For the past year and a half, I have been urged to take the "high road" with regard to the deliberate and calculated lies and misinformation put out by the Ad Hoc Committee for an Open Process, the leading anti-MMOW group. In other words, some felt responding would only escalate the disagreement.
Not responding to the misinformation, I believe, has been a grave mistake. It has not only allowed the lies around this March to continue to grow, but it has permitted the myths crafted by the self-styled "Ad Hoc Committee" around the previous Marches to go unchallenged.
I've grown tired of our history being rewritten and distorted.
It's time for truth-telling.
As an activist for 30 years and as someone who has been involved in all of the national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) marches (in 1978, I called for the first national gay March), I have seen enormous abuse in this movement abuse cloaked in the good names of political correctness, accuracy, and in this case "an open process." But I have never before seen the level of character assassination and distortion that March opponents have heaped on good, committed activisits.
The libelous misinformation and untruth's in Billy Heilman‚s last press release, and the fact they are now being distributed in the press, has ended my silence.
THE MYTH: If Robin Tyler is the hired executive producer of a non-profit group, why has her private company blocked thousands of hotel rooms?
THE TRUTH: The truth is, I have only one hotel room booked and it's for my partner and me.
Past March on Washington organizer Billy Heilman, one of the leaders of the anti-MMOW movement, knows he is spreading lies. He knows the charge is untrue, because he sat in the same meetings in which I sat where this was discussed. Every contract for every hotel room is in the name of the non-profit Millennium March on Washington, Inc. and every penny of revenue from the hotel commissions goes directly to the March. Neither I nor my company has any contracts with hotels nor do I receive any personal or business income from the March hotels. One should question the motives of anyone who continues to perpetuate information they know to be untrue, misleading and inflammatory?
The March hotels were booked for two reasons:
- 1. At many events, including the last March on Washington and the Gay Games in Amsterdam, hotel rooms have been sold at inflated levels, to the financial detriment of our community. (Close to the events, some rooms have been increased 200-300 percent over their regular rates.) By reserving hotel rooms through the March, we have assured that thousands of rooms will be available to our community at their actual cost, and not at inflated rates.
2. The March is receiving all commissions for the reserved rooms. These commissions serve as a fund-raiser for the March. In addition to the rooms the March has reserved, there are still tens of thousands of hotel rooms for individuals and travel agents to book. We are also arranging free and low-cost housing alternatives youth and other members of our community who may not be able to afford the expense of a hotel room.
Once again, Billy had this information and yet chose to perpetrate the lie that I and my company are receiving the commissions. When you know the truth and still spread misinformation, isn't that called a lie?
THE MYTH: The previous Marches were more open and more democratic.
THE TRUTH: National meetings for the 1993 March were held in four cities. The majority of those meetings had less than 100 people. I know, because I was one of a handful of people who flew to all of the meetings. Only a small handful of people, who could afford to travel to the meetings, decided to have a March in 1993. In 1979, it was a group of people in Minnesota who formed a March committee (documented in the recently published book, "Out For Good") and when that committee went defunct, Harvey Milk (who was originally against the first March) picked it up. The gay organizations were still against it. Harvey's murder gave impetus for the March on a national level.
THE MYTH: The Millennium March is an HRC and UFMCC March.
THE TRUTH: The original call for the March was put out by HRC and UFMCC. Subsequently, representatives of 45 LGBT organizations from across the country met in Washington in June of 1998. These organizations represented hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists and each organization sent a representative. (At this meeting, the Ad Hoc Committee was also invited to designate a representative to participate with full voice and full vote and they declined.)
This broad cross-section of community representatives reaffirmed the decision to hold the fourth national LGBT March on Washington, voted to keep the date for April 30th, 2000, and approved procedures to name a board of directors and form a non-profit corporation called MMOW, Inc. HRC and UFMCC each had one representative and one vote on the board, as they do to this day. To continue to perpetuate the myth that this is solely an HRC and UFMCC event does a disservice to the more than 100 local, state and national organizations which are sponsoring the Millennium March. There are currently 18 members of the board from across the US. The board is composed of 50 percent women and 50 percent people of color.
