OUR BEST and BRIGHTEST ACTIVISTS: politics.
Jamison "James" Green spent much of his life not being accepted for who he is. Now, as president of Female-to-Male International, Green works for transgender acceptance from both the mainstream and gays and lesbians. "Transitioning doesn't solve all the problems," Green says. "I see how many transgendered people live in fear and shame." As a writer and educator, Green wrote a report for the San Francisco human rights commission that led to the city's adoption of antidiscrimination guidelines for transgendered people. He says he wants to continue influencing policy in governmental, medical, psychological, and legal fields.
Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Michigan's Triangle Foundation, says the death of his boyfriend, Michael, in 1984 opened his eyes to the threat of gay-related violence. The watershed moment came in a phone call from a friend in the prosecutor's office the day after Michael's funeral. Montgomery says the friend reluctantly informed him that the police homicide department had said Michael's murder wouldn't be investigated. "I said in this really naive kind of way, `Why would that be?' and he said, `Well, the homicide division said that it's just another gay murder, and they don't care about it.'" Fifteen years later Montgomery is merging his family's pro-public-service philosophy with his vast public relations experience to serve Michigan's gay population. He says at first he didn't think of himself as an activist, but now he wears the label with pride. "It's an honor to say that I'm an activist," he says. "it's a privilege."
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) wants to change the legislative framework of the country so that it gives an accurate picture of what it is to be gay in our society. Given Frank's political acumen and terrific wit, it's impossible to believe he will fail. Representative Frank has been the leading advocate for gay issues in Congress ever since he came out in 1987. His work has covered everything from fighting efforts to cut federal funding for AIDS research and pro-gay school programs to promoting a federal nondiscrimination bill. "I have always tried to stop prejudice of all kinds," he says. "But as a gay man I have a particular interest and ability to fight against homophobia."
It's been a busy year for Dianne Hardy-Garcia, executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas--but then what year isn't? She helped beat back an attempt in the Texas state legislature to ban gay adoptions and worked furiously, although without success, for the passage of a hate-crimes taw. For five years as head of LGRL, Hardy-Garcia has been the advocate for gays and lesbians in a state that does not always look kindly on them. Still, she maintains her commitment to building her organization and the movement. "I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future," she says. "I get excited by it."
Lobbying the notoriously byzantine New York state legislature may be one of the more frustrating ways to spend one's time, but Matt Foreman, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, keeps at it, On the program over the past year were the group's stock-in-trade bills--a nondiscrimination measure and a hate-crimes bill--as well as increasing funding earmarked for gays and lesbians, The good news is that more Republicans are thumbing their noses at party leadership and supporting parts of the organization's agenda, Foreman, who ran the New York City Antiviolence Project for seven years before taking over the Empire State Pride Agenda a year and a half ago, says he resists becoming part of the government machine, "You can't get bitter; you can't get sucked into the chess game," Foreman says, "My focus is just staying angry,"
Aleta Fenceroy and Jean Mayberry
Better known as Fenceberry, Aleta Fenceroy and Jean Mayberry have become an indispensable part of gay politics without ever having left their living room in Omaha, Neb. For the past three years, the couple have E-mailed gay-related news to other activists as well as to journalists, alerting them to stories of which they might never have otherwise known. "Activists lived in New York City," Mayberry says. "I never thought I was important enough or powerful enough to be an activist. I just felt I should do something." That urge has broadened the knowledge of hundreds of people who get Fenceberry's messages. "There are so many exciting things happening in small towns and cities all over the country, and we wouldn't have any way of knowing about them if it weren't for the Internet," Fenceroy says, "Now we can read about them as soon as they happen."
ELIZABETH BIRCH EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN
When I think of profound and elegant activism of the highest order, I think of John Lewis. Today, Lewis is a member of Congress representing Georgia. But as a young contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Lewis helped to organize the freedom fides in the South. More than a few times he faced mobs with baseball bats.
Lewis helps guide our work at the Human Rights Campaign. I admire not just his raw courage but his willingness to address affairs of the heart. What he has taught us over and over again is that to build the "beloved community," ultimately one must be willing to appeal to the conscience of those who would hate us, beat us, or leave us tied to a fence or on a pile of burning tires to die.
Our community has much to learn from the hearts, minds, and actions of people like Lewis. To me, the most awesome moments in our movement come down to the simple things: courageous words of troth around a dining room table in Kentucky; a heart-wrenching battle in Oklahoma to keep the custody of a beloved child; the willingness to listen to a conservative decision-maker who may be on an evolutionary journey toward embracing equality for gay Americans.
Recently I was blessed to spend time with the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He once said, "When I was sitting in a South Africa ghetto township, I was just a small boy, maybe thinking that I didn't count for too much. But each one of us is a glorious original, and each one has the capacity--the potential--to be God's special partner."
