One of the unexpected highlights of Netroots Nation and RightOnline this weekend in Minneapolis was GetEqual’s “glittering” of presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.
Minneapolis resident and GetEqual activist E.B. Lang approached Bachmann after she spoke at the RightOnline conference. Once at the stage, she tossed rainbow glitter at Bachmann’s face and screamed, “You can run but you cannot hide,” and, “Keep your hate out of our Constitution!” as security escorted her out of the ballroom.
The video of the incident appeared on TheUptake, along with comments from Lang on why she undertook the protest.
Admittedly, the protest isn’t quite as dramatic as one might imagine. Yet, these “glitter” protests are outrageously personal, confrontational and aggressive. Personally, it turns me off and I don’t think it accomplishes the goal Lang and GetEqual seek.
“I’m trying to draw attention to a bigger issue, the issue of gay rights,” Lang told TheUpTake. “Basically, Michele Bachmann can run but she just can’t hide from her record of support of extremist anti-gay folks like Bradlee Dean…I think if Americans really knew what people like Bradlee Dean actually stand for they would be horrified.”
Lang is right, of course. People like Bradlee Dean — an anti-gay pastor in Minneapolis who supports extremist anti-gay and “ex-gay” positions — do horrify Americans. But Lang’s tactics are also horrifying. I imagine there are a great many average folks out there who, like me, see these glitter protests and are immediately turned off. I can’t bring myself to sympathize with any party in the interaction.
I maintain, as I have several times in the past, that the best direct actions and civil disobediences are those that are non-violent; that includes non-violence in thought, word and deed. Lang’s protest wasn’t non-violent; it was aggressive, confrontational and personal. Non-violent protest is supposed to clearly portray oppressor and the oppressed. That can’t happen when people like Lang lash out in violent ways and make themselves the focal point of anger when such emotion should rightly be placed on the oppressor. No longer clearly the oppressed, Lang is a participant in violence; no sympathy can result.
For an historical note and example, see the Greensboro sit-ins:
What the History video fails to adequately cover is the sheer level of violence directed at these sit-in protesters. In Greensboro and in cities across the South, non-violent protesters were met with fists and they just took it. They were clearly the oppressed and sympathy ensued.
I have had great respect for GetEqual and their movement toward direct action. I believe that their outspokenness during the debate over the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal helped to push media coverage and awareness. But, GetEqual’s increasingly confrontational actions worry me.
These very personal, confrontational protests — whether it be glitter-bombing or storming onto the floor of the North Carolina House of Representatives — are counter-productive and might very well backfire. Our community would do well to take a moment to pause and re-think these strategies.
I had a phenomenal time in Minneapolis last week. My trip to Netroots Nation served as unique opportunity to meet with like-minded progressive activists, bloggers, journalists and others from across the nation. In particular, I enjoyed another chance to sit down face-to-face with so many of my fellow LGBT bloggers and journalists I usually only see as thumbnail pics on Twitter or Facebook.
But there was another just as exciting opportunity this weekend. At the same time that thousands of progressive activists flocked to Netroots Nations, hundreds of activists, writers, journalists and others from the other side of the political spectrum were gathering at the host hotel for for their own conference, RightOnline.
I spoke to a dozen or more RightOnline attendees during my few days in Minneapolis. Our conversations were civil and friendly. We shared some laughs, exchanged some personal stories about ourselves or hometowns and had some great conversations about real political and ideological differences. I was surprised to find, however, that the overwhelming majority of those I spoke with felt relatively little opposition to issues of LGBT equality. The majority agreed that LGBT people shouldn’t be discriminated against in employment. They agreed that schools should be safe for LGBT students. They agreed that some form of relationship recognition — though not marriage — should be offered to same-sex couples. One nice lady from Ohio, who said she had a lesbian sister, seemed to have no problem with same-sex parenting and care giving.
My interactions surprised me. I wasn’t expecting that sort of support from conservatives attending RightOnline. Though not as supportive as I’d like them to be, these people were certainly not the anti-gay fringe that has had such a control on Republican Party politics these past few decades.
