From our vantage point, it was clear that many in the large ballroom were unaware of the 10 protesters shouting during Mayor Francis Slay’s reading of his Mayoral Proclamation. The disruption lasted a minute, maybe two, before the group (some of who had registered as HRC volunteers) were escorted from the ballroom.
The HRC Gala resumed without incident and Vital VOICE remains honored at the Equality in Media Award we received that night. Still, word of the protest was widely discussed on Facebook and Twitter and we have received calls and emails inquiring about the goings on Sept. 22. Earlier today, Vital VOICE received the following opinion editorial from the protesters explaining their actions. After careful consideration, we have decided to publish the piece. Since 2000, our charge remains to not just give voice to the majority opinion – but myriad points of view.
The views stated in the following op. ed. are those of the writers alone and not of Vital VOICE or its staff:
“You don’t understand what we’re doing. We’re raising money for marriage equality here,” said a frustrated Bill Donius, as we were escorted out of the Hyatt on Saturday night after disrupting the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala. But Bill, we understand exactly what you are doing, and we profoundly disagree. The pursuit of money has warped the Human Rights Campaign’s values, rendering it an organization not only counterproductive to pursuing true queer liberation, but also an untrustworthy ally in progressive circles.
First, let’s talk about all that money. A lot of it was raised on Saturday evening—perhaps upwards of six figures. But where did it go? Did it go to support the great work of local organizations in Missouri, many of whom are making impressive progress on furthering equality at the municipal and state levels? Nope. It went into the hands of a fundraising colossus in DC that equates checkbook activism with substantive progress.
Second, let’s talk about HRC’s sordid policy history. Some of us still remember when the HRC publicly offered to support privatization of Social Security in exchange for recognition of same-sex partner benefits. Or when HRC sold out the rest of the LGBTQ groups around the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) by, um, omitting the T. That’s right, they forgot about trans equality. HRC has said nothing about CeCe McDonald, an incarcerated trans victim of a hate crime still in prison for defending herself. Oh, and remember when Attorney General Nixon, as a cynical ploy, was the only Democratic Attorneys General to file an amicus brief opposing marriage equality in California? Why, that was the last time he ran for election—2008. It seems like a group that cared about marriage equality would not let the same guy (who still opposes marriage equality) speak at their 20th anniversary gala.
HRC’s pandering to power and money is not confined to the distant past. In a stunningly cynical move, at the height of Occupy and the apex of awareness of income inequality and what the banking system had done to destroy our economy, HRC chose to honor Goldman Sachs at their annual banquet in New York City. Goldman Sachs was feeling the heat and looking for political cover and HRC was more than happy to provide it, and pick up the largesse it entailed.
But enough of money, what about marriage? We learned in school that 60% was a passing grade, but fewer than 60% of marriages make it through to their desired goal of a lifetime? Is it possible that we are not hard-wired for marriage? That maybe our desire to chase contemporary heteronormative mores has gotten in the way of our opportunity to use this moment in time to push for the world in which we want to live? We have the opportunity to determine how we want our relationships to be recognized, to blur the arbitrary distinctions among the various labels—friends, partners, family. We could each have the opportunity to choose how to live, and yet HRC wants to put us all in the same box. Either we choose lives of compulsory monogamy or we are immoral and undeserving of rights—seems like another problematic and counter-liberative dichotomy to us.
Over the last few years, the right to serve in the military and the right to marriage more and more are revealed to be insufficient demands to realize the society we want to create. If we really want to change society, we need to ask bigger, more difficult questions that lead to bigger, often more difficult to win demands.
Why do we have as large a military as we do in the first place? Why do we bother to invade and occupy other countries? We know the reason to have non-discrimination in the armed services is because so many urban and rural poor people join. Often, they don’t join because they have always wanted to serve, but because the military is our nation’s largest jobs program. The military should not be the best choice available to people. Instead of focusing on the few things privileged LG individuals are not allowed to do change the world where all people, LGBTQ included, are allowed to thrive.
And of course, we are squandering a wonderful opportunity to build bridges with zero-to moderate-income people who do not identify as queer but could use a wider array of benefits. By pushing for a more robust version of relationship recognition, two women who are raising children together because of financial reasons, or those who are caretakers for extended family, or any other of a myriad of ways in which lower income people live their lives could be improved if we were to push for a more inclusive definition of relationship.
We will not sit by and allow an out-of-touch organization speak for communities that it does not know or understand. We will continue to take public action, calling to task those organizations whose behavior and values do not align with what we feel is appropriate in our community. But we are also open to dialogue as well. Get in touch with us if you’d like to stop begging politicians for marriage, and instead begin to address the many other forms of inequality that less privileged queers face. You might know one or more of us, so give us a call or send an email. Or email our group at email@example.com.
We’ll be having a follow-up conversation about the reasons for the whole HRC Gala disruption and on what a queer and just society should strive for. We hope you can join us on Wednesday, October 10th at 7 PM at The LGBT Center of St. Louis (4337 Manchester). We look forward to practicing solidarity with everyone in our quest for a queerer and more equal world.
By JUST SOME QUEERS
[Editor’s note]: National Human Rights Campaign Board Member and St. Louis native Bill Donius, who was quoted in the above op. ed., issued the following statement:
“For the record, I want to clarify what I stated to the protestors. I said nothing about marriage or the dinner event. I simply said I thought they failed in communicating their message on two counts: no one heard what they were saying and interrupting an event was not an appropriate way to express their point of view. I happened to be standing next to my table and where they entered the room. The HRC Team in STL would be happy to sit down with them to better understand their concerns and have a meaningful conversation.”