If we keep crossing lines, reaching out to the most unlikely people, and celebrating the daily miracles in our midst, we cannot help but triumph.
In North Carolina, when high school students ask about homosexuality, by law teachers are allowed to tell them only that it's a felony, John Harrison and his North Carolina Lambda Youth Network are trying to change that. The group differs from other gay youth organizations in that it's not a support group; it's a grassroots leadership development organization. With the organization's 500 members across the Tarheel State, Harrison, programming director for the group, is doing homophobia teach-ins in churches and both public and private schools. He's also on the national board of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum and is trying to bring gay activism to historically black colleges and universities, long ignored by gay activists. All this, and Harrison is only 21.
Jerry Sloan and Jerry Falwell have more in common than just their first names: They were schoolmates at Baptist Bible College. So it was with no small amount of satisfaction that Sloan won a $9,000 lawsuit against Falwell--based on breach of oral contract--in 1986, Sloan, a former minister, used the money to open the Lambda Community Center in Sacramento. Working with Project Tocsin, which he cofounded in 1991, Sloan publishes information about the growing political strength of the religious right in California, which has most recently been focused on next year's anti-gay-marriage initiative. "Our job is to keep these religious zealots in check," Sloan says. "Otherwise they'll roll right over us."
Riki Anne Wilchins
Riki Anne Wilchins says she has no choice but to fight for the rights of transgendered people. As executive director of Gender PAC, a national advocacy organization devoted to gender and racial equality, Wilchins spends most of her time lobbying in Washington, D.C. She has fought for the representation of transgendered people in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and in the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, both of which are now before Congress. "There have been three great civil rights movements in this century: the civil rights movement, feminism, and the gay rights movement," she says. "I think a gender rights movement is the last great movement to emerge in this century."
BRIAN BOND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GAY AND LESBIAN VICTORY FUND
As we enter a new century, we must embrace a new consensus-building activism grounded in the knowledge that not all Americans must share our beliefs about sexual orientation in order to act on their beliefs in basic fairness. A recent poll commissioned by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Foundation found that voters strongly favor outlawing job discrimination based on sexual orientation, are open to supporting gay candidates for public office, and stand with us against hate crimes. Especially encouraging was the support from people that we don't often break bread with--Republican-primary voters and fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, for example. Although we won't always agree with these voters, most are not bigots--and we cannot afford to dismiss them as such. We must let these voters know that they need not change their views about sexual orientation in order to live up to their beliefs in nondiscrimination. We must advance the understanding that sincere religious disagreements do not justify discrimination. Our group's activism takes the form of ejecting more out and outstanding gay and lesbian public servants. As the new century dawns, we must elect more exemplary leaders like Democratic U.S. representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. When openly gay officeholders share a place at the table of public policy with their straight colleagues, we can build bridges across the old divisions of political party, religion, and sexual orientation. Across those bridges, our new consensus-building activism will create a new place of common ground where we can secure equal rights for all Americans.
Rick Garcia, founder and director of the Illinois Federation for Human Rights, has been dubbed the "go-to guy on gay issues in Illinois," His primary job is to promote pro-gay legislation and organize support for sexual minorities, A member of the Governor's Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes, Garcia has been pushing hard for a gay and lesbian civil rights bill, which would prohibit discrimination according to sexual orientation in employment and housing, For Garcia, there is no other choice: "In the words of Martin Luther King, `Here I stand, and I can do no other,'"
Is Richard Socarides the White House's "undercover activist"? "I'm not sure that's how I would characterize it," he says, laughing, adding that he "wouldn't be offended by it," Socarides, senior advisor and special assistant to the president, is in charge of gay issues but says he's wary of calling his work activism, "Activists will tell you that the nature of activism is frying to create major change very quickly," he says, "But I think you can also be an activist and someone who works for lots of good, steady, incremental change, and I think that's what we've tried to do and what the president's tried to do," The former New York City law firm partner says his job fulfills him emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically, "It can be enormously rewarding when at the end of the day you've accomplished something and tried to make our country a better place."
MICHELLE BENECKE AND C. DIXON OSBURN
CO-EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS, SERVICE-MEMBERS LEGAL DEFENSE NETWORK
Changing hearts. Changing minds. Changing policies. This is what activism means, today and in the near future. What will change in the next century is how these imperatives are accomplished. Organizational leaders will be challenged to create new models anti structures to be effective. Change is likely to be the one constant in the next century. To be successful in this climate, organizations must be nimble: proactive, quick yet accurate, resourceful, and flexible. Organizations must be able to draw on a variety of tactics and strategies. Leaders will accomplish this by creating multidimensional approaches and by working with other groups to maximize their capacities. At SLDN our goal is to protect service members and hasten the downfall of "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue." Working with private attorneys; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender groups and other organizations; and individual activists, we have assisted more than 1,700 service members and obtained numerous policy advances. SLDN is at the leading edge of an exciting trend. The past five years have seen an explosion in GLBT organizations. Many of these new groups are set up as "one-stop shops" for activists interested in a particular issue or region of the country. More established organizations are also modifying their structures, most notably combining legal, policy, and grassroots capacities under one roof. This trend will accelerate in the 21st century. Groups that are nimble will flourish in this fluid climate and will succeed in changing hearts, minds, and policies.