There are some Republicans, including my own Sen. Richard Burr, who have recognized a generational shift on these issues. But where is the disconnect elsewhere? Why does the right’s grassroots and netroots base support some LGBT issues while the majority of the Republican establishment continues to push right-wing, hate-group propagated talking points?
I asked my RightOnline friends that question. They proposed that the answer might very well be that Republican electeds and party officials perceive their constituencies as far more conservative on these issues than they actually are. While that’s a testament to the (seems to be waning) power of the religious right, it’s also a sign of political homophobia. Such non-personal bigotry upheld by elected officials is also a problem on the left; plenty of Democratic electeds aren’t as supportive as they might otherwise be because they feel their constituencies aren’t.
There’s a clear mission here for right and left LGBT people and our allies. Political homophobia should be easy to overcome, especially as more and more evidence shows that the average citizen cares very little about anti-LGBT causes and, in fact, outright supports equality for LGBT people.
There are many problems in the LGBT media world, not least of which being the constant strain and pull of operating traditional print news in a marketplace so rapidly transforming from “old media” to “new media.”
But, there’s a bigger social dilemma faced by LGBT editors, publishers and reporters: Our media, both local and national, isn’t as inclusive of our entire LGBT culture as they could be. I don’t debate it and I don’t think anyone else would either. However, broad generalizations and criticisms of established gay media won’t fix that problem, and that’s exactly what happened at Netroots Nation in Minneapolis this morning.
A panel discussion entitled “Queer Media and the Alternative Revolution” included Zack Rosen of TheNewGay.net, transgender musician Heidi Stink, Katrina Casino of Autostraddle.com and David Castillo, a Bilerico.com contributor. Each threw out what could be perfectly valid criticisms of LGBT media, except for the fact that they were overly broad and lacked any sort of understanding of what might actually be happening behind the scenes at an LGBT news outlet.
Among some of the panelists’ concerns was that “mainstream” LGBT media is not fully representative of people of color, women and the transgender community. I agree. We aren’t. But that lack of fair representation does not automatically mean that it’s made out of hate, bigotry, malice or for lack of trying. Such assumptions built into less-than-constructive criticisms build walls during a conversation and do nothing to help solve the problems at hand.
Blogger Scott Woolidge noted during the panel via Twitter: “18 years in Mass Media machine, I often see people presume bigotry or hate in exclusion; ignorance or simple human error suffice #nn11lgbt.”
I’d add to Woolidge’s statements and assert that there are other causes to these problems, primarily a lack of resources and community involvement from the very groups complaining about their lack of representation.
As the editor of an LGBT newspaper in the South, I can speak with some authority on the level of resources currently provided me and my very part-time associate editors and other writers, which include a straight woman, a bisexual woman and a gay man. The lack of financial resources prohibits us from hiring a bevy of more writers, though I wish we could. Having the opportunity to expand our staff and diversify it would go a long way in creating more opportunities for previously unheard voices to gain wider exposure and representation. As an alternative to hiring more diverse writers, we’ve taken steps to bring in other faces. We have a female voice on our editorial pages (thank you, Leslie Robinson) and a transgender voice on issues of politics and culture (thank you, Robbi Cohn). In the past, we’ve had some moderate success with the freelance employment of an African-American, female columnist.
As with the lack of resources, I’d posit that there also exists a lack of participation from some of the groups issuing complaints about their own lack of representation. How many times must a writer reach out to several minority groups and/or leaders while receiving no response from them before that writer has to assume his or her contacts are just simply not interested in chatting? When there is no coverage of minority groups’ events, one needs to take a moment to self-reflect: Did that group even make the news organization aware of their activities?
These are problems I face on a nearly consistent basis in my work covering the LGBT communities of Charlotte and North Carolina. As a media organization, we can only reflect what currently exists. If there are fractions among our community, it makes sense that such fracturing would be evident in what and how we report.
