marriage equality and beyond in Florida, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan, California, and Utah, and profiles the present-day array of anti-LGBT forces on the Right.
We’ve learned over the past few years that to be successful in the long run, LGBT politics must be broader than traditional identity-based campaigns. One successful example comes from Oregon, where anti-LGBT measures have been on the ballot for almost every presidential election 1984. In 2008, no such measure appeared, which the statewide LGBT organization Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) saw as an opening for organizing beyond their core identity issues. They carefully developed a strategy to support labor, immigrant, racial, and criminal justice efforts, a new focus that BRO Executive Director Jeana Frazzini said “changes the organization from within in exciting ways.” Educating their LGBT constituency about these issues with voter forums, they built progressive coalitions with sister groups.
Meanwhile, as in most states, LGBT youth in Oregon have been organizing for their rights in schools for years. Basic Rights Oregon coordinated and broadened this effort, bringing almost three dozen cross-issue groups together to create a Safe Schools for All Campaign. This coalition helped pass legislation that supported not only LGBT students, including transgender youth, but any youth who might be harassed or bullied in school based on race, immigrant status, or disability. The report reveals how they managed to pass the bill without any opposition from the Right.