Direct actions and the GLBT civil rights movement
Published Thursday, 22-Jul-2010 in issue 1178
As I write this piece, I’m reading reports about GetEqual’s Nevada protest. By stopping traffic in Las Vegas, they were sending a message to Senator Reid that just as the protestors were holding up traffic in downtown Las Vegas, Democrats in the Senate were holding up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Nine were arrested for their civil disobedience.
There was also news in this same week that Lt. Dan Choi was honorably discharged from the Army Reserves for coming out as gay, and therefore violating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) rules.
I’m left wondering about our broad gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community. Nine GetEqual participants and the now former Lt. Choi were willing to sacrifice for forwarding the causes of GLBT civil rights and equality under the law. Each of these ten personally sacrificed to improve the lives of others in our broad and diverse GLBT community.
If the GLBT community is going to state that GLBT issues are civil rights issues, then at what point are we going to act like civil rights movements in the past? Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez advocated nonviolent protests, civil disobedience, direct actions, and boycotts.
Certainly, the GLBT community knows how to boycott. Look at what’s happened with the Manchester Hyatt to see just one example of this. But if boycotts involve what we won’t do (not paying for goods and/or services from those who work against GLBT equality), and not what we will directly do to further civil rights.
In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Congresswoman Jackie Speier was quoted as saying this about when ENDA would likely become law:
“ENDA, we will have that law for sure within the next five years.”
She said she was acknowledging reality; she said “I’m being realistic.”
I don’t know about you, but waiting five years for ENDA seems an unacceptable state of affairs to me. And repeal of DADT seems like it’s going particularly slowly.
What we’ve been doing for years as a community to ensure GLBT community members’ freedom, equality, and justice on the federal level has not worked. If we, as the GLBT community, continue engaging in the same kind of activism we’ve been engaging in for years – expecting different results from this congress or the next – then our community is behaving in an insane manner. Doing the same thing over and over again will result in the same outcomes.
Activists at GetEqual, as well as the former Lt. Choi, are doing things differently. They’re doing things that specifically are meant to create legislative tension towards legislative movement. They are engaging in direct actions in a manner meant to echo direct actions taken in Birmingham, Selma, and in all the grocery stores where grapes weren’t purchased.
We, as a community, appear to be at a crossroads. Will we continue with the same kind of political activism that hasn’t given us much results on the federal level, or are we going to change the game plan. Are we going to take direct actions that may cost us personally to further the freedom, equality and justice of the GLBT community, or are we going to let legislators continue to tell us “Wait!”
I can only wonder if GetEqual is showing us we’re at our community’s ‘Selma moment’, or if they’re showing us that we’re not willing to sacrifice for our own civil rights.

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