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.

Friday, September 18, 2009

State and Local vs Federal? The controversy over the March

Adam Bink has an interesting post at Open Left about a controversy within the GLBT community about the National Equality March and whether we should focus resources on state and local issues vs. federal.

The controversy turns in part on rhetoric and in part on strategy. The public face of the March, Cleve Jones, says that the state by state strategy has failed and he's tired of fighting that way. He desires a major Civil Rights style push at the federal level.

The rhetoric is annoying and yet understandable. But I think most of us in the Tennessee GLBT community can see past it. The people we know from Memphis, Cookeville, Knoxville, and so on who are connected with the March have been great state and local advocates. And I have no doubt that they will continue to work hard on those issues when they return from the March. I suspect they wish it were not necessary to fight so hard to gain so little in Tennessee. But I bet they continue to do so even as they add a substantial focus on federal issues to their work. So while I agree with the critique of Jones' remarks, I don't think they're an indictment of the March itself.

The issue of strategy is what really matters, but perhaps we are presented with a false choice between state/local and federal. Many of us working at the state and local level don't consider such work a failed strategy. For example, in Nashville, every Metro position will now be covered by a non-discrimination policy that didn't exist before. I can't see how that's a negative. If anything, it helps affirm Congressman Jim Cooper in his support of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It gives confirmation to those members of the Davidson County delegation to the General Assembly who have fought against the adoption ban and for the state hate crimes bill. And if we were to pass equality legislation at the state level, wouldn't it increase the odds that more of Tennessee's congressional delegation would support federal equality legislation?

And the March will paradoxically help in exactly the reverse order with respect to activists. Marchers will go to Washington, D.C. to make a huge show of force for full equality at the federal level. When they come home they will hopefully continue to work for that. But you can't tell me that they won't have any fire to defend our adoption rights here in Tennessee. And you can't tell they won't care about non-discrimination efforts in our cities where we are making progress. I can't speak about the situation in other states. But I've talked to and worked with the leaders who are going from Tennessee, and I know they care about their communities and their state.

There's enough work to go around and I hope those who go to DC come back inspired to help at every level. I believe they will inspire those of us who can't go to expand our efforts to keep working for full equality. We can all gain from the March if we look at it the right way.

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