Equality Summit or: GayCon 2009

“If the progressive movement were a firing squad, it’d be in a circle.”

-the wonderful Eva Paterson, Keynote Speaker at the Equality Summit

A day or two after Prop. 8 passed, a huge protest congregated in front of the Mormon Church on Santa Monica.  Afterwards, they streamed past my Century City building on their parade back to the safety and comfort of West Hollywood.  I watched this great scene with one of the senior partners at the firm, a 60 year old gay man.  He said what I was thinking: “What should we do?  Do we run down there?”  Then he said, “I’m too old for this.  I’m going to give money.  You march.  I marched 30 years ago, I helped get you here.  Now, it’s your turn to do something for us.”

I took part of my turn this past Saturday. While Matt was on the other side of the Convention Center, I attended the statewide Equality Summit in the same locale, organized by Equality California.  Essentially the activists’ version of a corporate retreat, complete with crap continental breakfast-type food, the Equality Summit was billed as “a gathering of community leaders committed to winning back marriage equality in California, to network, share information and resources, and plan next steps.”  Personally, I hoped for discussion on how to unite the plethora of post-Prop. 8 groups that currently are engaging in a variety of pissing contests over strategy and territory.  I also hoped that there would be discussion about uprooting the seeds of the marriage equality problem – homophobia.  But, as you’ll see, hope springs eternal.

Standing room only at the Equality Summit
Standing room only at the Equality Summit

In a positive step away from what was often a classist, top-down No on 8 campaign, the event was free to all.  Over 400 old-school and new-school activists showed up.  As an activist powwow to air weaknesses and failures, it was intended to be off-limits to the media.  After a huge outcry and a resignation or two, the decision was reversed and the media received access.

The event began with members of the formerly hidden No on 8 Executive Committee explaining their strategy decisions and giving us various after-the-fact poll numbersMolly McKay kept calling everyone “love warriors” which drove me nuts.  This has to be the top priority on our Gay Agenda: Stop with the morally superior (and horrifically eye-roll-inducing) terminology.

There were legitimate questions about why the committee failed to engage the religious or the non-white groups.  Even as they asked this, though, I noted:

There are a lot of white people in this room trying to figure out their non-white problem.  Is the problem that we as a whole: (a) don’t know enough minority activists who would like to attend free events like these; (b) don’t know how to advertise our activities outside of Facebook, thereby leaving out those on the wrong side of the technology divide; (c) are too busy catering to our own white bases, so we don’t have the time to look outside of our comfort zone; or (d) all of the above?  Ah, my Scantron has D bubbled.

At one point, someone suggested that before the next ground war, we must “Teach white people about non-white issues.”  Amen to that.  Amen to that with regards to almost every social or political issue there is.

Participants proposed topics for break out sessions
Participants' proposed topics for break out sessions

After holding the official leadership accountable, it came time for the gay community to hold itself accountable for its complacency and for, once friggin again, being co-opted by the other side’s use of children as proxies for its homophobia.  Confessionals were completed through a series of professional break-out sessions, including how to better engage those cloaked in their faiths; how to utilize the labor movement; and, in a tiny room in the corner, the (non) role of transgendered and transsexuals.

I went to the tranny session and out of all the minorities struggling to find their voice in the LGBTI movement, none is between a bigger rock and a harder place than trannies.  Generally considered a liability – as in, “You Buffalo Bills and walking Thai surgery centers represent that slippery slope argument they keep talking about”  – trannies are the black sheep of the LGBTI family.  My group was stymied as to how to make their social and political challenges relevant to the movement without alienating the public and indirectly hurting the gay community as a whole.  What I took away from this was: that’s how non-white gays and lesbians used to, and still do, feel!

After the breakout session, the panelists reconvened to talk yet again about how they did their best to win.  Thank Gods they were interrupted by an unscheduled appearance by our hometown mayor.  Mayor Tony gave a brief, rally-the-troops speech.  Apparently, he had no idea until that morning that there was an event of this magnitude in his hometown.  Once told, I guess he hauled ass to come show his support.  This is symbolic of the problem, people:  insular visibility and poor utilization of our allies.  If our own mayor doesn’t know that GayCon 2009 (full credit for this term goes to the girlfriend) is happening in his own backyard, just a mile or two from City Hall, how is anyone outside WeHo, Silverlake, Long Beach, or Laguna Hills supposed to find out about us?

