Monday, July 27, 2009

CA Marriage Equality Leadership Summit an Utter Failure - Shame On All of Us

Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was that an amazingly gracious church who, on a hot, San Bernardino summer day, had 200 sweltering people emotionally overheated and packed into its hall with an AC struggling to keep up.

Or maybe it's because the California LGBT population has cannibalized its leadership to the point where no one is willing to take the unpopular stance of leading this wounded community made up of people that will bite anyone's head off who has a slightly different opinion from theirs.

Whatever you believe the reason to be, the Leadership Summit on Sunday was an utter failure. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Our community has splintered into factions lead by no one, going in all different directions with various agendas, some with good intentions, but many motivated by egos in attempt to out maneuver the other, causing us to fight each other instead of those who have taken away our rights. And why? Because our leadership once failed us in a disastrous campaign which ended not with rights being denied us, but rights we enjoyed being stripped away from us, leaving us naked and exposed. And now we're so anti-leadership, we have spiraled into a quagmire of anarchy with no visible way out. ("The Tyranny of Structurelessness.")

And we're still grieving the loss of our rights. Right now, we're in the angry phase of grieving, but instead of channeling our anger in the proper direction at those who were truly responsible for taking our rights away (NOT our leadership), we're behaving like humans and taking it out on our brothers and sisters. (Read "Marriage Amendments and Psychological Distress in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) Adults.")

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about what happened at the Leadership Summit. I streamed it live, I recorded it, you can watch it. But it boils down to this:
  1. Hard working organizers struggled long and hard to have a successful summit and took lots of consideration into putting together an agenda.
  2. Attendees showed up, decided to more or less ignore the agenda (which wasn't, sadly, sent out in advance so attendees weren't prepared), crucified "the experts" and ran an ad hoc meeting.
  3. People hissed and booed those they didn't agree with, spoke over each other, shouted out cuss words, and debated every single tentative, progressive step forward. Yet at the same time, many attendees demanded a final decision be made on when to return to the ballot without agreeing on a process or getting the rest of the community's input.
  4. Ended with nothing accomplished. No next steps, no decision on when to return to the ballot, no agreed upon process to decide when to return to the ballot, no agreed upon deadline for a decision on when to return to the ballot. (The Coalition of the Willing was not agreed upon.)
  5. Oh, and a last minute straw poll about 2010 vs. 2012 while people were filing out to leave, which was a last ditch effort to feel that something was accomplished but means absolutely nothing other than highlights the dire straits we find ourselves in.
Is this what we have succumbed to? We should be ashamed of ourselves! (And I definitely include myself here.) We have all but forgotten our opposition and instead have aimed our bloody spears at each other.

Just the other day, I posted an audio recording of a secret meeting with Ron Prentice whose Protect Marriage group was responsible for Prop 8. At this meeting, he gleefully asked that attendees pray for LGBT divisiveness on this issue. He then said, "Which sounds typical, doesn't it?"

Maybe there is a God. Because it appears their prayers have been answered.

But the Leadership Summit wasn't a complete failure. It illuminated many facts about the state of our community.

First, we're not done grieving our loss brought upon us by Prop 8. The full scope of its damage has yet to be seen by us because we're still too close to it. We're emotional and want the pain to end, resulting in many of us wanting to rush blindly back to the ballot, and who can blame us? (I myself wanted to rush back at one point.) But we have failed to see that Prop 8 did much more than strip us of our rights. Its tragedy has also made it nearly impossible to gain them back anytime soon in the near future. 2012 seems light years away, and we're going to have to live with this burden of second-class citizenship until then? (Don't get me started on the many other inequalities, not just marriage.) As for 2010, I honestly used to think we could do it, because collectively and united, we really could. But after witnessing the Summit, I just don't see it happening, even with the dedication of the pro-2010 groups. Nor do many major donors it appears. (I understand a great but small meeting took place after the summit, but again, many had already left and yet again, it's another faction.)

