With LGBT Pride events happening all over the country this month (other, of course, than in the White House, where so-called President Trump couldn’t even be bothered to acknowledge Pride month), a group called No Justice No Pride has been staging some protests, parade blockades, and alternative events.
NJNP contends that Pride events have gotten away from their radical protest roots (remember, Pride originated to commemorate the Stonewall uprising, when drag queens, butch lesbians, and other LGBT patrons of Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn fought back against police harassment driven by NYC’s anti-gay laws) and have devolved into corporatized, shallow parties that cater primarily to well-off, white, cisgender gay men. And they have a point.
This column isn’t specifically about arguing the merits of either side, though. I wanted to use a timely example to illustrate some key points about learning how to work together for change.
The Resistance has many streams and eddies and tributaries. We’re all working with some strange bedfellows these days, and those marriages of convenience are not always particularly comfortable. But there are some good practices that we can all follow to try to ease those relationships and stay focused on what we’re really trying to accomplish.
First, and probably most important: Remember who the real enemy is. I’ve written about this before, but we on the left are pros at attacking each other first for insufficient purity, eating our young, and losing track of what we’re really trying to accomplish. Don’t do that.
Relatedly, you need to focus on what’s relevant to the group you’re trying to ally with. Different organizations work on different issues, so pressuring a reproductive rights group to invest resources protesting DAPL, or pressuring an LGBT rights group to invest resources protesting Trump’s moves to privatize our public infrastructure, or pressuring an immigrants’ rights group to invest resources protesting Trumpcare is just trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.
You also need to realize that the group you’re allying with on one issue may not agree with you 100% on every issue. Asking Pride groups to forbid military personnel in uniform from participating because your group happens to be pacifist is not appropriate. You might not approve of military service, but gaining the right to serve openly was a HUGE win for the LGBT movement. I disagree – STRONGLY – with “pro-life” Democrats, but I still supported Tim Kaine for VP, because while he might be personally against abortion, he strongly supports my legal right to have one.
Know your history. You might think that defense contractor sponsorship money should be refused, but many defense contractors were early adopters of employment non-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits. From the other side of this particular dust up, Stonewall was led by drag queens and butch lesbians. They weren’t necessarily transgender, but they were definitely gender non-conforming (and thus were early and obvious targets, because it was much harder for them to “pass”). Look at your leadership, your volunteers, your participants and make sure everyone’s history and contributions are being acknowledged and honored.
Be aware of timelines. As someone with professional experience putting on large-scale events, I had to laugh when NJNP talked about giving Pride event organizers “plenty of time” to respond when they first showed up with their list of demands…in April. In most major cities, Pride is a multi-day, six to seven figure budget, hundreds of volunteers type of deal. Six weeks is NOT enough time to make any sort of major changes to an event of that magnitude, which likely took the better part of a year to plan, that’s about to step off. Don’t come in asking for major new efforts related to anything in the 11th hour. Don’t try to get the organization’s attention for something on your activist wish list while they’re in the middle of their board elections or largest annual fundraising campaign or a major technology upgrade. If your childhood taught you nothing else, you should’ve learned that sometimes WHEN you ask makes all the difference in the answer you get.
Offer solutions, not just demands. Correctly identifying problems is important, but if you want to get traction on fixing them, being able to offer some specific, concrete plans of action helps. And make sure the solutions you offer are reasonable. Many LGBT people of color have reasonable concerns about police presence. And again, going back to the roots of Pride, the Stonewall protestors were fighting the cops that June evening in 1969. But one year out from the Pulse massacre, asking Pride events that draw thousands of people to public gatherings to “scale back” police presence without offering an alternative that has been proved to work for security and crowd control is just foolish.
Have some skin in the game. Think about how your organization would respond if some group of virtual strangers who had no existing relationships or history with you showed up and started making demands, no matter how just and “right on” they seemed to be. Probably not all that well. So don’t you be that person either. You want a group to change? Get involved first. They’ll be WAY more likely to listen to the ideas of someone they know.
Assume the best until proved otherwise. Don’t make the relationship adversarial unnecessarily. Sometimes people we’re trying to work with will show themselves to be ill-intentioned or untrustworthy or dismissive of your concerns or stubborn or uncompromising. But don’t walk in assuming that they’re going to be those things.
Be willing to compromise yourself. You might want ten things. But you’re not necessarily going to get all ten. Know what your real bottom line is, what’s really most important to you, and be willing to give a little to get a little. Negotiation doesn’t mean “I get 100% of my way all the time.” It might mean “I get X but not Y.” Or “I get X today, but we can’t act on Y until next month – or next year.” That’s OK. That’s how this works. And it shouldn’t result in either party grabbing their marbles and stomping out. Marbles and stomping may satisfy your ego, but that’s probably not what you’re really trying to accomplish. I mean, if it is, stomp away, but if not, remember: you care more about being effective than being “pure.”
Treat each other with respect. Actually, you could just do this and skip all the other advice, and you’d probably come out at about the same place.
In the months to come, you’re probably going to find yourself working with people you never would have guessed you’d ally with. But in trying to protect our country, our Constitution, our fellow citizens, and the planet from the depredations of the Trump regime, getting shit done is WAY more important than remaining ideologically pure.
Image found here (and isn’t it perfect that it’s a Rock Hudson movie, if I do say so myself?).