After Tony the Tiger, I attended two region-specific break-out sessions.  Both were supposed to focus on how to outreach and strategize in a specific region.  The LA-based folks disappointingly came up with the same, tired, non-LA-specific solutions.  The Orange County/Inland Empire session was similarly generic.  Sample “regional” solutions: Protect the judges in case they overturn Prop. 8 (um, ok).  Have multi-language literature (if the gay community truly is serious about this one, it must go beyond the mantra that our literature should be “in the Asian language.”  Lesson 1 on the Teach White People About Non-White Issues syllabus: ASIAN IS NOT A LANGUAGE.)  Must have clergy.  Must reach out to straight allies.   There was very little productive talk about confronting, and getting over, our fear of the valley lands yellowed by Yes on 8 signs.

Wall to wall of next step type of ideas from participants.  Lets hope these are actually implemented.
Wall to wall of "next step" type of ideas from participants. Let's hope these are actually implemented.

At the end of the day, what was accomplished?  The energy and dedication towards participating in our revolution was powerful.  There was a much needed vent session. Without the need to defend ourselves in front of straight people asking, “Why didn’t you care more?”, there was space to honestly evaluate ourselves and our shortcomings.

Nonetheless, my impression was that the event didn’t unite everyone as much as it solidified our current Balkan state: different groups competing to do different things in the same safe places.  We have a problem with insular visibility.  We have a racial and religious schism between what we want to do and what we must do. We have little direction as to what we, as a whole, are going to do about these problems.

The event didn’t erase my fear that, much like over-exaggerated declarations that the election of Barack Obama is synonymous to the End of Racism, we’re treating this marriage equality debate as if its resolution will eradicate homophobia.  It won’t.  There were only mere whispers that though marriage equality is a significant step, what we’re ultimately fighting against is people’s fear, often violent, of our very existence in this world.

With the dawn of Stonewall 2.0, I hope this circular firing squad avoids shooting itself in the foot.  Because, as one panelist said, the only thing that would be worse than losing Prop. 8 would be to lose again.

74 thoughts on “Equality Summit or: GayCon 2009”

  1. Autumn, I’d hate for us to lose even one reader, but Metblogs, or blogs generally, just might not be for you. As Sean and others pointed out, Metblogs, like many other blogs, is a place for free-form discussion, where authors and commenters express strong, heart-felt opinions. Sometimes what they write is provocative. Sometimes it’s offensive to individual readers. That’s the price we must pay for the right to free speech.

    As a reader and commenter, you have the right to state that you’ve been offended. You have the right to try to use facts and good reasoning to convince people that they were wrong in what they said, and that they should say or do something differently next time. But you have no guarantee of success. We have a free market of ideas, and people on Metblogs or anywhere else do not need your permission to voice theirs!

    I also noticed that you used the word “defamatory” over and over again. Do you know what the word means? It’s a legal term, which means “the unprivileged publication of false statements which naturally and proximately result in injury to another.” So if someone calls a transsexual a “tranny,” or a lesbian a “dyke,” or a gay man a “faggot,” or a black person a “nigger,” or a Jewish person a “kike,” or an Italian person a “wop,” or a Chinese person a “Chink,” that may be offensive to the recipient, but it isn’t false, and thus it’s not defamatory. By the way, I’m a lawyer and have specialized in communications law.

    I’d hate to live in a place where we all had to use language that was so bland that it was intended not to offend anyone, even the most sensitive reader. That wouldn’t make for very interesting blog reading. Luckily, we don’t live in such a place.

    I think you said it best when you wrote “queequeg and you certainly have taught me there’s no point coming [sic] your website unless I enjoy being provoked, offended, and infuriated. And frankly, I don’t enjoy these feelings at all.” I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Autumn can’t handle having autumn’s opinions challenged.
    Sandeen must exist in a controlled environment well away from the pressure of diversity of opinion, a product of an over sheltered childhood.

  3. Great article! I can’t help, but also feel the frustration at the lack of direction. Is it a civil rights issue… love… equality… religion?

    To me it is first and foremost a civil right’s issue, but more importantly (especially for those that were FOR Prop 8) this is a freedom of religion issue. Heterosexuals are free to marry in their church, outdoors, with or without a priest, when ever and where ever, so should everyone else be free to practice their religion to marry and have it be legal. Seems like this is the best rhetoric to take to relate to those for Prop 8, since religion seems to be the main focus for their decision.

