Take a page from gay rights activists

LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE | 1/26/2015, 11:49 a.m.
When it comes to the issue of gay rights in America, sometimes you can see the tide of a movement ...
Lauren Victoria Burke

(NNPA) – When it comes to the issue of gay rights in America, sometimes you can see the tide of a movement change in front of you. There was a time not so long ago when gay advocates were laughed out of the room. Their agenda was stalled during the presidency of George W. Bush and legal and legislative victories were nonexistent the decade before. Now the Supreme Court is five months away from deciding whether state laws against gay marriage are illegal.

Many of the victories for gay advocates were won in the courts. But several, such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and President Obama’s executive order on Employment Non-Discrimination Act, were won legislatively. Victory was realized with the persistent belief by gay activists that they could win. That basic perseverance and lack of apology for what they were fighting for could serve as a model for African American activists.

“I believe we will win,” Phil Agnew, executive director of the Dream Defenders, often says. That is no small self-affirmation. Over the past few years, the gay lobby “believed they could win” and they did. Contrast that with the two-year-long discussion at the start of the Obama presidency by several Black leaders on whether there even should be a Black agenda. That’s an unthinkable discussion for other advocates in the political arena.

As it is the case with so many other winning political activists and advocates, gay advocates rarely marched. They rarely held panel discussions on their issues. They almost never had summits re-repeating their policy concerns. What they did do is target a few issues at a time that they cared about and proceeded to raise money and vote accordingly.

Now think of this: 10 members of the Congressional Black Caucus traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, on Jan. 17 and 18, and what was the main goal? To encourage the citizens in Ferguson to register and vote. One would think they wouldn’t have to make a trip with that theme.


Because in 2014, no one should have to encourage voter registration. Though voting isn’t the end all and be all, it’s the first of all. When details of the voter registration numbers in Ferguson hit the press, it was embarrassing. How could a town that’s 67 percent African American have a White mayor and only one Black member of a six-person city council? Producing systemic change isn’t easy. But it is easy to register and vote.

Only four months after a Ferguson police officer, who would be photographed hours after the incident without a mark on his face, shot at an unarmed teenager 12 or 13 times – hitting him eight times and killing him – getting people to register shouldn’t be a problem. At some point, the activism has to convert into a detailed strategy focused on removing the current “leadership” in Ferguson from power.

St. Louis County non-prosecutor of police Bob McCulloch, the poster boy of mechanical bias, is a Democrat. And he ran unopposed. That’s in a county with a significant Black population. There is something wrong with that.