by Rex Wockner -
SGN Contributing Writer
National ACT UP-like network forming
Around 45 LGBT activists of varying national stature met at the Highlander Research and Education Center in rural Tennessee in late January to create a new national LGBT direct-action movement.
"We had one thing on our agenda: Discuss ways to build a national network of activists to demand full equality now," said Kip Williams and Robin McGehee, who are best known as key organizers of last year's National Equality March on Washington, D.C.
"We believe that it is time to escalate our demands through coordinated nationwide nonviolent direct action, and we hope to build a broad base of organizers to work with all who struggle for justice and dignity in their lives," they said.
The gathering reportedly was invitation-only and all-expenses-paid. No press releases have been issued and details of who was there and what happened have been difficult to come by, though Williams and McGehee answered questions from this reporter by e-mail.
Veteran New York City activist Ann Northrop was among the attendees. Writer Dan Savage and activist legend Cleve Jones were invited but didn't go.
According to veteran activist Larry Kramer, the gathering was "bankrolled" by Jonathan Lewis, the son of one of the founders of Progressive Auto Insurance. Richard Socarides, who was President Bill Clinton's adviser on Gay issues, was "involved with helping him set it up," Kramer said.
"They had one open meeting at the [LGBT] center here [in New York City] to see if there was activist energy and they seemed to be pleased there was," Kramer said. "The people invited to Tennessee were people that were known activists, mostly younger ones who had helped Cleve on the march."
Williams and McGehee said the people who attended the gathering are "sick of delays, compromises and excuses."
"Some who joined us have been activists for many years; some are new to the movement - all brought a vast depth of knowledge and a readiness to fight for a more just and equal world for all," they said.
Without mentioning names, Williams and McGehee said of the attendees: "Some have worked on national LGBTQ issues, such as ACT UP, Equality Across America and Join the Impact; some were connected to organizations outside of LGBTQ rights, such as PETA, Presente.org, Unite Here, Colorofchange.org, Greenpeace, etc. In our outreach we purposefully looked for those who were supporting and advocating for LGBTQ working people, communities of color, and Trans rights."
Williams and McGehee said there was nothing "secret" or exclusive about the gathering, but there were limited resources and space.
"We know that many people across the country feel the same way, and that many have been actively working within their own communities for a long time," they said. "The Highlander Center can comfortably accommodate about 35 people, and we broke those limits because we wanted more people to participate in the conversation.
"We had no secrets, only limited space and resources, and a very short time to organize this retreat. We wish we could have invited thousands. We want to work with everyone to help inspire our community to bold action. ... We want to make the White House and Congress take notice. And we want everyone who stands in the way of full equality to be held accountable and wonder what just hit them."
For more information or to join the network, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Among the famous people who have trained at the Highlander Center over the years were Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
SF Gay chorus visits Prop 8 territory
The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus went on tour into Prop 8 territory in late January, to the California cities of Redding and Chico.
Additional forays will take the group to Bakersfield, Fresno and Tracy. The counties the five cities are in voted to re-ban same-sex marriage at levels of 57 percent to 75 percent, although voters in the city of Chico itself opposed Prop 8.
The January 30 performance at Redding's 1,000-seat Cascade Theatre and the January 31 performance at Chico's 450-seat Harlen Adams Theatre both sold out. The group received a standing ovation in Chico.
"Before Prop 8 passed, we were planning to go to Europe in 2010," said chorus Executive Director Teddy Witherington. "The shock of losing our marriage rights caused us to rethink our priorities as an organization. Upon reflection, we have decided to eat our vegetables before having dessert. ... We believe to accept us, you have to know us."
The tour is being presented in association with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays and is teamed with a local charity in each city. All proceeds are split by the local charity and PFLAG.
"The song I wrote, 'We Are Coming Out,' was the leadoff song in both concerts, and the crowd responded with excited applause and whistles," said chorus member Sean Chapin. "I was deeply touched. Moreover, it was just the beginning of a magnificent array of songs that elevated the spirits of the audience members and gave a valiant challenge to those hearts blanketed with carefully taught ignorance and fear."
With assistance from Bill Kelley
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