Recently, Stonewall Democrats of Central Maryland announced its dissolution. Over the several years of its existence, Stonewall worked to endorse candidates that supported a “LGBT Agenda.” Like many LGBT political organizations, Stonewall apparently struggled to reconcile a Gay Identity with other interests important to individual gays and lesbians. What Stonewall wanted to be may never have been fully realized, but I commend the volunteers who labored for the organization, including President Alice Kennedy.
The loss of Stonewall also means that Equality Maryland stands as the only significant political organization that claims to advance a LGBT Agenda in the Baltimore area. This lack of competition for gay and lesbian political time, effort and dollars can breed complacency, a dangerous thing as we head into the 2012 election cycle and the almost-certainty of a marriage referendum (assuming all gay hopes and dreams come true for the legislation’s enactment next legislative session – a debatable assumption.)
Stonewall’s demise presents an opportunity for assessment – who are we as a Gay Community (assuming we are a Gay Community) and who do we want to be? Further, what issues matter to us, and how do we want to advance those issues? Not too long ago, I spent time with two twenty-something queer identified people who recently looked into the “History of the Lesbian Avengers.” As a former avenger, I found the conversation difficult at times, as hearing episodes in your life referenced as someone else’s history serves as a painful reminder that every day brings you one step further away from being alive. But existential crises notwithstanding, in addition to enjoying their company, the conversation triggered reflections on how we as a LGBT Community achieve social justice.
When I arrived in Baltimore in the mid-1990s, Free State Justice Campaign (EqMD’s predecessor), Baltimore Area Radical Feminists (yes, that’s B.A.R.F.), the Lesbian Avengers, and Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Coalition, to name a few, all played some role in this thing we call “Gay Politics.” Importantly, each organization played a *different* role; for example, Free State playing straight man to the direct action fire of the Avengers. These groups evolved from the rich political tradition of the 1980s, during which ACT UP Baltimore engaged in direct action on AIDS and LGBT issues and Baltimore Justice Campaign successfully passed a civil rights bill through the City Council.
This diversity of expression was – and is – *a good thing*. All of these elements push an agenda. In 1996, the Lesbian Avengers papered Annapolis and the neighborhoods of then-Baltimore County Delegate Diane DeCarlo and other delegates who voted against a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation with fliers featuring the Lesbian Avengers bomb logo, the word “bigot,” and, if memory serves, a photograph of the elected official. Free State subsequently condemned “the lodging of threats against anyone, including political leaders.” We need this dynamic tension – the push-pull of politics –to advance an agenda. And advance it did – the Avengers action demonstrated that we will hold elected officials accountable, while Free State represented the reasonable voice of compromise needed to actually pass a bill. In other words, in politics, you need folks doing policy work, direct action, lobbying – and usually, you need these folks to be different people, in order to achieve your goal.
Similarly, in 1999, a handful of gay and lesbian Baltimoreans, noting the need for an alternative to Free State, formed a political group through the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore. With Free State and other supporting groups, the GLCCB – serving in a different capacity and relying on different skills than Free State – helped advance the Antidiscrimination Act, which passed in 2001, proving that disparate groups working together can accomplish a goal.
Coalitions are a good thing. Politics is messy, and often, activists must bring different pressures to bear to advance a goal. Earlier this year, when Sam Arora went Manchurian Candidate and withdrew his support for marriage, many of us wondered how direct action would have changed the ultimate outcome – sadly, no one does direct action in Maryland. Similarly, if another organization had been in the room with EqMD, would a civil unions bill have become law instead of waiting another year for the holy marriage grail? (As an aside, it chafed my hide when Delaware passed its civil unions bill a mere few weeks after marriage failed). Again, we will never know, because these organizations do not exist (although the recent creation of Marryland Inc. encourages me).
We need to create these organizations to counter the potential that one monolithic voice claims to represent the “LGBT Agenda” – we need diversity of opinion and tactics. LGBT People, if you’ve been waiting to get involved, now is the time to get off the bench. Tell your legislators who you are and what you want.
Friday, 23 September 2011