Sunday, December 6, 2015

Surely We Should Be United Against The Common Enemy...

There is a big controversy running through Michigan's LGBT community. We are not legally protected from housing and job discrimination. The entire LGBT community (and our allies) agree that should change. The controversy is whether to try and affect this change through the ballot box or through the legislature.

There are very good arguments on both sides (I'll get to them shortly). Meanwhile, there is verbal warfare going on. And everyone claims they know what I want and/or what is good for me. So far, I haven't voted, and no one has asked me to fill out a survey.

Just about every pronouncement seems to piss off the "opposition" even more while aggrandizing the loyal followers. So I have a few things to say which will piss everyone off. (Am I channeling Dave Garcia?).

Stop acting like children

I am reminded of a great scene from Monty Python's "Life of Brian":

Sadly, I am reminded of this video too often in our struggle. We seem to be better at fighting each other than we are at taking on the right wing nuts running our state.

We have on one side Dana Nessel and the Fair Michigan Initiative, which is leading the move to put LGBT non-discrimination on the 2016 ballot. Dana was part of the DeBoer-Rowse legal team. She won us a big victory. She is brushing off criticism of her decision to move forward, saying these are the same people who told her not to push her case forward...that it was not the right case nor the right time.
To Dana, I say this one is more expensive and a loss could have bigger consequences. Let's make sure there is a community consensus before pushing forward.
On another side we have Equality Michigan. I am thrilled that Equality Michigan has many new board members who aren't the same folks who have been running the organization for the past 10 years. I am also thrilled that they named Steph White as their new Executive Director. I've worked with Stephanie on a variety of campaigns over the years, and she is brilliant. I wish her the best in her new position.
To Equality Michigan, I say you have been an essentially meaningless organization since the days of Jeff Montgomery and Sean Kosofsky. Back in those days you were the go-to organization on all things legislative, as well as workplace and housing protection. But that was a long time ago. You're going to have to prove your leadership abilities to regain that position. And we do need someone to take leadership. But engaging in the mudslinging with Dana (and others) doesn't build confidence.
On yet another side we have our allies in the Democratic Party. They are adamant that the legislative push is the only way forward.
To the Democratic Party allies, I say "Really". You're so sure of the legislative process. That worked out real well last year. Thanks to that debacle there is not a single moderate Republican willing to step out and back amending Elliott-Larsen. That one cost us dearly. And "Really". You're going to try to sabotage Brian Stone's candidacy because he supports a ballot initiative? If he is elected and there is a legislative push he would be an important ally. Remember, we all want the same thing. Don't trample allies just because they believe another road is the better route.
And then there is Jack Lessenberry.
To Jack....I must first confess that I have never used the "f" word in my blog. It peppers my speech at appropriate times, but in general it is more provocative than Jack I say "Fuck You". The ACLU has been one of the most important organizations in support of LGBT rights. They have expended more legal resources for our community than any organization. How dare you attack them on behalf of my community. You are so far out of line I don't even know where to begin. So I won't.
With straight allies like you, well, we're better off without.
There are plenty of other players out there, and they are pretty much all out of line in one way or another.

Stop Telling Me What I Think

How about you ask me what I think? Guess what? Ann Arbor's Jim Toy Community Center (JTCC) realized that what we need is communication. They felt that the way to a community consensus is conversation. Think about that. What an idea!

And now the leader of that move, Sandi Smith is under attack. Let's be clear. She is under attack because she has called for a community conversation.

Far from attacking her, we should be emulating her and putting together community conversations in Detroit, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Marquette, and anywhere else we can put together a group of people willing to talk. 

So What Do I Think? What is the Right Way Forward

I'm still working this out for myself. Here are the things I am considering:

I understand the idea that you don't put civil rights up to a popular vote. The real place for such protection is through the courts. But the lack of something is hard to take to the courts, unlike Marriage Equality where there was an explicit ban on same-sex marriages. The legislative route has not always been kind. (See above and the disastrous attempt to amend Elliott-Larsen last year).

Earlier this year Houston had an initiative to strip LGBT protections from their local ordinance. Note that. The initiative was in response to a legislative move. The legislative route, even if successful, is still vulnerable to a popular vote.

A popular vote would be expensive. And it would inevitably be at the cost of support for our community centers, HIV/AIDS organizations, and more. We have to be willing to spend the big bucks on this campaign if that is the way we move forward.

The trans community is concerned about the attacks they would endure, both in the media and physically. These are real concerns. On the other hand, even in above-mentioned Elliott-Larsen amendment fight the trans community was being thrown under the bus...and many Dems were considering supporting a G & L amendment without the B & T calculating that "at least some protection is better than none". I completely disagree with that strategy, and fear that a legislative push can endanger the trans community, as well. And that endangerment is more insidious because it divides what should be a united community.

Community Consensus

And that is the crux of this. We need a United Community. I thought of titling this post, "How Many Allies Can I Alienate?". I really hope the answer is none. I hope the answer is that we can act like grownups. We need a community consensus. Until we have that everything else is hot air. Consensus, boys and girls, is accomplished by talking. Let's start.