Second, we have become what we've hated. Right after the election, we were right to be angry at our leadership. We were right to demand accountability, something that was missing during the campaign. We were right to demand an apology for such a historical mishap, which has failed to occur. But we have taken it too far and for too long. In such a short amount of time, we have cannibalized our leadership to the point where we barely have any, and those who remain have nearly given up on the community, refuse to take a stand to lead again, or have been forced into the shadows to do things, yet again, without community involvement. (After witnessing the summit, who would want to involve us?) We are now what our leadership once was - unaccountable.

But also in this short amount of time, we have failed to see the new leadership for what it is. Accountable to us. Open. Willing to listen. Vocal. And all this almost to a fault. Why? Because we have lost our trust. We demanded to take the responsibility away from them and do it ourselves, many of us with no experience. And we have the right and power to do that. They are our leadership after all. But look where it's got us! After the summit, no one knows what to do now and we have no map! This isn't like an improv troupe with no director. We can't improvise this!

We need to trust our leadership again. But they need to remain accountable, something that didn't happen before.

Rick Jacobs of Courage Campaign, whom I admire and for whom I hold deep respect, needs to stop dissing EQCA in the press. Rick needs to sit down with Marc Solomon, EQCA Marriage Director, and work it out (this includes Torie Osborne, Robin McGeHee and many others). Marc Solomon, Marriage Director for EQCA, whom has earned my respect and trust, and EQCA itself, need to stop trying to one-up Courage Campaign in an attempt to keep EQCA relevant. I call out these two, not only because I know them well, but specifically because Courage Campaign has rightfully gained a lot of the grassroots trust through its amazing Camp Courage sessions throughout the state, but has also been hellbent on taking the lead away from EQCA. Geoff Kors of EQCA, doing something smart and staying out of the picture, hired Marc Solomon. Marc has, since his arrival, done great work for the community, including marriage efforts, and for me, has restored EQCA's respect, but he has also done his share of pulling the rug out from Courage Campaign in an effort to stay relevant.

I call out Love Honor Cherish for steamrolling their position and strong-arming many in the community to follow them or take the highway. I call out the Prepare to Prevail Coalition for its tendency in the past to be isolationists and not truly engaging in discussion (at one point, yes, they were stonewalled out, but that is not the case anymore and they need to engage, especially if invited to discuss their views). I call out the grassroots activists and community organizers - YOU ARE NOT EXPERTS. Stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater and LISTEN.

If these organizations and coalitions, along with Marriage Equality USA, can just drop the shit and finger pointing, sit down and together form blueprints for both 2010 and 2012 (delegates from each locked in a room together), stop coddling the community and actually lead us in a common direction, then we may actually get somewhere. They set the tone. They set the example. Lead. We follow.

We need to heal. To heal, we need to trust. How can we possibly even think about doing another campaign when we can't even sit in the same room with each other for a few hours, such as at the Summit? And the sad thing - we're all on the same side but view each other and our leaders with disdain. We have lost sight of the fact that we have all been hurt by Prop 8, all have good intentions and have all but forgotten the opposition - who by the way, is literally watching us with smug smiles on their faces.

It's time for us to get over it and move on to a better future. It's not about "repealing Prop 8" anymore. Prop 8 is done. It's in the history books. ITS BLOT IS NEVER GOING TO GO AWAY. We can turn that into what motivates us! What we have to do now is unite, show the world who we are, educate them about us, show them what a mistake Prop 8's existence is, and that when they have another chance to vote on it on a brand new initiative, they won't even have to think about it and we'll have the right to join in on marriage.

But that can't happen without our healing. And that requires trust. This may seem like one of the most negative posts I've ever written, and maybe it is, but I also know what I've seen, and I'm calling it out so it can stop. Because for me, after witnessing the Summit, it's not about 2010 or 2012 anymore. It's about us uniting. Only then, can we win.

Trust the leadership again. Trust that they'll make the best decisions they can with the community in mind. Then shut up, get in line and get to work. We have our rights to win back.


