Last week, I participated in a direct action with a national grassroots LGBT rights organization called GetEQUAL. GetEQUAL isn’t much like other nonprofits I’ve worked with in the past. They don’t write policy or file lawsuits. Instead, they take to the streets, the White House, and Congressional offices to put pressure on Democrats who have been getting elected and funded for years on a platform of achieving civil equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but have failed to deliver.
Until this weekend, I thought GetEQUAL was kind of obnoxious.
One major source of this feeling was that some of GetEQUAL’s supporters have in the past been extremely critical and dismissive of the work that national organizations do, which frustrated me because I was working with these groups and was directly involved in a lot of important efforts that are leading to or have already led to positive change. I reacted to this by in turning dismissing GetEQUAL as a bunch of misguided activists who weren’t actually doing anything productive to make a difference, and were perhaps actually damaging our efforts by angering people who were supposed to be our champions on Capitol Hill.
But when a friend of mine gave me the opportunity to travel to Miami to participate in an action, I jumped at it. I’d never been to Florida before, and it sounded like it could be fun.
The action itself was rather elaborate (you can read the plans and the AP article), but my role was simple: go with a team holding banners outside the entrance to the estate where Obama was holding a massive fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and take pictures and video.
You wouldn’t think that this would be a particularly empowering experience, but when I captured President Obama on film directly acknowledging us (I was at that point holding up the center of a banner, while my camera sat on top of a police car), I realized the important purpose that GetEQUAL serves.
All of our policy work is incredibly important, and change couldn’t happen in our government without it, but somebody has to keep our issues at the forefront of the President’s mind – and GetEQUAL can let Obama and the Democrats know that we’re not going away anytime soon in ways that policy organizations can’t.
This by itself wouldn’t have been enough to change my mind about the organization. It was the conversations I had with other activists and GetEQUAL co-founder Robin McGehee that made me realize that the organization itself was very supportive of the work of many other national advocacy groups.
While I still have a few unresolved qualms about the organization itself (specifically the recent sudden firing of a friend of mine without notice), that weekend definitely changed my opinion of GetEQUAL’s work – and direct action in general – as an important piece of the larger movement for LGBT civil rights and social justice.
Tonei Glavinic is an Alaskan queer activist at American University in Washington, DC. For more information or to contact Tonei, visit frozenactivist.net.