THE MYTH: The theme of this March is "Faith and Family."
THE TRUTH: There have never been any discussions, meetings or votes by organizers about a theme of "Faith and Family" for the March. Never. This is a lie that continues to be spread solely because it inflames certain segments of our community.
In 1998, there was an Internet poll conducted by Data Boy Lounge (which has no official or unofficial connections to the March). This independent poll asked:
- 1. Do you think there should be a Millennium March on Washington? (86 percent responded yes.)
2. Do you agree that the March should be about faith and family? (66 percent responded yes.)
Despite repeated clarifications over the past year, the March continues to be attacked on the basis of this untruth. Those opposed to the March on Washington have continued to spread this lie even after they know it to be untrue. We have repeatedly said that the Millennium March on Washington must and will be as broad and diverse as are all of our LGBT communities.
THE MYTH: The community doesn't want the Millennium March on Washington.
THE TRUTH: Despite any claims to the contrary, the simple answer is that there has been overwhelming community support for the March. The majority of the 45 LGBT organizations which met in June of 1998 agreed that their grassroots members and constituents wanted the March. And poll after poll reflects this consensus. An early Advocate magazine poll showed 84 percent of respondents support the Millennium March. The DataLounge Poll showed 85 percent support. An early PlanetOut Survey showed that more than 60 percent of the LGBT community plan to attend the March. In the first four weeks of unveiling the MMOW web site, more than 5,000 people registered their plans to attend. And in the last week alone, more than 4,000 people have offered to serve as volunteer organizers.
THE MYTH: This March is being organized differently than past Marches.
THE TRUTH: Well, in some ways it is different. It is more democratic, more participatory, more open and more grassroots than ever before.
Also, I made the initial approach about holding another March to LGBT organizations because in previous Marches, a small group of people claimed to represent the "grassroots."
Here's an example: In the last March although the "right to serve" was the number one issue at the time (as the recently elected President had pledged to allow gays in the military), the March Organizing Committee did not want this issue presented on stage. I remember the discussions vividly. Some felt this issue represented U.S. imperialism and capitalist domination on a global scale. The "right to serve" which enjoyed broad support throughout our community was only included after we fought a bloody battle to have it included. So much for the myth of broad grassroots representation.
Here's another example: In 1987, most in our community wanted same-sex marriage rights included as a March issue. And yet, the "Organizing Committee" made a decision on behalf of the entire community that same-sex marriage represented conformity to heterosexual standards and proclaimed it a conservative issue. These were the people who claimed to represent the grassroots of our community. What did the community really feel? A same-sex couples demonstration took place in front of the IRS building without the March's endorsement. I attended. And 10,000 people showed up.
One more example: While people of faith have been involved in every previous March on Washington (including UFMCC, which serves one-quarter of a million people annually), it has been almost impossible for that segment of our community to get representation on the stages. And, when someone like the Rev. Troy Perry has been allowed on the stage, they have usually been relegated only to do the fundraising pitch.
THE MYTH: This March is not democratic.
THE TRUTH: Yes it is. It is the most open, democratic, participatory national March ever held. For the first time, every single member of the LGBT community has the opportunity to vote directly for the platform of this March. No longer can one individual or one group claim to represent our community. For the first time ever, every member of our broad and diverse community has the opportunity to represent herself or himself.
THE MYTH: The Millennium March is too controversial.
THE TRUTH: There are two issues at the heart of the controversy and neither has yet been adequately covered by the press:
First, this March has a very clear and well-defined focus. It is a March for LGBT federal civil rights. Billy Heilman and others of his group have demanded that we March on a platform of other issues they think are important. And many of those issues are important. But this march for LGBT rights should and will be a march strategically focused on LGBT rights. After all, forced consensus on all issues is neither consensus nor democratic.
Like many in our community, I've done lots of marching. I've marched for black civil rights, in the anti-war movement, and for the equal rights amendment. I've marched for affirmative action, for choice, for farm worker rights, and for the rights of other oppressed peoples. Now, I'm marching with our community for our LGBT rights.
I've heard the criticisms and here's what they amount to: There are some who feel it is not right or just to March for solely our LGBT civil rights. (Is there some internalized homophobia in the view that does not want us to march solely for our own rights?) These critics say that a gay agenda is conservative, racist and classist.
Let's think about that.
How conservative is demanding an end to hate crimes and inclusion in the hate crimes act?
How conservative is it to demand the right to keep our jobs, or even be given jobs if we are out of the closet.
How conservative is it to demand the government not take our children from us?
Is marriage a conservative issue? After all, social security, pensions, the right to visit our partners in the hospital, and demanding legal recognition of our relationships are not conservative these are still radical concepts in this society.
And let's be honest. Do most people in our community think that serving our country (the military is the largest employers of minorities in the US), protecting our youth, AIDS, lesbian health issues, and LGBT aging issue are really conservative, "right wing‚ rich elitist gay male" issues? No! These issues cross race, age, and class lines. They are basic civil rights issues, and they are ones we have a right to demand of our government.
Oh, please! Lets get real. The issue the real, bottom-line issue here is that for once a small group of extremists is not dominating the March or imposing their views on the grassroots. Every segment of our community should be must be! part of this broad and diverse March. But no segment should dominate, saying that they represent their mythical version of the grassroots.
For once, the majority of the LGBT community has the opportunity to directly vote on the platform of the March and to be assured that their views and concerns will be represented. The majority of this community is not to the extreme left or the extreme right, and they all shouldn't be forced to think alike.
The majority in this community has too often been ignored. Let me be clear: I consider HRC's endorsement of Al D'Amato a mistake, but they still have 300,000 members and represent a significant portion of our community. They've made mistakes; they have also done good work. And they have taken enormous abuse. You know, for a community fighting for the "right to love," we are far too quick to beat people to death when we disagree with them.
Or, we resort to name calling. Or we cannibalize and bash and abuse our own. The charges come far too easily and manipulatively: "You disagree with me; you must be racist, or sexist, or classist, or elitist." We do not have the right to batter people in the name of our own oppression. It becomes a continuous cycle of abuse. In the cycle of violence, the victim often becomes the perpetrator.
And, what responsibility does the press have?
In one regard, the LGBT press is similar to the mainline press: both love controversy. Controversy sells. My perception is that too many in the LGBT press have printed lies and myths and unsubstantiated allegations about the March on Washington, 'just because' somebody says them, 'just because' if they come from someone perceived as an oppressed victim they must be assumed to be telling the truth. I've tired of myths and untruths that continue to appear "just because... just because... just because..."
Bill Dobbs of the Ad Hoc Committee was right last week in Chicago, when speaking of the Ad Hoc's opposition to the March, he screamed, "This is all about power and control." And you know what, I agree. But from my perspective, it's about giving power and control to the true grassroots activists who do the hard work of justice day in and day out in local communities across America. How odd that some would find this concept so threatening.
And despite the controversy, the March moves forward. Our offices are receiving more than 1000 platform ballots a day the largest grassroots response in the history of our movement. More than 4,000 grassroots activists volunteered to help the march in a one-week period. And yes Billy, right now, we are working out of my offices in California. Why? Because they are free. And so are the computers, and 3 of the 4 telephone lines, and the fax, and the scanner and the desks, and the volunteers. And later this year, we will move to Washington.
Will I be fired for this response? Possibly. For in politics, telling the truth has become the "low road."
But at this point, with or without me, this 4th national March on Washington will take place on April 30, 2000. Why?
Because our community wants it.