  1. Thank you for your impassioned post. It is a very sad situation. All this in-fighting helps no one but our enemies. We need to be able to disagree without all this drama. I personally favor going to the ballot in 2010. But to do so we will have to have real leadership. (Can we draft David Mixner?) We need the grassroots enthusiasm and commitment that we have seen in the Prop 8 protests and we definitely must wage a very different campaign from the one that snatched defeat from victory in 2008. But we also need real professionals and we need to recognize that a campaign cannot be run by a huge, dysfunctional committee. You point to a real problem, but in addition to the problems caused by our having been wounded, we also suffer from the fact that most of us are just too comfortable with the back of the bus. For many of us, the difference between marriage and domestic partnership seems to be too minor to have to put up with the irrationality and lack of civility displayed at the summit. I am willing to donate a lot of money and volunteer a lot of hours on behalf of the cause, but you could not pay me enough to sit through the histrionics and ugliness on display at the summit.

  2. I was there and I think we were at 2 different meetings. There was a proposed agenda sent out and was voted on at the start of the summit. Your assessment is full of the taste of sour grapes.

    I feel the summit was a success for these reasons.
    The straw poll at the end of the meeting left little question that the large majority of us activists are ready, willing and able to go forward in 2010. If we had taken the poll at the beginning of the summit it would have been a different meeting. My guess would be those who are in favor of 2012 would have walked out.

    There were a number of stalling tactics that are being used by those favoring 2012 and for the sake of the movement - Please step aside or join in the work that needs to be done to have a successful campaign in 2010.

    Secondly, we gained huge progress in deciding to narrow down the 7 choices for the process to move forward to 2. With a tie vote of the room 77 vs. 77, many of us believe these 2 choices can be put together to create a workable process. The online poll showed the basic same results.

    This Marriage Equality summit and the grass roots activist meeting afterward was a huge step forward. Those who facilitated created a very fair process and tried to give everyone a voice.

    Now is the time to act and begin the process of gaining equality in 2010. Please join our fight!

  3. I agree, Jay J. with your point that many in our community are too comfortable. And others willing to give hours and donate to a campaign. But without effective leadership, the indifference won't change to action, nor will the willingness to commit to a campaign come to fruition.

    We have people who can lead now! They need to be willing to make unpopular decisions, be prepared to get arrows in the back, stop coddling us, and, as many who watched the Summit on line said, "Herd the cats!"

  4. I think "utter" failure might be a bit harsh -- at least folks got to network and discuss, and it was a learning experience for all.

    But I agree with you pretty much 100%. It seems like everyone wants to be the one in charge; the fighting and unwillingness to compromise is embarrassing. It reminds me of the behavior I saw during the Prop 8 campaign: ego ego ego.

    I would really like to try to focus on the positive things that are happening (such as the successful collaboration that was necessary to assemble to summit) so that we can lead by example. We need to show our community what cooperation and compromise looks like.

    You post about What Went Wrong is spot-on. I hope you also write a post about What's Going Right.

  5. MattyMatt, I do intend to write on the good that's happening. In fact, that's mostly what I do most of the time. I want to unite us.

    But sometime, to unite us, you have to point out the bad in order to fix it. Make us take our medicine per se. Call it out. Put it on the table. Then mend it. I will keep calling it out.

    The positive can come from the negative. If I see that happening, believe me, I'll be shouting it from the rooftops with community pride!

  6. A question that I have that I have not heard an answer to is why would it be so catastrophic to lose in 2010? Did anyone explain this at the summit? I understand that some people think we would not win in 2012. I understand that some people think we could use our resources more effectively on other projects or in other places. But several of the consultants mentioned as though it were self-evident that it would be a catastrophe for us to lose twice on this issue, and I just don't get it.

    Only on its third attempt was the anti-discrimination bill in Maine sustained by a people's referendum. Each time they voted on it, our side did better until we finally won.

    I for one think it is good to force the opposition to spend as much money and resources as we do.

  7. WSUEB- I fear we were at 2 different meetings which is exactly the point behind this piece, I think.

    As someone who has been very active behind the scenes in the organizing efforts I whole heartedly disagree with the concept that there are "stall tactics" or some sort of "conspiracy theory" behind anyone's efforts. Although I may dislike a couple of the organizers of the Summit personally, I dont believe that anyone had any sort of hidden agenda behind it. I truly believe that we as a community are not ready, and what UTF points out here is that we truly need leadership to step up to the plate.