Woolidge made a phenomenal observation — one I also stood up to address with the panelists and panel attendees. The lack of representation of people of color, women and the transgender community isn’t necessarily a sure sign of a media organization’s or staff person’s unwillingness to reach out; many times we have reached out and many times to no avail.
Conversations like this morning’s panel discussion do nothing to solve these problems if there is not a two-way conversation that includes accompanying solutions. Criticism sucks. Constructive criticism is better.
One of the great things about Netroots Nation is actually being able to meet and network with an amazing variety of bloggers, activists, social media gurus, politicos, journalists and elected officials. Those networking opportunities are priceless and the knowledge, experience and personal stories shared between social justice seekers is invaluable.
At the Southern Caucus meeting today, I had a brilliant opportunity to sit down with bloggers and activists from across the South. North Carolina was well-represented: Charlotte (yes, yours truly plus a newcomer from Dallas), Chapel Hill and High Point. Tennessee was well-represented, too.
At the caucus, I had the chance to meet and chat with Joe Rhymer, the Tri-Cities Organizer for the Tennessee Equality Project. During the course of conversation the topic of religion came up. I, like others (and still others), believe that religion-based prejudice and bigotry are the root cause of nearly all the oppression based on sexuality and gender.
Joe shared with the group his experience organizing with faith communities in and around Bristol. Several faith groups there including two United Methodist churches, he said, had stepped up and taken leadership roles in raising awareness on issues of LGBT equality. It’s a great victory for the LGBT community when faith communities get involved in our work. Congrats to Joe and Tennessee Equality Project.
The effect of religion-based prejudice and discrimination is, perhaps, felt most acutely in the South. We’re at the forefront of dialogue and conversation that will inevitably lead to new revolutions in understandings of faith and equality, as it has for other groups victimized by religious oppression. If the LGBT community wants to move forward, we have to deal with religion. We ignore it at our own peril.
Yesterday I posted on how impressed I was with the LGBT Netroots Nation Connect pre-conference. It was great conversation and brainstorming, particularly around issues of strategy, blogging and new media. Yet, I was struck by a notion I just can’t shake.
In one session, the entire group took turns brainstorming five different questions or topics including a question on ways to maintain a strong and well-funded blogosphere. The question isn’t new; how many collective hours and hours bloggers around the world have been spent on brainstorming blog sustainability is likely beyond anyone’s guess.
In my small group, I posited: “I’m a little uncomfortable with this question as a whole. I don’t know if it is a question with an answer. Doesn’t the very nature of blogging — it’s independent, de-centralized structure — run against most models for successful business and profitability?” But, of course, very few people actually think they’ll ever make a profit off their blogging. The “business” of blogging is certainly more non-profit than for.
No one debates the importance of a strong, well-maintained and well-funded blogosphere. The organizing it produces, the opposition research it conducts and the ground-up nature of its news production are unique to blogging; traditional media can’t rival it. Still, I doubt that blogging will ever be “well-funded” for the overwhelming majority of those engaged in it.
You gotta hand it to us queers — we’re a talkative bunch. At least its not just mindless blather 😉
It’s our first day in Minneapolis for Netroots Nation, which actually begins tomorrow. LGBT bloggers, online activists, journalists and org staffers have gathered a day early for a special Netroots Nation LGBT Netroots Connect pre-conference.
I’ve been to plenty of conferences and other events with many of these great folks, including many I now call good friends and colleagues, but today has been different. No bitch sessions. No hand wringing. No stinging condemnation of national organizations or movements. We’ve talked real strategy, real issues and real concerns. It’s an amazing breath of fresh air for events like this — or, at least, the events I’ve gone to. There’s nothing better than a bottom-up meeting of the minds and everyone can always appreciate and learn from good brainstorming sessions.
Thanks goes out to Michael Rogers, the pre-conference director, and presenters Michael Crawford, Heather Cronk and Barbara McCullough-Jones. They’ve run a smooth and interesting event so far.
I’ll be in Minneapolis for the rest of the week. Keep checking back for updates and, who knows, maybe a good interview or two!