  4. i find it ridiculous that you are worried about name calling and trolling on behalf of queegqeg. autumn was justifiably angry, and has every right to express that. she, nor anyone who agreed with her, ever resorted to name calling. SHE wasn’t the one who used offensive language. your writer did. howabout banning the folks like suesue who insist on using incorrect pronouns for trans people, and refer to trans women who don’t meet her narrow gender definitions as men.

  5. You know…

    I really don’t recall sitting around with Jason back in ’04 trying to decide what to do with the web community we had somehow helped foster and and ending up with the decision to set up Metonlinehappyfunlandwherenooneevergetstheirfeelingshurtorsaysthingsthatanyonemightdisagreewithanditsallflowersandkittensunlessyouarealrgictokittens.com

    Yeah, I just checked and I don’t own that URL. Good thing because that would be fucking stupid.

    We set up metblogs, and made sure to put BLOG in the name because we didn’t want anyone to forget that’s what we are. We’re not “an online magazine” or a “digital alt weekly” we’re a blog, and we say what we are thinking and we don’t pull punches. Sometimes that means people get black eyes and bloody noses. But that’s a million times more appealing then cutting off the free flow of ideas and discussions anytime something comes up that someone doesn’t agree with. Last time I checked the idea of free speech and the first amendment don’t have anything to do with ensuring feelings aren’t hurt. Since journalists by and large have giving in to advertisers and crybabies, and lost all their guts it’s up bloggers to remind the world that some topics are provocative and some freedoms are worth standing up for.

  6. The sad irony of this is that Queequeg, a member of the LGBT community, takes time out of her life to attend the Summit, write about it here, and publicize the marriage equality cause, which is surely the community’s number one issue of importance at the moment, in order to help further that cause. So what happens? One commenter, with, apparently, a chip on the shoulder, some kind of agenda, or, at best, a thin skin, objects to one word — one word! — and hijacks the post, making it an internecine fight over a word. It’s pretty hard to see how picking such a fight engenders more support — the first step toward equality — for one’s cause. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

    Meanwhile, the Mormon Church and the other opponents of the LGBT community and marriage equality must be laughing at you. You’re playing right into their hands. Divide and conquer. Just like some of the mistakes and shortcomings and the “circular firing squad” that Queequeg identified at the Summit, this is surely a lesson in how not to achieve success for your cause.

  7. Queequeg…just so I can be #60 and back on point. This is a civil rights issue for the courts to decide as a constitutional issue to establish the law of the land.

    Didn’t mean to hijack the trolls comments whining, but this is one I’m quite passionate about…you’d know that if you saw what I already posted pre and post election on 8. I was disheartened to see it go south but in hindsight I think litigating is our best solutions. Votes will just keep being re-voted until we get it set as a matter of national law.

  8. Wow, I can’t say that I’m surprised your publication won’t take responsibility for the mistake of one of your writers, something I am discussing on my blog site since negative portrayals and communications with and/or about the transgender communities is not a unique occurrence with your publication, but is a prevalent theme across the blogworld, especially within the LGBT community.  Before I do, however, I would like to say a few things.

    First of all, it wasn’t ‘one commenter, with, apparently, “a chip on [their] shoulder, some kind of agenda…“ taking offense to this post.  Your blogwriter offended myself, a transgender ally, and others within and without the transgender community. Her use of the pejorative ‘tranny’ did nothing to critically enhance her post and therefore was completely unnecessary. Had she taken responsibility for that mistake instead of fumbling through ridiculous rationalizations for her use of it, this drama could have been avoided. If, for example, she were not African American, and made a similar argument about reclaiming the ‘n-word’, I seriously doubt we’d have this discussion. Unfortunately it didn’t end there and SueSue, an obvious bigot, was allowed a platform to spew hateful vile that should be embarrassing to all of us.