    IF we are to go to the ballot in 2010, then the way to a successful campaign is NOT by saying "well, we are doing it anyway" it is by engaging those who oppose it and creating a way for them to support it. We cannot isolate the enormous talent and efforts of those who oppose the 2010.

    Love Honor Cherish has done an amazing job of drafting a blueprint, however they have only shown 1/2 of the equation. Those who propose a 2012 initiative need to step up to the plate and show us what that blueprint looks like, only then can we as grassroots make an educated decision as to what the smartest move would be.

    I respect the enormous efforts of the Prepare to Prevail coalition and FAIR and their argument behind why we should wait. However, I have not seen what that blueprint looks like. David Comfort who is an incredibly valuable activist filled with passion, argues that the grassroots may become irrelevant (I am paraphrasing, I cant remember the exact quote) well tell me how we as grassroots can stay active in a 3 year campaign? I know that canvassing has to be done, but what else? what does it look like? I am not a political expert, I am an entertainment executive who is in love with a man that my home state (born and raised) said I cant marry.

    I do this for free, just like the countless people who are on the frontlines fighting for our rights. If I dont agree with you, do not alienate me, help me to see why this is the smartest route to go.

  8. "How can the grassroots stay active until 2012?" This question baffles me. Even if we WIN in 2010 or 2012 our work will not be done. We have to continue to change hearts and minds, speak to those who oppose (don't understand) us, support LGBT youth and organizations that provide vital services to the community. Support faith and poc outreach.

    As for the "blueprint" - it had many leaps in logic and, I believe, is not exectuable (especially in the current activist environtment). A long lead plan would include all of the steps that the 2010 plan would include, with more time to get involved in reaching out BEYOND our community and ensuring that we have time to fundraise, canvass, etc.

  9. Keep in mind that this was the 2nd meeting that has ever been held to discuss strategy post 8.

    The first was held immediately following the decsion to uphold the proposition, which was barely 2 months ago. This is gonna take time.

    I couldn't watch the entire summit. I hoped to be there, but the plans fell apart. I tried to watch from home and did see most of it...particularly the last two hours. It was chaotic and confusing.

    I do think communication and organization can improve with more time and exposure. The frustrating part for me is that we probably won't be able to get to that point in time for 2010. Going through all of the rancor and process and meeting and consensus building might - just might - help us actually develop a movement that is far more impressive and successful than a campaign.

    We need to discuss and debate more, not less. I wish we had more time between now and the end of September when repeal language is due. Maybe we do...or maybe that time can be spend understanding how much more we can accompish by continuing to learn to work together.

    Either way - we should do this again...and again...and again. No one should have expected that we would begin at the point of consensus and improve from there.

    It was hard to watch. I still feel proud that the work is starting to be done...and I will find a way to contribute. We will succeed. I'm sure of that.

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  11. I think you're right on here. I have no idea who you are since your name is "unite the fight," though. ;)

    I'm glad you're moving towards not going back in 2010. We can't do it. Now is the time to heal, build coalitions, and propel our power to prevail to win.

    The more we prepare the more we will win not just marriage, but future progressive battles with our allies.

    If we go now, and lose it would be devestating becuase for many small organizations it takes an extrememe amount of their time and money - money that is very tight right now. It affects the programming we do to support lgbtq people. And that's just one reason.

    Finally, Love Honor Cherish CANNOT be our leaders. They spew mistruths about race, put down "activists" in their statements, and beyond. They continue to offend and divide us.

  12. Mark, I think your sniping at Love, Honor, and Cherish and your mischaracterizing of UTF's comments are exactly the kind of behavior that UTF has been lamenting. I cannot speak for UTF, and I assume that he or she will speak let us know what he or she is thinking, but nothing in what I have read says that he or she is leaning against 2010.

  13. This is depressing! What is happening to us? We have to get over ourselves and get this mess overturned.

  14. I hope losing in 2010 would not be the catastrophe that some fear. I have yet to hear a cogent argument for why being on every single ballot from now to eternity is a bad idea, win or lose.