Mary Bonauto tries to ensure that the American promise that all people are created equal becomes a legal reality. As an attorney for the Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, much of Bonauto's focus these days is on the Vermont marriage case, but she also handles a myriad ,of policy and legislative initiatives. "Is the government going to be able to pry into our bedroom or not?" she asks. "Are teachers going to be driven out of the classroom because of their sexual orientation or not? Are GLBT families and relationships treated with equal respect, or are they cast aside as `lifestyles'?" With Bonauto on the case, the answers to those questions should be obvious.
Never a pursuer of the spotlight, San Francisco philanthropist James Hormel nevertheless found himself this past year the focus of conservative senators' unsuccessful attempts to block his appointment as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador. As evidence of what it said was Hormel's unsuitability for the post, the Traditional Values Coalition presented Congress with a folder of sexually graphic material taken from the gay and lesbian collection, which Hormel helped endow, at the San Francisco Public Library. Heir to the meatpacking fortune, the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg gives more than a quarter of his yearly income to organizations supporting lesbian and gay issues as well as other social justice concerns.
Thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of Jeff Wunrow and his Privacy Rights Education Project, Missouri is the only state in the union to pass a hate-crimes bill so far this year. And the state legislature did it just ten minutes before closing up shop for the summer. (Gov. Mel Carnahan signed the Matthew Shepard--inspired law in early July.) Next up for Wunrow, who is executive director of the group, is a long battle for a gay and lesbian civil rights bill. Although Missouri's house, senate, and governorship are all controlled by Democrats, ambitions and a term-limit law may turn over 100 seats by 2002. Says Wunrow: "It's going to be very interesting."
"Immigrant organizations do not tend to deal with gay and lesbian needs," says Lavi Soloway, chairman of the board of directors of the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force. Soloway tries to make sure that they do. A staff supervisor at the task force, volunteer lawyer, and coauthor of a handbook on political asylum, Soloway represents gay and lesbian immigrants seeking asylum in the United States and assists binational couples (in which one partner is an immigrant) trying to stay together in this country. "It's very important for civil rights workers to remember the impact of our country's framework on newcomers."
"One of the great ironies of my job is that the military office of the White House reports to a lesbian," says Virginia Apuzzo, whose most recent job was as the assistant to the president for management and administration. Apuzzo oversaw the White House intern program, the travel office, and, of course, the military office in charge of the color guard. At the time of her appointment, Apuzzo was also the highest-ranking openly gay official to serve in the federal government. She's funny, feisty, frank, and fiercely determined to see gays and lesbians achieve full equality in American society, having spent nearly three decades as a gay activist. Apuzzo, who is leaving the White House for a chair at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Policy Institute, says her involvement in the gay and lesbian movement has been "glorious."
RICH TAFEL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS
I'm often labeled a gay activist, a title to which I hadn't felt much connection. I guess for the same reason Log Cabin conjures images of suits and ties for some, activist has always conjured up for me liberationist images of combat boots, shaved heads, rout piercings. I recently had an experience that made me rethink the word activist. I'd been meeting with people all over the country who courageously stand up in county and state Republican meetings rout announce that they are gay or lesbian, challenging the religious right at every step. I returned to meet a reporter at a gay paper who interviewed me and a liberationist GLBT leader to see what we agreed on and how we were different. He asked the liberationist: "First, do you even consider Log Cabin Republicans true activists?" The liberationist, after a long pause, conceded, "I guess I'd have to say yes." I was really insulted by the question. I thought, Who are these two to define "true activism"? If activism is courageously pushing the envelope for positive social change, being unafraid of the consequences, and boldly standing on principle, then the old image is outdated. The front lines of the movement are the places where it is uncomfortable or dangerous but vitally important to be openly gay. I believe that today's "true activists" are the ones who won't leave, their church, their family, or their political party. They are standing their ground, demanding that their complexity be respected. Today's brave activists will make all of the difference for the next generation of complex gays and lesbians who can be proudly gay and he anything they want to be.
