Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Subsidiarity and the movement for equality

The high-profile cases of violence against two African-American transgender women in Memphis have reinforced some thoughts about the place of subsidiarity in my thinking. It has been fascinating to watch the national discussion take on a life of its own. The comments range from supportive words to calls for a boycott of Memphis until the police department gets its act together.

There has been some strange impulse in the discussion that leads me to think some activists at the national level think it is more important to issue a statement than to see what they can do to help ameliorate the local situation. To my knowledge, the Human Rights Campaign and Amnesty International are the only national/international organizations that have checked to ask what they could do before they issued their statement or got involved. The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition has been closely involved on a consistent basis with the Memphis community for more than five years now and their action reflects a commitment to local solutions, too.

Subsidiarity makes sense in government and it makes sense for those trying to influence government. In our case, the Tennessee Equality Project has a Shelby County committee whose members are perfectly competent to develop appropriate solutions for their community and advocate for them with local officials whom they know personally. So it makes sense to give them the widest possible latitude in working through these problems.

That's not to say that attention from statewide and national organizations is inappropriate. Far from it. When these groups speak, they can bring additional pressure to bear. But they ought to do so in such a way that enhances and supports the efforts of local citizens. Without checking in and asking questions first, activists at the national and state level risk confusing the issue and even undercutting the efforts of those closest to the action.

Perhaps a lack of patience with the federalism that is inherent in American government and a lack of commitment to the principle of subsidiarity partially explain why GLBT issues have not made the same progress in the South as they have in other parts of the country. Obviously there are huge cultural issues as well, such as the place of Evangelical religion in public life. But that is all the more reason to strengthen local efforts. I appreciate those organizations that respect and empower local efforts.

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