    Newsflash, this will likely be on the ballot again even if we were to win. You think the despicable opposition will go home sulking after a narrow loss? Personally I think they'd have to lose two or three cycles in a row to surrender.

    Perhaps the donorship necessary will materialize only if there's a campaign to donate to. Perhaps those who fear the effects of a loss will do anything to avoid that, including helping to win an election that's underway. If you build it, they will come - and all that.

    But waiting? How will that work? How will everyone be convinced to wait? I think the Bois/Olson lawsuit illustrates why a waiting scheme almost always fails. There will always be someone who just won't wait.

    Yet, even with a micro-targeted campaign, millions upon millions of dollars will be needed. So if the monied leadership won't move sooner, I guess they have the de facto power to simply run out the clock.

    In any event, I grew tired of endless meetings and infighting. When there's an election to win, I'll be back with time and money and energy ... and I daresay I'm not the only one in that boat.

    But to claim that the activist base and momentum will not diminish with each passing year of waiting is disingenuous at best.

  15. Jay,
    I know it seems like I"m sniping at Love Honor Cherish, but I really feel that people need to be brave enough to stand up against some of the things they are saying on behalf of our community.

    At the summit John Henning gave a completely false characterization of Rosa Parks that needed to be called out by others in the room.

    In their statement for 2010 they characterize all those in favor of waiting as "a few activists." And they also said children who grow up for years without marriage, will have those years lost - a complete slap in the face to single parents, children in homes with granaparents, aunts, uncles, etc.

    They have also stated they are willing to go to the ballot with poor language in the initiative that could harm some of our other efforts, and regardless if we win or not they are in favor of going in 2010.

    It's not about sniping or dividing, it's just about standing up for what's right.

    I would do the same if it were the log cabin republicans or anyone else who I had major differences with that was trying to lead our movements for change.

    I know that while I disagree LHC members and others have good intentions and good hearts so I'll do my best to recognize that and honor that in my critiques moving forward.

  16. Until we begin to look at the language use of 'them' vs. 'us', we will lose OUR fight for equality.
    WE are in this fight for OUR civil rights together!

    As a long time LGBT activist, I came out 1976 as a Lesbian Feminist during the fight against Briggs, creating Act-up, Lesbian Avengers etc. along the way. The fight I have spent my life fighting for is against bigotry and FOR equal civil rights. I fight for those no longer with us, my brothers sick and dieing in my arms these past 25 years, who taught me how to fight in the battle for our lives.

    WE All are in this fight together, personally, I am fighting because I need to see LGBT Equality in my lifetime. I want our equal rights and I want them NOW! We deserve these constitutional rights! We are sisters and brothers fighting united together and WE will win!!!

    I ask that WE join together, the 'campaign of the willing' IS moving forward as we speak. Many kinds of polls 2010 vs 2012 have been taken since prop H8 was upheld and every poll, I've heard of, has been overwhelmingly for 2010.

    Our LGBTQIQAA movement for equal rights IS moving forward, are those who stand by 2012 ready to join the movement and put forth the work that needs to happen from ALL OF US to create OUR equal rights?

    Originally, I believed our third option needs to be a National Campaign to repeal DOMA and DADT.
    I have realized that I must give my energies to the 2010 California fight and when WE win here, WE will then win Nationally in every state.

    I ask those who feel strongly about 2012 PLEASE join the 'campaign of the willing'in 2010 and find the commonalities in OUR fight for LGBTQIQAA Equality! WE need ALL our skills, expertise, time and energy to win OUR fight for Equality!
    WE must fight together, stand proudly together and COME OUT!!!


    Take Care & Blessed Be Always!!!
    Love and Energy,
    Wendy Sue
    Pray for Peace***

    For Peace Day on 21 September...
    I will pray for peace, visualize peace and create peace every day as I walk my path. Blessed Be!!! What will you do? Visit

  17. Wendy, I'm not going to support this coalition of the willing right now given the current leadership that I have mentioned before.

