New LGBT coalition should be model for community

OUT Florida will bring into a grassroots coalition a number of local and regional LGBT organizations.

OUT Florida will bring into a grassroots coalition a number of local and regional LGBT organizations.

A handful of local, state and regional LGBT organizations have come together to form a single coalition-level organization, according to The South Florida Blade.

The new coalition, Organizations United Together (OUT), “will act as a network of myriad local GLBT groups and allies to address equality issues throughout the state and attempt to bring increased visibility in communities where gay groups are lacking,” Blade journo Juan Carlos Rodriguez wrote.

The groups working to establish OUT include SAVE Dade, Palm Beach Human Rights Council and Sarasota Equality Project. Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy and lobbying organization, has not joined the effort.

From The South Florida Blade:

Missing from OUT is Equality Florida, the leading statewide LGBT political organization.

Doering said that OUT will work alongside Equality Florida on state-wide matters. She said the focus of OUT is to bring together smaller local organizations that can have an immediate impact on a given community.

“The primary difference is this is a federation of local groups working from the bottom up,” she said.

Organizers intend OUT to be effective in areas throughout the state where there are gay people, but not much organization. Issues such as developing Human Rights Ordinances and developing domestic partnership registries at municipal and county levels can be accomplished.

“It makes us stronger as a state,” Doering said. “I think working at the local level people are able to accomplish a lot and we can build local strengths.”

OUT looks to affect change in conservative Florida by mobilizing local organizations at a grassroots level, especially when it comes to lobbying bills that come before the state legislature.

After Prop. 8 and a blogger summit organized in Washington, D.C. in December, I began to think critically about how the national LGBT community could come together in some sort of well-organized and effective coalition. The idea – never fully fleshed out and riddled with holes and kinks – never made it past draft form or past the eyes of two friends.

I hope OUT will share their strategies for effectively working together to increase grassroots action with the larger LGBT community. Their lessons learned over the next few months and years will be valuable to a national movement that is severely lacking a unified, strategic and effective grassroots organizing arm.

OUT’s model, I think, will also be useful to local areas where several LGBT organizations co-exist but rarely work together. C.J. Ortuno, executive director of SAVE Dade, addressed this notion in a press release, “For several years, local LGBT organizations have been working together informally on common issues such as human rights ordinances and domestic partner benefits. OUT will provide a network to continue this work and to unite on important statewide projects, such as passing a statewide antidiscrimination law, repealing the ban on gay adoption, and defeating the discriminatory charter amendment to be considered by Gainesville’s voters on March 24th.”

While OUT certainly isn’t the first LGBT coalition to ever form, it is among the first to organize after the late-2008 explosion of online-to-ground activism and to take local, established LGBT organizations and form them into a (hopefully, perhaps) workable grassroots mobilization effort.

Although local activists, largely on their own and without strategic thinking and experience, continue to ramp up Join the Impact-style efforts, there’s largely a void when it comes to assisting these community members and activists to organize effectively around issues of common-interest locally or statewide. Where there are seasoned activists, there might not be the organizational and community-wide support system to keep these activists involved and supported in their efforts.

“As Tip O’Neil used to say, ‘All politics is local,’” Rand Hoch, president of Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, said in an OUT press release. “After the passage of Amendment 2, the leaders of several local LGBT organizations around the state acknowledged the need for better communication and cooperation. Fostering strong local organizations will ultimately help us achieve success on statewide issues.”

Statewide lobbying organizations aren’t always the best avenue for on-the-ground activism, for several reasons including money and time (limited, paid staff resources are directed elsewhere), organization based in specific geographic areas and a tendency to draw back from “activism” that might harm their political capital inside the halls of power.

“After Amendment 2 we did a lot of soul searching,” Karen Doering, a veteran gay rights attorney and OUT spokesperson, told The Blade. “This last election has caused leaders in the gay movement to do some serious thinking.”

If this “soul searching” continues across the national LGBT community, there’s no limit to what we could do. Another organization is taking some of the same grassroots organizing steps. In the coming months and years, Campus Pride, an LGBT college student organization, will be working to establish the Campus Q Team:

Campus Pride has high hopes that in a few years, 3 – 5 years at best, the Campus Q Team will grow to have 51 State Ambassadors (including Washington D.C.), 9 Regional Ambassadors and 2 Campus Q Interns. The program will be a nimble, dynamic leadership force that will mobilize LGBT & Ally student leaders in various regions of the country. The Campus Q Team will lead the way for Campus Pride in grassroots organizing nationally on college campuses.

The Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference will be hitting Denver, Colo. at the end of the month. I’ll hope that conversations about how local, regional and national organizations can effectively unite under grassroots coalitions will continue there and elsewhere.

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  1. […] model for the nation Florida LGBT groups are teaming up in a united coalition to fight regional and statewide threats to equality. On Wednesday, I said such a coalition could serve as a model for countless regions around the […]

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