Four members of the QLC attended the following event in Pittsburgh on January 27, 2011, and were basically underwhelmed by it. Feedback and extended commentary are below.
EVENT INFO (taken from EqualityPA.org):
Equality PA, HRC & ACLU Invite you to a Town Hall Meeting
& “Equality on The Rocks” Event
Considering the loss of pro-LGBT candidates in the past election, the political climate in Pennsylvania promises to be rough. Now is the time for everyone to do everything that that they can to work together. Equality Pennsylvania in partnership with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Human Rights Campaign is travelling the state in the hopes of starting a conversation on the future with a series of town hall meetings.
Hear what we have planned and share your own ideas for moving forward. The meetings will be open to the public of all ages.
Meetings begin at 6:30 pm and will run till approximately 8:30 pm.
A.H.: Very educational. / D.D.: Learned that I need to go out and look things up on my own. Some of the speeches were uncalled for. They should have used a talking stick or something. / P.F.: It was O.K. / A.C.: Lip service was briefly paid to intersectionality, but depth was avoided entirely during that discussion. The hosts should’ve went around the room and had everyone introduce themselves (like what was done at the 2009 PA Equality Summit).
Some of the main questions on my mind during the event were, “What do any of these host organizations do to educate the public about LGBT issues and LGBT people in general? It’s nice for us to get together every so often and have our little insular powwows like this, but how does it help thaw the social climate? Where are the non-activists? The straight allies? Where was the diversity? Why were these events only advertised within activist circles? HRC, EQPA, and the ACLU have massive budgets… couldn’t some of that money be spent on widening their audience?”
Aside from those frustrations, I was also stunned by just how disconnected the general LGBT activist milieu is from rural queer needs. This was made particularly clear when a man from the
Delta Foundation [2/15/11 correction: Persad Center] commented on working to reach out to LGBTs in counties bordering Allegheny County. I had to refrain from laughing when he described those areas as horrible (i.e.: hard to work in because they’re ultra-conservative and rural). Sorry to break it to ya guy, but the counties around Pittsburgh do not qualify as “rural.” To my mind, they are relatively metropolitan at best, suburban at worst. I invite all privileged, middle-class, urban advocates to visit the QLC’s home base of Bedford County, PA and discover the meaning of ultra-conservative and rural. We have an active KKK chapter and a small youth neo-nazi group here (Both of which currently have greater numbers than we do.). About 75% of all voters here are registered Republicans. Our total population is about 50,000. We’re a two-and-a-half hour drive from anything resembling civilization (Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and D.C.), and for the most part are too poor to even afford the gas to get there. The list of horrifying attributes goes on (and on and on and on…). Point is, none of these big gay orgs are meaningfully connected to us (or any other genuinely rural area). Sadly, they don’t seem interested in becoming connected to us, either.
At one point during the meeting, an African-American gentleman, and seemingly one of the only people in the room besides us who wasn’t affiliated with big, well-established LGBT groups, spoke up about the Western PA ACLU chapter’s neglect of people of color in Pittsburgh. Only by virtue of being forceful was he able to speak at length on the issue before being cut off by the ACLU rep, who said something along the lines of, “We don’t want to spend any more time on this.” I wanted to get up and scream, “WHY THE FUCK DON’T WE?!”
Why don’t we concern ourselves with the struggles of people of color? Why don’t we draw more connections between our struggles and the struggles of other communities? All struggles for human rights are our struggles. What we are all fighting for is the ability to live with freedom and dignity. WE SHOULD ALL BE SPENDING MORE TIME ON IT.
A handful of affluent advocates, unencumbered by the everyday realities of being discriminated against socially and/or of living in poverty, have less in common with we of the QLC than that black man and his concerns. Which brings me to the central problem, as I see it, with the Town Hall Meeting and its sponsors: Poor people were totally excluded. If you have no money or connections, you’re left out in the cold. Organizational bigwigs dominated the discourse, and privileged politicians filled the remaining time with largely irrelevant twaddle and grandstanding.
While electoral politics and lobbying in particular are important up to a point (albeit only to help make people’s lives easier now), politicians are not heroes and will never hand us freedom from bigotry. If our people must learn anything it is this: We must be our own heroes. I refuse to mince words about this. Harvey Milk’s brains were blown out over 30 years ago. It’s way past time for us to accept that no one else is going to do the work for us now, and putting our faith in an inherently classist “representative” system will never bring us what we need. The root of bigotry is not a lack of legal protections. The root of bigotry is ignorance.
Why aren’t the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of donations sent to the ACLU, EQPA, and especially the HRC used to cure more of that?
On the other hand, at least they held the meeting in a pretty building: