Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How Great People Can Have Bad Ideas

Before I hit the sack last night, I promised to hit on the subject of Arline Isaacson's public support of not continuing to support a robust, active MassEquality. Instead, she'd like the organization to become inactive - reduced to just a single person who can keep track of the important news, presumably keeping at the ready in case marriage equality is ever threatened in Massachusetts again.

Of course, that's short sighted. By the time that happens, perhaps in the form of a federal amendment, it could be too late. Waiting and doing nothing has never been a particularly great option in the history of battles for civil rights. Continuing to push the envelope and advance rights inch by inch has, interestingly enough, been a recipe for success. Who wants to wait for marriage equality to be threatened, when we could be spending that time protecting all glbt people - at least by giving them the same sort of basic protections and equalities every other American enjoys.

The sad thing here is Isaacson's recognized the key fact surrounding glbt rights in Massachusetts: we've now fought the biggest battle, the one that caused the bells to chime across the state and sent people like Marc Solomon riding horseback screaming "the bigots are coming." Just listen to Isaacson's own words.

In an Oct. 22 State House News Service article, Isaacson called marriage a "white hot issue" that united the state’s LGBT organizations and said, "We will never, ever again rise to that level."
Out of that storm, MassEquality grew and became the go-to organization for gay rights lobbying in the state. They grew trust and relationships with both legislators and constituents that, as Isaacson correctly noted, may never be formed again. And she wants to shut the organization down?

There's a simple truth to life - it's easier to build off a foundation than from scratch. MassEquality's directions and mandates may need change after we successfully defended marriage equality in Massachusetts, but that doesn't mean its job is over. Now, we need to use MassEquality as a strong foundation to use for any number of other important issues, especially those that will require work done at Beacon Hill. Take away MassEquality and glbt people in Massachusetts will need another state-wide, glbt-rights organization, but this time it'll have to be built from scratch. This time, all those relationships now lost will have to be rebuilt. Yet, the new organization could never reproduce the same sort of energy, buzz and focus that existed since Goodridge - and thus, it would be much harder for it to ever become nearly as successful as MassEquality.

Thankfully, Arline Isaacson isn't the only talented woman with ideas on what MassEquality should do. Susan Ryan-Vollmer, editor of Bay Windows, luckily has a thing or two to say. Instead of allowing MassEquality to die, it should take on an expanded role in the GLBT community, fighting for more than just marriage equality. She brings up two great models for MassEquality: Empire Pride State Agenda (ESPA) and EqualityCalifornia. ESPA has used its legislative influence to help deliver millions of dollars to worthy, non-profit glbt organizations that clearly need it. They've shown that no smaller organization should fear the existence of a broad-based MassEquality, because such an organization could end up making all glbt organizations stronger and more successful.

EqualityCalifornia, on the other hand, has been very successful in getting dozens of laws and protections passed and signed by none other than Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. With things like 1913 still kicking around, along with a severe lack of protections in the Bay State for transgender people, MassEquality has a lot to learn from its Californian sister. Whatever MassEquality becomes, we'll all know soon: November 3rd is the date they'll decide. Let's hope they ignore Isaacson's suggestions and embrace everything Ryan-Vollmar has to say.


Mark D. Snyder said...

Considering Vollmar's past editorials about trans issues and other topics where she has been completely out of touch with the grassroots, I would not look to her for advice.

Massequality did become the "go to" organization, which is sad because they are and were single issue and never really represented the spectrum of the queer community and the most pressing needs of our community.

They are spendign 100,000 dollars a month right now.... for what? on what? and why?

Now it is time for a true coalition, where the members of said coalition are actually heard and their ideas are put into action - and the organization is not dividing them and working against them and asking them to put their issues aside.

There are some talented staff at MEQ but it's my opinion that the structure and future of the organization needs to drastically change.

Ryan Adams said...

That's what I'm essentially saying, Mark. I'd rather see MassEquality morph into what we need it to be, than try to create a wholly new organization - at least one that's primarily going to deal with legislative matters. Whether people like it or not, MassEquality is very, very good at dealing with Beacon Hill politics. It's biggest limits there are the ones they've set on themselves (so far, sticking exclusively to marriage equality).

I think some of the board members are going to have to go, which is a necessary shame, but in the long run MassEquality will be better for it. Some people think we fought the biggest battle - and they're probably right. Yet, the toughest battles have yet to occur - the ones where we push for continued progress.

Anonymous said...

I had been led to believe that a state--indeed region--wide gay rights advocacy group has existed for some time before MassEquality. I'm referring to GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocats and Defenders), the organization that actually brought the case that led to the SJC's Goodridge decision.

I'm not exactly sure how useful it would be to have several organizations competing for contributions, and that may be Isaacson's point.


Anonymous said...

MassEquality will do what they are funded to do. Its future will not be decided by opinion, but by who steps up to pay for what activities. If someone wants to fund them to do for trans equality here what they did for marriage equality, that will happen. If someone wants to fund them to move into other states on the brink of marriage equality, that will happen. MassEquality was very, very good here for lots of reasons, but one of the big ones was the funding it attacted. Money doesn't do the work, but it makes work possible. Simple as that, I think.

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