There are many similarities between being a comedian and being a politician, says Tom Ammiano, a veteran performer who is president of the San Francisco board of supervisors: "You have to know how to read an audience, think on your feet, and release tension with humor," Ammiano is a leading progressive voice in San Francisco politics and is pushing a living-wage ordinance, As for the rumors about his political future and whether he will run for mayor, Ammiano says only his hairdresser knows for sure, Everyone else may have to wait until the filing date later this summer,
At age 30, Bobbi Bernstein has already served three years as a prosecutor of federal civil rights violations at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. "When I started with the Department of Justice as a paralegal ten years ago, I thought, One of these days we'll be able to prosecute antigay hate crimes," recalls Bernstein, who later earned a law degree from Stanford, Federal involvement in gay cases is nearly nonexistent, but Bernstein counts herself "incredibly lucky" to be poised to tackle them should Congress grant the green light, She also reaches out to the next generation of gay legal activists by teaching a class on sexual orientation and the law at Georgetown University Law Center.
Longtime activist and New York lawyer Dill Dobbs has taken many stands in his career--many of them at odds with other gays, "As a civil libertarian, I try to look at issues from both sides," Dobbs says, "I'm afraid sometimes that we lose sight of justice," After Matthew Shepard's murder, Dobbs helped organize a movement in opposition to the death penalty for Shepard's killers, He's also been instrumental in a push to open up planning for the Millennium March to greater grassroots participation,
Ann DeGroot, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, has been in the trenches fighting homophobia for more than a decade, Her group provides legal advocacy for gay men and lesbians, lobbies the state legislature, and offers support to victims of hate crimes, She also works with school officials, police departments, and prosecutors to help make her state a safer place for gays and lesbians, "I feel very hopeful in this job," DeGroot says, "I've seen a lot of changes in 12 years, and I see a lot of changes about to happen."
Army colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer's revelation ten years ago during a security clearance hearing that she is a lesbian was a bombshell for the military brass who preferred to ignore the issue, Her courageous public challenge to the military's exclusion of gay men and lesbians led to her discharge from the National Guard in 1992, Last year, as one of four openly lesbian candidates running for Congress, Cammermeyer narrowly lost her bid for a Washington State district seat, At the time she said, "It seems more and more as though there was a translation for my own challenge for equality in the military to what would fit in the civilian community as well."
KERRY LOBEL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN TASK FORCE
My travels to America's smallest towns and largest cities have taught me two things: The center of gravity lies in the states, and equality begins at home. Like those before them, 21st-century activists will care about stoplights, neighborhood parks, and community policing. They'll care about marriage, domestic-partner benefits, and adoption laws that respect the needs of children. They'll care about reducing hate crimes; ending discrimination in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations; making schools safe; and repealing sodomy laws. Each of these issues is driven by policies made by local and state policy- makers. Activists in the 21st century will know that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender movement holds the promise of uniting across its differences. They know that our strength lies in our unity. They believe that our strength lies in our differences. They are committed to building a movement that works across race, class, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age where all people can bring their full selves to the world's table. They know that to leave any one of us behind shackles us all. They believe, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, that "we all are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." My journeys have taught me that the most successful activists lead with love, not anger. They believe that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. They believe that the opposite of good is not evil--the opposite of good is indifference. They believe that each of us must act fully and completely if we are to win our freedom.
Steve Gunderson, former congressman from Wisconsin, believes that as a Republican he puts a different face on gay activism, The first openly gay GOP member of Congress, Gunderson fought against the ban on gays in the military and against the Defense of Marriage Act, Now Gunderson serves as the managing trustee of the Family AIDS Network, He believes that his activism is inseparable from his 16-year relationship with his partner, Rob Morris, "We have tried to articulate and educate America to understand, appreciate, respect, and accept gay and lesbian partnerships."
Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, Andrew Tobias is the first openly gay person to hold a leading position in the national party, The job was well earned, Tobias, a financial writer and author of the memoir The Best Little Boy in the World, has raised significant funds among gays and lesbians for Democrats and has given a financial hand to several gay organizations, A millionaire, Tobias made his fortune from personal-finance software, For his work as treasurer, the DNC pays him $1 a year, So why is he an activist? Says Tobias jokingly; "I do it for the money."
Urvashi Vaid believes in the possibility of transforming social institutions, As director of the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Vaid heads a think tank that researches the lives of gays and lesbians, The reports she helps produce there influence policy makers, Like her partner, comedian Kate Clinton, Vaid also spends a good deal of time on the road, educating gay men and lesbians, "For too long we have been a reactive movement," says Vaid, who once headed NGLTF, "My work has been about anticipating issues and being prepared to meet the needs of the community."
A consultant for California assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, Jennifer Richard this year organized the massive Queer Youth Lobby Day, which brought more than 700 students to Sacramento to push for the Dignity for All Students Act, which failed in June by one vote, "If it weren't for the Christian right, it would have passed," Richard says, But the bill's backers say it will be back, as will Richard.
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|Title Annotation:||individual contributions to the gay rights movement|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Aug 17, 1999|
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