    Sean Bonner stated that:”…we’re a blog, and we say what we are thinking and we don’t pull punches. Sometimes that means people get black eyes and bloody noses. But that’s a million times more appealing then cutting off the free flow of ideas and discussions anytime something comes up that someone doesn’t agree with. Last time I checked the idea of free speech and the first amendment don’t have anything to do with ensuring feelings aren’t hurt. Since journalists by and large have giving in to advertisers and crybabies, and lost all their guts it’s up bloggers to remind the world that some topics are provocative and some freedoms are worth standing up for.“

    Come on now, do you really believe you were standing up for our first amendment rights when you said nothing about SueSue’s statement,  ”Just so we all have this straight; The term Tranny applies to one of those penis carrying men in a dress and makeup.“ 

    You really believe her other statement, ”Oh and Autumn the next time you and I cross paths in a ladies restroom I will throw your Tranny ass out. Your just a man in a dress.,“ was ‘provocative’ and a ‘freedom worth standing up for.’  What about, ”There is nothing worse then to see one of you walking, talking and asserting male privilege while dressed as a woman and insisting to the world you are a woman when every other behavior suggests otherwise. Get a life and join the human race.,“ you really believe that doesn’t deserve a response from your publication.

    Yeah, I can see how you might feel these statements are about the exchange of , ”a free market of ideas“ and discussion” rather than a declaration of hate and bigotry, possibly for the sake of sensationalism and readership.

    It’s very hard for me to see your actions to be that of a patriot standing up for our freedom of speech, as opposed to an amateur publication lacking the principles needed for the promotion of respectful communications that take into account the diversity and mutli-cultural nature of this summit, principles that would also denounce hate and bigotry, especially from those commenting on a post.

    By the way, the first amendment is just in regards to Congress enacting laws to limit free speech. It doesn’t mean you can’t and/or shouldn’t promote the principles I just mentioned Hopefully LGBT organizations take this situation into consideration before allowing your writers access to sensitive spaces like that of the transgender breakout session.

  9. OH LORDY!!!!! Maybe when this thread hits #100, it will get back to the main point of this whole “Equality Summit”!!!

    FOR THE RECORD I AM a self-proclaimed “TRANNY” and all of you who say that this writer or blogger or journalist or whatever, however bone-headed she or he was, does not “get to decide” who is and who is not offended – well YOU KNOW WHAT, NONE OF YOU DO EITHER!!! Just because YOU may be trans, it doesn’t give you ANY MORE OF A RIGHT to decide who is and who is not offended!! FOR EXAMPLE, YOU don’t get to decide FOR ME whether I am offended or not. I, in fact, AM NOT, but to each his or her own! This term has MIXED ACCEPTANCE in our little community!! Even if it WAS a MISTAKE to use it, she or he ALREADY SAID SORRY. NOW to go on a WITCH HUNT against a NON-TRANS PERSON who was ACTUALLY INTERESTED ENOUGH TO ATTEND, much less WRITE, about this “breakout session” is INSANE. This BLOG is not about trans isssues, but yet here is a POST that mentions US!! WOW!!!! MAYBE it was not TOTALLY PC, but IT IS A GOOD FIRST STEP. IF we want EQUAL RIGHTS, we CAN’T ALIENATE the FEW SYMPATHETIC NON-TRANS people! We need to EDUCATE and WORK WITH them, NOT shut them out. I bet all this ALREADY HAS DONE THAT.


  10. Bricar’s problem is the assumption that people should know the use of the word “tranny” is considered offensive.

    As pointed out previously, that Bricar and others here want to harp on the use of the one word, vs. applausing the fact that these issues were even brought up on a popular Los Angeles blog, indicates an even larger problem among some in the transgender community.

    And as I also noted, the point about the word “tranny” being offensive was made and acknowledged by both Q and me… and way early in this conversation.

  11. This shows that the transgenders shouldn’t be taken seriously. They are far too thin skinned and dependent on political correctness to live a viable life in the real world.

    I happen to know Sandeen personally and local gay paper won’t pay any attention to Sandeen’s medication induced rantings. So it should come as no surprise that the TG movement is not taken seriously not even among the gays and lesbians.

    Okay stick a fork in me because I am done.

    This is a nice place I shall have to visit from time to time.

    Take Care All.


  12. oh, i’m sorry, i didn’t realize that trans people are supposed to kiss the feet of lgb people who decide to write about us, regardless of how they do it, or the language they use. honestly, reading the responses here just makes me less and less hopeful about the future of non-trans lgb folks as allies to trans people. to have so many people here imply that trans people who are upset about this are just crybabies is such a slap in the face.

    it’s the most trite analogy, but if this was a straight liberal blog writing about the “fag session”, would you think it was no big deal, and just TOTALLY AWESOME that you got a shout out?

  13. Jason Burns…drinks on your tab…IF it wouldn’t offend I’d say I love you almost as Queequeg for this post. Back on point, I still believe this is an issue to be litigated and let the courts rule once and for all. It is a civil rights issue and we need some permanence.

    I can’t wait to see what happens on question #69, but then again am a snarky smart ass and was tempted to do a “?” so I could claim it but opted to let some else have at it.

  14. bondsinseconds

    I can understand your worries about “the future of non-trans lgb folks as allies to trans people,” considering how ugly the environment has been here. And while I am only one gay man, I hope that my example is proof that there are those of us who believe transgender issues and visibility are just as important (if not more so) compared to the issues and rights of the rest of the LGBT family. I personally believe that your community is a barometer for the overall successes and failures of the LGBT family. So instances of discrimination and/or violence against your community says a lot about all of us and is an attack on all of us.

  15. Wow. This is still going on? Really?

    The inner-12-year-old was already giggling when I saw the number of comments on this thread, and I was a little sad that I was one comment too late. Frazgo made a noble effort to let someone else have the fun, but something tells me that the numerological humor was lost.

    I’ve stayed out of this fray so far, but here’s my two cents: Queequeg wrote a great post about a topic that probably doesn’t get enough coverage. In it, she used a lot of words that she doesn’t find offensive, but someone took offense to **one** of those words and hijacked the comment thread with their indignation, all but demanding a public apology and caning. Q did, in fact, apologize (jury’s still out on the caning, though I’m guessing probably not.) That was apparently not good enough, because those whose feathers were ruffled are still here complaining three days later in the longest MetBlogs comment thread I can ever recall seeing.

    In Q’s experience, the word “tranny” was not offensive. It was brought to her attention that someone took offense, so she apologized. The end. Beyond that, it would seem that those who continue to complain do so simply to keep the issue alive and drawing attention. Negative attention, by the way, as it is based in controversy. It should be noted that I think Q’s original intent with this piece was to bring *positive* attention to her subject.

    I hope it doesn’t seem too harsh when I say…get over it! Whenever Bill O’Rielly (okay, I don’t really watch Bill O’) says something that offends me beyond repair, I just change the channel. I would hate to lose a reader, because I think MetBlogs has a lot of great stuff to see, including this original post, but if someone isn’t getting what they need here there are a lot of other channels to turn to. There’s no need to keep making the same complaint over and over once it has been addressed.

  16. “There’s no need to keep making the same complaint over and over once it has been addressed.”

    Sandeen is mentally ill, clinically so as in on SSD for being so. You think you got comments here? Sandeen fired up over 148 comments on Pam’s Transgender Blend attacking this blog and the original poster completely with threats of physical violence against women of transsexual history. What Sandeen is not is a journalist. Many of us were laughing our butts off because Sandeen is the idiot that browbeat GLAAD into “trans” definitions that simply are ludicrous. Tranny and it’s variations were time honoured terms of endearment within trans communities for decades prior to Sandeen. Add ed to the end of transgenger and Sandeen will spring for your throat despite the fact that it’s used almost with the same frequency in writing with trans circles as without it. And worse of all was the promotion of the term “transgender” as an umbrella term. Again for more than a decade those who were born classic transsexuals have voiced our open opposition to that. We don’t “trans” our gender, it’s consistent from birth, the term itself was coined by the rabidly anti-transsexual Charles Prince and it links those with a neurological form of intersexuality with those with sexual fetishes. We have been silenced, threated, harassed, banned etc just for voicing this opposition. So watching Sandeen try to pull the bullying here and failing is wonderful to see.

    You wish to support some of us? Sign our petition to GLAAD to stop using “transgender” as an umbrella definition against the express wishes of a segment pushed under that umbrella in direct disrespect of our collective wishes:

    And for what it’s worth, a number of us found this fine blog as a result of the controversy so I’d guess you’ll gain many more readers than you will lose.

  17. BTW, for those following along: one reason you should be happy we don’t eliminate “hate speech” is because it keeps the person who wrote those words accountable. So if someone does write something idiotic, it can be used to bite them in the ass later on.

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