Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Some unsolicited advice for California's Equality Summit organizers

Reading about the internal struggle over organizing an Equality Summit in California is giving me flashbacks. Hold on a moment while I do some deep breathing. It's a tad like being slapped when you're not expecting it.

Before I stuck my journalist hat firmly back on my head, I worked in gay politics, serving on campaigns and helping to birth two LGBT rights organizations. That experience shook my faith in just about everything, but particularly in the idea that LGBT Americans could ever get along well enough to make political progress.

At first, I thought the infighting was because we were all volunteers. No one was getting paid, so we were a bit cranky, at least that was my theory. I next decided that perhaps the Religious Right was correct, and that we were all crazy, mean, nasty and just plain stupid.

But then I began to look at other groups. I peered closely at some of the dysfunctional non-gay organizations I had worked for. Filled with paid and highly trained professionals, they were in desperate need of group therapy. One of the biggest eye openers came when I hung around executives who gave me the inside scoop on their own decidedly mainstream and non-gay organizations. And to top it off, we all got to see the meltdown and very public infighting of John McCain's campaign last year, not to mention the sniping within the Hillary Clinton campaign.

And so, I am writing to provide some totally unsolicited advice on our current troubles.

First, a word to those of us watching from the outside: Giving feedback to the folks in the inner circle in California is good, but attacking their integrity and intelligence is a truly lousy idea. No one wants to lose. No one wants to hurt LGBT America. There are no evil doers here. There are, however, good ideas, bad ideas and disagreements over strategy and tactics.

For the folks currently tussling with each other over the Equality Summit: Take a deep breath. Take a walk in the woods or on the beach. Take two or three walks. Have a good scream or beat up an unsuspecting tree or pillow if you're really furious.

From a more practical point of view, consider bringing in an organization expert for advice and guidance, but most of all remember that what you're doing is inherently difficult. It's made nearly impossible by the fact that you're working with other human beings. (We are such an unruly and emotionally touchy species.) It's also made nearly impossible by the fact that we've been losing a lot lately. (See McCain campaign for reference.) A smooth and non-emotional effort is also complicated by the fact that you are literally fighting for the security of your children and your friends and neighbors. The issues are so emotional and so personal that screaming meltdowns are to be expected.

May you survive it all better than I did.

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