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Kergan Edwards-Stout

Views & Voices

What if there was a ‘Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March’ and nobody came?

Friday, March 2, 2012
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Perhaps you’ve already heard about the “2012 Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March,” slated for Saturday, April 21, and are eagerly making plans to attend. Odds are, though, that you haven’t.

I consider myself to be fairly well-informed on all things LGBT, but I hadn’t heard of this particular march, either, until I received an email from the head organizer, offering to engage me in its planning.

As flattering as his offer was, I also found it a bit perplexing, for while I may think of myself quite highly at times, chances are that most of you reading this have no clue who I am.

Which begs the question: why reach out to me, a little-known author, when the sea has much bigger fish?

I politely declined, due to time conflicts, but have continued to follow the group on Facebook. Indeed, the idea for this event sprung from their “Let’s Reach 1 Million People” Campaign, which has (of this writing) 16,613 members.

The stated objective of the group is “the achievement of basic human rights, inclusive of full legal civil rights allowing freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations while allowing and ensuring one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.”

While there is much to admire in their broader goal, as I began to dig more deeply to find answers to my questions, I discovered only more questions.

For example, the event is being billed as a “Civil Rights March,” but that turns out to be a bit of a misnomer. When you hear the word “march,” visions of a long parade, filling the street for miles, likely come to mind. And while there may be some of that, there is no “one” march.

Instead, there are currently 25 host cities, and each can plan whatever type of event it desires. While some may indeed choose to observe the moment by marching with flags and banners, others may celebrate with a picnic.

In Great Britain, as the date falls on the Queen’s birthday, the group has mandated a news blackout (out of respect, or some such) and are not publicizing their activities. Now, I ain’t that bright, but I’m uncertain how effective an event can be if you don’t alert people as to where it is and what it entails. (Perhaps they’re demanding equality while sipping tea and eating crumpets?)

Further, though it is being called a “worldwide” march, the list of major cities is curiously lacking, even nationally.

Where are the big boys, such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, New Orleans, or Seattle? How can you even have a worldwide gay march without including the gayest of cities, San Francisco? Where are the smaller LGBT havens, such as Provincetown, Palm Springs, or Key West? While I’m sure Easton, Pa., is quite lovely, wouldn’t one of the larger cities in Philadelphia have been a better choice, both in drawing media attention and attendees?

I’m also curious about who is funding this effort, as even grassroots events incur costs. From its website, the movement does not appear to be nonprofit, with the leaders listed as CEO, COO, and CAO. While there is a link to purchase t-shirts, there doesn’t appear to be a donation link. Who is funding this, what are the costs, and where are any proceeds going?

Some have sniped that the lead organizer, Joe Knudson, has orchestrated this event merely as a promotional vehicle for a book he has written.

Now, there is nothing wrong with self-promotion (my own book can be found here), but as an author myself, I gotta tell you, there is a hell of a lot of easier ways to promote a book than organizing a worldwide march, particularly if said march isn’t successful.

This movement is, for better or worse, truly grassroots, which is apparent even in their ground troops. The New York City effort, for example, is being led by a 16-year-old girl. Now, she may be one incredibly kick-ass kid, and I certainly hope that she is, but was she the very best person to head up logistical efforts in a city teeming with experienced activists, strategists, and allies?

In our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., there will be a march, preceded by a rally. Given the hordes of supportive, notable politicians within a stone’s throw of the location, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, you may be wondering with bated breath who they have selected as keynote speaker. (Drum roll, please…) The keynote address of the Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March will be given by none other than… Jonathan Wolfman! (Don’t worry, I had to Google him, too.) I wish I knew more about him so that I could vet his qualifications for such an honor, but apparently, if you hire him as a writer, you’ll learn how to write dummy text, as that is all his website contains.

Yes, I know I’m being snide, which is not flattering in the least, but I care passionately about our movement and want to see our every effort succeed. It is not my intent to denigrate any of these people for standing up for equality. I fully believe that each and every one of us can make a difference in this world. Change, after all, begins with us. Too often in our community, when we want to see action, we instead see apathy, and these folks are actually walking the walk and talking the talk, which I highly commend.

As the Occupiers have shown (and the ACT-UPpers long before), a motivated movement can create monumental change.

While this group is clearly passionate, I question just how motivated they are, how organized they are, and if they truly understand what they’ve gotten themselves into. They have taken it upon themselves to designate a random day as a worldwide march, and I doubt much time was spent discussing the pros and cons of such a decision. Even in an attempt to do good, they may have inadvertently caused actual harm.

It is unclear what they want their end result to be. Is this meant to be a celebration of all we’ve gained, or a protest for rights still not obtained? Is the mood to be jubilant or defiant? More clarity about their overall objectives and strategic plan could go a long way in creating momentum and prompt the involvement of others.

The devil is often in the details, and — if this is to be a success — this group has much work to do in filling in those gaps.

Given these unanswered questions, it seems almost impossible that this group could succeed, yet I sincerely hope that they do. Why? Because no one gains by a failed “Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March,” save our enemies.

This last year has been a pivotal moment in our history, and I cannot help but wonder how a dismal turnout could be played up by our rivals.

With 25 host cities, even if every single one of their 16,613 Facebook members actually showed up, that would result in an average attendance of less than 800 people at each event. And while 800 people may feel like a success to the person who planned it, that number doesn’t begin to translate into major media coverage or exposure.

If they are to succeed, they need to jump start their outreach efforts — pronto. And I don’t think they can do it alone.

I urge the group to network with other progressive groups, particularly our own national LGBT organizations, for advice and assistance.

I’m guessing that these larger organizations aren’t too happy about the march. They rarely like ideas from outside their inner circle, and I imagine there has been much private grumbling about these “upstarts.”

Large organizations enjoy wielding their power over elements within their control, rarely share well with others, and are likely hoping that this march will simply go away. But that doesn’t seem likely, given the enthusiasm of those involved.

While teaming up with a group such as this would require a huge leap of faith for a big organization, what is the alternative? Even if our national groups are unwilling to allocate dollars or resources toward the event, they could certainly put their impressive communication tools to use and let people know that the march actually exists.

Every day, we urge those who are LGBT to take pride in themselves, to live openly and honestly, and to tell their stories. This group is attempting to do just that, and while I wish they’d taken more care in crafting a message that resonates, backed up with a well-considered strategic plan, I fully admire their enthusiasm and initiative. Even in this Do-It-Yourself age, however, I don’t see how they can possibly succeed without the assistance of some true heavyweights.

I shudder to think what could happen if they threw a “Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March” and no one showed up.

© Kergan Edwards-Stout.
For more by Kergan Edwards-Stout, click here to visit his blog.
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