23 June 2009

Democratizing The Dallas Principles (Part One)

Dallas Principles

Gay people are so damn apathetic and unmotivated! That's been true as far back as the time of German Gay Rights pioneer Magnus Hirschfeld, who complained bitterly about it. I expect it to be true through the end of my remaining years on this planet. By eagerly embracing slurs and stereotypes, gobbling up crumbs thrown our way by politicians, and giving the religious Right Wing a free pass to abuse us, we all but invite bigotry and discrimination!

I can't deny though, that since the marriage equality debacle in California, the natives have become a lot more restless! Suddenly, a significant number of us seem to be in the mood for justice. We've finally allowed ourselves to get angry again: Angry at the power structure, angry at our advocacy organizations, angry at a movement pace that too often seems glacial. At least for the moment, we want to march. We want to litigate. We want to speak truth to power! We long for a new, more sharply focused strategy with non-negotiable objectives.

In this spirit of urgency, a motley group of LGBT activists met last month in a Dallas, Texas hotel. Except for former Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, longtime activist Mandy Carter, Straight ally Reverend Jimmy Creech and blogger Pam Spaulding, the names of the 24 participants were unfamiliar to me. All were distinguished in their respective fields, though, which ranged from science, politics, law and commerce to philanthropy, journalism, religion and the arts. After several days of intense discussion, the group drafted a document consisting of a preamble, a set of Civil Rights goals, a call to action and eight operating principles. Then these two dozen professionals dispersed back to their respective hometowns with a mission to publicize their manifesto.

They called it The Dallas Principles; the title references an AIDS activist manifesto known as The Denver Principles, written in 1983. The preamble reads as follows:

At several junctures in American history, the stars have aligned to deliver the promise of equal protection under the law to those previously denied. At this unique time in history, our nation must once again exercise the great tradition of making its people equal . . . those content with the way things are will be judged harshly by history. Those who do not actively advance these ideals or offer excuses will be judged just as harshly . . . we believe in the inherent human dignity of all people. No longer will we submit our children, our family, our friends and ourselves as a political tool for any Party or ideology. A new day has arrived.

Word about the Dallas Principles is spreading fast. There's now a website, and the manifesto has been heavily promoted at The Huffington Post, Pam's House Blend and many other Progressive blogs. The drafters see their document as the foundation of a revitalized, twenty-first century Gay Rights movement. Their stated goal is "achieving full Civil Rights faster". Unfortunately, their manifesto reads like it was put together too fast!

I must admit, I initially found it underwhelming. The whole enterprise struck me as pompous, and the Principles themselves failed to impress me at first reading. However, after re-reading and discussing them with friends, some are starting to grow on me. Here are all eight declarations; save for my style edits, they’re exactly as they appear at the Dallas Principles website:

In order to achieve full Civil Rights now, we avow:

1. Full Civil Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay and excuses are no longer acceptable.

When I read these sentences, my first impulse was to say: “Neat trick, if you can pull it off! Just try to eliminate all the different kinds of discrimination at once!” That will almost certainly not happen! However, to the extent that this statement discourages prioritizing one issue over another, I do support it. All forms of discrimination against us are unacceptable, and all are worth the resources we spend on combating them. Who's to say that marriage equality is more important than hate crimes legislation? That open military service trumps access to adoption and foster parenting? It depends on individual priorities. We have no choice but to multi-task and tackle these problems simultaneously. What’s more, we can’t let power brokers and policymakers off the hook until every injustice against us has been reversed!

2. We will not leave any part of our community behind.

What does that mean? This declaration is nebulous. Most people will assume that it addresses Transfolk, but that’s just an assumption. Why weren't they identified by name? Who is actually considered part of our community (a term I use advisedly)? We shouldn't have to guess. Guessing can get us in trouble!

Over the years, many fringe groups have claimed membership in the Gay “community”: Hardcore sado-masochists, fetish worshippers, public sex advocates, “bareback” sex advocates, and even NAMBLA members. I don't share the values of those groups, I want no part of their unsavory activities, and I'd never support a Principle that promotes them!

3. Separate is never equal.

True, but they should've fleshed this statement out a bit more. As is, it sounds too much like a cliché.

4. Religious beliefs are not a basis upon which to affirm or deny Civil Rights.

Patently false! This is an argument for a secular Gay Rights movement, which we already have. Our crusade is all the weaker for lacking a prominent religious component! How could Rev. Jimmy Creech sign off on a statement like this? Haven’t all the sacrifices he’s made on behalf of LGBT equality been validations of his Christian beliefs?

Only one part of this statement is correct, the part about religion justifying the denial of Civil Rights; but true faith, especially Christian faith, is an excellent basis upon which to affirm them. Proof is right there in the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Love others as you love yourself (Matthew 19: 19).

The secular world has been buffaloed, tricked into believing that Scripture supports the marginalization of Gay people; that has never been and will never be true, no matter how many times Pope Ratzinger may say otherwise! What could be more powerful than a faith-based Civil Rights crusade? Look at the one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led, how it inspired the world, and what sweeping changes it brought to our society. Look, too, at how strong the faith component has made our enemies! This ill-conceived Principle reeks of religion-phobia; I find it totally counter-productive. It robs us of Liberationist theology, an essential weapon in our fight!

5. The establishment and guardianship of full Civil Rights is a non-partisan issue.

True, although most Republicans obviously haven’t realized this truth yet! I hope when they say "non-partisan", the Dallas group isn't just thinking about the major political parties. LGBT Rights is an issue that Libertarians, Greens, Independents, et al can conceivably agree on, too. Limiting ourselves to a narrow, inside-the-Washington-beltway, two-party outreach would make no sense.

6. Individual involvement and grass roots action are paramount to success and must be encouraged.

Very true. Keep this Principle in mind, because I intend to reference it later on!

7. Success is measured by the Civil Rights we all achieve, not by words, access or money raised.

True enough, but on the other hand, just try to achieve success without devoting sufficient time to fund-raising! If raising money is as unimportant as this statement implies, the Dallas group better have the ability to mobilize thousands of eager volunteers; otherwise, its agenda won't amount to anything but words on paper! That said, I also take exception to the implication that words don't matter much. If they didn't, what would be the point of writing a manifesto?

8. Those who seek our support are expected to commit to these principles.

In other words, those who can commit to some of these Principles but not to others aren’t worthy allies? How arrogant!

The drafters seem to have forgotten that LGBT folk are a minority group! We’re in no position to dictate that everybody be on exactly the same page as we are! Many of our allies are still educating themselves about our issues: Our own relatives, for example! They don’t all have to be at the top of the learning curve, and we don’t have to compromise our goals to accept what help they have to offer. Granted, #1, #2 (with caveat) and #3 are Principles our allies must share, but insisting on 100% agreement (especially with the more questionable resolutions) is self-defeating!

We can and should seek common ground with somewhat like-minded people; otherwise, implementing Principle #5 will be impossible! This statement is much too haughty for its own good.

"Democratizing the Dallas Principles" concludes with Part Two.

1 comment:

  1. A note to "anonymous": Wanna see somebody who's really dumb? Look in your mirror, sugar! Somebody who peppers his feedback with profane language and expects it to be posted on a Christian blog certainly fits the definition of that rude name you called me. BTW, it was your decision to read my essay, so if it offended your crude sensibilities, you're the only one you should be angry at.