Former ED for National Lesbian and Gay Task Force tells Stonewall Democrats gathering that LGBT organizations are not enough
Matt Foreman has spent 20 long years lobbying for LGBT equality in frequently inhospitable halls of power across the nation.
But Foreman, former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the most difficult gay-rights conversation he’s ever had was with his parents six years ago, when he tried to convince them to take a stand against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in their home state of Wyoming.
But it’s conversations like that one, Foreman said, that LGBT people need to start having more often if the community is ever to achieve equality.
While gay rights have progressed further in 40 years than any social justice movement in the history of the world, Foreman said, at some point the LGBT community abandoned the philosophy of "gay is good" to take up a more rights-based approach.
In doing so, he said, gays skipped over the debate about their fundamental humanity, or "moral equivalence." And as a result, despite all the incremental advances, a strong, unshifting majority of Americans still considers homosexuality immoral.
"I believe that if every LGBT person in California had a heartfelt discussion about Proposition 8 with three people they knew, we would have won," Foreman said. "The personal is essential to the political. We can’t look to Equality Texas or Equality Maryland to do this for us if we can’t do it for ourselves at home."
Foreman added that while the efforts of advocacy organizations are critical, members of the LGBT community must also work individually to combat the so-called "ick factor."
"I’ve been part of that for a long time, so I’m not criticizing anyone but myself here," Foreman said of the movement’s rights-based, organizational approach. "That’s important, but it’s also meant we’ve sidestepped and jumped over what’s really standing in the way of our equality, and that’s people’s moral views of us."
Foreman pointed in particular to the misleading use of schoolchildren by Yes on 8 to sway voters in favor of the constitutional amendment that outlawed same-sex marriage in California.
"This work has to be done outside a political campaign so that when the other side clocks us with it, the voters are inoculated," Foreman said. "You can’t get people to switch from Coke to Pepsi unless you spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and people think they know a lot more about marriage than they do about Coke or Pepsi. We don’t have, as a movement, hundreds of millions of dollars, but we do have millions of people."
Foreman was one of the keynote speakers at the first biennial convention of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus on Feb. 28 and March 1 in Austin. Foreman’s passionate 30-minute address, which left some in tears, stood out as the highlight of a weekend that was by no means lacking in star power.
Others who spoke at the convention included openly gay U.S. Congressman Jared Polis, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie, U.S. Senate candidate and Houston Mayor Bill White, Houston mayoral candidate and City Controller Annise Parker, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons and Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns.
Texas Stonewall President Dan Graney said 79 people registered for the two-day convention at the Doubletree Hotel in Austin, falling short of the group’s goal of 100.
Graney said he felt the low turnout could be attributed directly to the bad economy, but was pleased to have representation at the convention from all nine active Stonewall chapters statewide.
In addition to Dallas, chapters from North Texas that were particularly well represented at the convention included Tarrant County and Collin County.
Despite the low turnout, it was enough for the convention to pay for itself. Graney said at an executive board meeting during the convention that the event cost a total of about $8,200. The group brought in $3,500 in sponsorships and about $5,000 in registration fees to pay for it.
Texas Stonewall leaders haven’t made a final decision about whether to stage a biennial convention again in 2011. They’ll base their decision partly on feedback from evaluation forms that were distributed to those attending the convention this year.
"Many who attended the conference approached me to express gratitude for this experience", Graney said this week, "and that they were leaving energized to carry on the important work of Stonewall Democrats back home."
For more on the convention, go to www.dallasvoice.com/instant-tea.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 6, 2009.