    What I will continue to do though, is build coalitions among allied movements like immigration, anti-war, labor, and the qeuer community. Support transgender community, and youth, and queer families. We can all do our part in different ways.


    did we forget this somewhere!?

    i wasn't at the summit and i will just call it "the summit" not the leadership summit cuz something happen....

    all i know is i got a job to do and thats to get my rights back! my equality back!.... good job unite the fight i hear you! jessica mahoney team porterville ca

  19. What I find uncomfortable is that I believe we should not ever, ever vote on fundamental rights. I'm utterly opposed to it, and think it's morally wrong. Why is there nothing but a return to the ballot box being proposed? It's always about when, not about whether we should do this.

    It was one thing to respond to a vote on our rights proposed by our enemies, but to PUT OUR OWN RIGHTS UP FOR A VOTE?

    I don't want to be alienated from my community, but I can't support a movement to do that. I just can't.

  20. Wendy Sue: Your wise words are inspiring. Many of us do not have time to wait. We have waited long enough. But when I read words like those of Mark, I realize that we don't need enemies. We are so self-destructive that we will never achieve equal rights in our life time. Many of us deep down think we don't deserve them. Others are so politically correct that they will bite off their noses to spite their face. I share the pessism UTF expresses. Luckily, California gives glbtq people substantial rights. Maybe it is not worth the aggravation to fight for the name of marriage. Unfortunately, however, California is a bell-weather state, and if we are so impotent and divided here, it will have ripple effects. I suppose some years after I am dead and gone, a more enlightened society will recognize the value of equality.

  21. We cannot reasonably do this in 2010 and expect to win. But that does not mean that we sit idle until 2012. There is an enormous amount of work - real work that can be itemized and placed on a timetable - that needs to get done.

    November 2012 is 39 months away. I could easily see there being no 72 hour period in which there was not some significant activity taking place to prepare for the fight. By T minus 18 months, the activity would be frenetic. By the time we get to T minus 6 months, we can and should be operating in every county with daily field and voter education work. We would be organized and resource-rich. We would control the terms of the fight, not the other side as happened in 2008.

    The "let's do it now" side is understandably antsy to fight back, but fighting back can start in 2009, culminating in a significant victory in 2012. In exchange for a consensus for 2012, there should be an iron-clad commitment to working on a timetable that requires relentless work over the next 39 months. No vacations in Alaska.

  22. *sigh*

    The self-appointed LGBT "leadership" would get a lot more support and respect from me if it, as a whole, weren't so in love with the idea of retaining power over the rest of us -- those of us they're supposed to be working for.

    My wife and I donated way too much money, did our volunteer work, and put our complete trust in the No On 8 "leadership" -- all while the sinking feeling in the pits of our stomachs grew.

    The problem then was the same as it is now: Nobody ever asks us -- the very common, very average people -- for our input, and when we offer our input, and beg them to put us to work doing what we do best (not everything is canvassing, phonebanking, and forking out wads of cash, you know), our phonecalls go unanswered, and our emails never get a reply. Even a "Thanks, but go screw yourself" would be some acknowledgement, but we don't even get that.

    ... Which is the essential thrust of the conversation we had with two young, eager (and paid) canvassers who came to our door on behalf of EQCA a couple of weeks ago. We did everything we were told to do throughout the Prop H8 battle, while nobody "leading" the battle gave a damn about our ideas. Why, for instance, did no one want to put us to work registering voters last summer at non-LGBT public events? (You'd think voter registration would have be high on the "leadership's" list of priorities...!) Why, for another example, was there no central repository for or dissemination of information for those of us with blogs, who could could have done a hell of a lot better job getting the word out than that sad excuse for a Web site No On 8 had? Why wasn't there so much as a networked press release blast? Why weren't there press releases in the first place?

    And that's just for starters.

    Hell yes, I'm angry at the "leadership" that I never had any say about, and which never listens to me -- and I'm supposed to be one of its constituents?

    I honestly believe I -- and untold millions like me -- are persona non grata to this "movement" because I'm not young, nor male, nor a big donor to the Democratic party, nor invited to the A-list cocktail parties.

    Somewhere, somebody forgot that it's not a "movement" if it doesn't include the people.

  23. This is wonderful! I feel so proud ;)

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