Task Force Head Looks Back to (Overall) Satisfying 2011
Before there was Occupy Wall Street, we had our own "Occupy," the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. Where most national organizations (gay or otherwise) are content to do some field work and consider that "outreach," the Task Force is nothing but outreach.
Long considered the most activist of our national gay organizations, the Task Force has never minced words. I remember the day Ronald Reagan died and all of the tributes. Not then-Task Force head Matt Foreman. He organized a reflection of grief at New York’s LGBT Center (the Task Force’s headquarters are down at Wall Street -- another Occupy tie-in!) to commemorate the tens of millions of lives lost because of Reagan’s refusal to stop the epidemic in its tracks.
Long before the term was fashionable, the Task Force has always prided itself on being a grassroots organization, working, as it were from the ground up. As such, it emphasizes action above press releases, local workshops above giant national conventions, and hands-on leadership.
Nobody typifies that more than Rea Carey, who took over from Foreman. In a conversation with EDGE, she went over the outlook on gay rights locally and in the nation.
Gay Candidates Now Just Candidates: Ballot Box Victories
One of the year’s biggest stories was a non-story. Despite promises to make Houston Mayor Annisee Parker’s sexuality part of her re-election campaign, that shibboleth never went beyond a few cranky preachers.
"We’re seeing that more and more with ’out’ candidates," Carey said. "The opposition has learned that gay bating doesn’t work so much anymore. It’s exciting to see candidates making it through the election."
Carey generously credits the Victory Fund, which sponsors out-gay candidates, for much of the success. (The Task Force itself remains officially nonpartisan.) With Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin having a good chance to become the nation’s first out-gay U.S. senator, and Christine Quinn apparently on track to become New York City’s mayor, gay politicians are no longer "gay politicians," just people, even in the deepest south.
For its part, the Task Force’s took particular relish in the vote by citizens of Traverse City, Mich., to retain a local nondiscrimination law by a 2-1 margin. The Task Force concentrated resources on the campaign.
This stands in sharp contrast to the most infamous rebuke of gay rights in the post-Stonewall era, when singer Anita Bryant successfully campaigned to repeal a similar measure in Miami-Dade County, Fla. That victory heralded the ascendency of the religious right. (In a casual conversation, Carey alluded to the lack of a charismatic personality like Bryant this time around to coalesce the opposition.)
Marriage State by State & DOMA
As for the gay marriage train, which took a huge leap forward with the gigantic win in New York State, "a number of states are in play," Carey said. they include Washington State, Maryland and Rhode Island, as well as Maine, one of the states going through the process of deciding to put it to the voters in a ballot initiative.
"What’s exciting after so many years and losing in so many states to constitutional amendments is that our community and friends are now in a position to proactively pursue marriage," Carey said. The poster boy would probably be N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who nearly single-handedly was responsible for passage in the Empire State.
On the other hand, there are Minnesota, North Carolina and New Hampshire, where we have found ourselves fighting a rear-guard action against taking away fundamental rights. "On the one hand, we’ve made tremendous progress in the past 30 years," Carey said. "At the same time, we can’t let down our guard."
We Asked, We Told, We Won
Success is sweeter. Moreover, LGBT Americans won a big one in 2011, when, after years of abuse and persecution, our Armed Forces joined every other industrial democracy in allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly.
As with gay politicians, the bigger picture revealed a collective yawn: among straight military personnel, among the military brass, and in the military academies. Anti-gay activists found, to their dismay, that the issue wasn’t "sticky," with the vast majority of Americans wanting to end "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
"It was a long road to that ’ho-hum’ feeling," Carey said. "Everyone seemed to say, ’It’s time to move on.’ Members of the military know they’ve been serving with fellow servicemembers who are gay. The straight servicemembers think it’s great that they’re out."
In fact, Carey stressed, the repeal is strengthening the military, despite the opposite prediction from the Right. Those "who want to join service who aren’t gay, feel integrity in fall of DADT; it may make the military even attractive to those who aren’t." The Task Force, she added, is working on issues related to the transgendered and same-sex marriages in the military.
The Grand Old Party? Well, Old
Viewing the sequential car wrecks this season also called the Republican presidential candidate debates, Carey points out the candidates are cutting off their proverbial Tea Party nose to spite their collective Big Tent face; that is, "Candidates from that party are playing what they perceive to be their base. Romney was tolerant before he was intolerant. It makes them seem inauthentic."
Symbolic of the work to be done is President Barak Obama’s own namby-pamby statements that his thinking is "evolving" on the issue. (Like Lincoln "evolved" when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation?) Like many others, Carey sees it as a generational divide, with polls showing younger voters strongly in favor of gay rights, and older voters nearly as adamantly opposed.
"We’re gaining support as younger people are able to vote," she said. "Our work at the Task Force is that it’s not fair to simply wait. We need to continue to tell our stories, continue to insist on marriage equality and social justice. Even younger conservatives are moving in our direction."
Ongoing, Vexing Issues
One of the most agonizing issues facing gay activists is a perception that the black community resents them, their marriages, and their comparison to the Civil Rights movement. (Something similar happened to Jews, the blacks’ best allies, in the late ’60s.)
Carey, for one, believes the issue is not exactly, well, black and white: "Initial reports weren’t true in terms of a broad paintbrush. The people who voted for Proposition 8 were overwhelmingly conservative and religious. Some were black, but you have to look at it in a more sophisticated way. Like other communities, there’s certainly room for continued education." Carey points to the increasing number of vocal African-American leaders coming out for gay marriage.
The Employee Non-Discrimination Act is beginning to take on the aspects of the building of a medieval cathedral. A perennial also-ran in the Democratic Congress, its prospect doesn’t look exactly bright.
Then there’s the move to repeal the hated Defense of Marriage Act, which also faces opposition in a GOP-controlled House. Carey sees these ongoing issues as indicative of the kind of long-range view the Task Force takes.
Immigration reform represents the kind of bridge building with other progressive organizations that is the Task Force’s stock-in-trade. To get same-sex partners citizenship, and asylum for sexual-identity victims, the group is collaborating with Hispanics and others.
"The Task Force often finds ourselves serving as a bridge where we’re often educating broader progressive issue on how an issue affects the LGBT community," Carey says.
The highlight of the Task Force’s calendar isn’t a glitzy ballroom full of celebrities feeling good about themselves for showing up. It’s the Creating Change conference, where today’s gay leaders groom tomorrow’s and everyone kvetches about everything that affects us, all to good effect. (OK, OK, the Winter Party, the late winter mega-dance event on the seashore at Miami Beach is pretty cool.)
Creating Change gets to the root of the Task Force’s mission -- to "train grass-roots activists, build on the strength of the base that includes gay people and straight allies, to change local laws and policies to improve the lives of LGBT people," in Carey’s eloquent words.
Creating Change will be taking place in Baltimore Jan. 25 to 29, 2012, at the Hilton Baltimore. Be prepared for lots of crab cakes. In addition, don’t miss the Task Force’s big fund-raiser in Miami Beach. The parties go on for a week, Feb.29 to March 5. Because, in the immortal words of revolutionary Emma Goldman, "If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution."