For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.
Although many of our initial goals and strategies bent and even broke in the actual process of on-site organizing, we did maintain the following five basic premises, which are the foundation of all our work:
1. It is vital to organize as OUT LESBIANS when working both within our own communities and against the Christian Right
The Christian Right has been very successful in using the closet against us. When their messages are about "the homosexual agenda" and we respond with de-gayed messages like "no government intervention in private lives" or "no censorship", we look not only ashamed, but dishonest. Voters are unlikely to stand up for the rights of an invisible community.
Beyond initiative elections, being out is a must for organizing in our own communities. One out lesbian can inspire countless other lesbians. Five out lesbians can have a successful direct action. Ten out lesbians can effectively door to door canvass an entire town about an issue. A million out lesbians...well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
In addition to being out, we place a lot of importance on working with a core group of dykes, since lesbians have traditionally been excluded or disempowered in lesbian/gay struggles. We realize that many people, especially in rural areas, will be working in a mixed core group, but we always look for a focus on lesbian empowerment and lesbian visibility. We are a lesbian group with a commitment to lesbian leadership in all our projects and actions. That's our bottom line.
2. People are different. We are most effective when we work with people who share our basic ethical and political perspective, instead of trying to pressure everyone into a single strategy or single organization. We believe that there are hundreds of ways of organizing and just as many approaches to fighting the Right. We don't require our allies to agree with us on every subject, but to get things accomplished, it makes sense for us to focus our support on working with people who are committed to doing out, visible, grassroots organizing. This is the kind of work we believe in and at which we can be most helpful. We do not work with groups that we fundamentally disagree with. All lesbians, gay men and straight progressives simply do not need to work in the same campaign organization. If people disagree strongly about strategy, they should work in different groups. It is a waste of time, not to mention emotional energy, to try and argue everyone into consensus; what inevitably happens is that some people--usually those without resources and/or confidence--simply give up and others end up determining the strategy.
3. We must challenge racism and classism concretely--in our organizing efforts. The Christian Right targets low-income communities, rural areas, and communities of color. They capitalize on economic depression and on social and political disenfranchisement by using propaganda which says that lesbians and gay men constitute a politically and economically powerful interest group seeking "special rights". They suggest that civil rights are a finite set of privileges if (presumably white, middle-class) gays and lesbians get their piece of the pie, then (presumably straight) people of color or low-income people will not get theirs. In this worldview, there are no lesbians and gay men of color. In addition, it implies that "rights" come in a fixed quantity--there's only so many to go around, so we should all fight over them.
Many traditional campaign groups have been unable or unwilling to confront this strategy. They have virtually ignored low-income and rural regions and communities of color based on the assumption that these communities are not valuable voting blocks they're too small, too dispersed, too homophobic, or they're probably not registered or willing to register to vote, anyway. Dykes and fags who live in these areas are ignored. Addressing and challenging the racism and classism of the Christian Right is one way to dispel the "special rights" rhetoric for the smoke screen it is. Remember, the Christian Right is banking on the old divide and conquer strategy. We can't afford to buy into it.
This also means that we do not "whitewash" our communities. Some campaigns encourage only certain, "respectable", lesbian and gay people to come out to the public. As we wrote in our 1994 "Out Against the Right" Manifesto, "We will not accept superficial legal rights for some lesbians and gay men at the expense of real human rights for all of us. Butch, femme, and androgynous dykes, lesbians and gay men of color, drag queens, lesbian and gay youth, transsexuals, people with AIDS, lesbians and gays with disabilities, and rural lesbians and gay men will not be sacrificed in the name of 'campaign strategy'."
4. There is more than one message. Campaigns can and have been won by lots of different lesbians doing lots of different things with lots of different messages. If a dyke has a message that's important to her (about how hard it was to come out to her family, how she lost her job, what it's like to be a logger and a lesbian, how as a lesbian librarian she can really talk about the evils of censorship...whatever), she needs to be able to express that message.
Highly centralized, volunteerist campaigns ask that queers stick to the message they've come up with by paying lots of money to pollsters. They ask that we put off our long term goals of mobilizing and strengthening our community in favor of the short term objective of winning the vote. Silencing members of our own community who wish to express what the campaign means to them as people who will have to live with it's results is unfair and as we will argue in a later chapter, ineffective.
Lesbians in local communities can and should organize their own campaigns and/or actions in whatever ways they choose- even though bigger, more traditional, better-funded groups often insist that their way is the only way, and use tired rhetoric about "experts" and "professionals" to pressure everyone else into agreeing with them. In fact, anyone can go door to door, plan an action, have a rally, or flyer a town.
5. It is crucial that lesbians
around the country share resources, experiences and support.
The forces against us are huge, well-organized and long-term. We cannot
expect to take them on alone. This handbook is intended to be one of a
growing number of resources available to dykes around the country, who
are looking for ideas while forming their own strategies for action. In
it, we've included lots of ideas and tactics that have worked for us. They
are not necessarily the best ways and certainly not the only ways of doing
this kind of work but they are all things anyone can try in one way or
another without any more knowledge than we provide here.
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