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MassEquality: Change or Close Up Shop!

As printed in InNewsWeekly October 18, 2007:

I applaud MassEquality for opening their doors to the queer community to hear our suggestions for the organization's future. In addition to providing a survey on their website, they made an admirable effort on October 15 to create a forum that allowed diverse views to be heard.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for me to think about the future of MassEquality if the organization will not first address and begin to heal the wounds they have inflicted upon the queer community.

The members of MassEquality's Board of Directors who were present at each of the three group discussions I attended during the forum seemed shocked to hear that their own coalition members and queer community members are upset with the organization.

They did not know that:

- women are frustrated because MassEquality actively campaigned against several pro-choice candidates that were endorsed by the National Organization for Women (NOW),

- immigrants rights advocates are frustrated because the organization endorsed a vehemently anti-immigrant candidate (yet they gathered signatures at immigrant rights rallies),

- and anti-war activists feel betrayed because the organization endorsed pro-war candidates (yet they gathered signatures at anti-war rallies).

They were also surprised to learn that many of the queer youth of Boston, who were at first energized by the protests at the state house, now feel silenced and betrayed by the organization.

As a local organizer, I have been hearing these concerns for years, so I was astonished to learn that MassEquality had not.

Something about the structure of MassEquality must have fostered an environment that allowed members of their Board of Directors to be out of touch with the pressing needs of its coalition members and the queer community at large. If NOW's concerns had more consideration, for example, perhaps the two groups could have created a more cohesive effort to elect pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage candidates.

Many of the folks I spoke with at the forum were afraid that broadening the mission of MassEquality could cause "division," but what they did not consider before was that the organization's tactics had already divided us.

We now have an organization with compassionate staff who promised the transgender community they would "come back for them," but because of its narrow mission it is unable to officially endorse the campaign for a United ENDA.

The moderator of the forum said that there was a consensus among the attendees that MassEquality's strength is its broad coalition. Why, then, were some of the board members hearing frustrations from their own coalition members for the very first time? Another theme that emerged was that people wanted MassEquality to re-elect pro-marriage candidates, which begs the question: will the organization continue to marginalize their own community by campaigning for anti-immigrant, anti-choice, and pro-war candidates?

The sad truth is that MassEquality's strategy for strength and success relied upon its monolithic focus, big budget, slick and patriotic marketing, and a willingness to fight for marriage equality on the backs of other organizations more rooted in the spirit of liberation for all.

If the organization intends to move forward and keep their coalition intact, their Board of Directors must actively work to give their staff and coalition members an actual voice at the table, and, most importantly, make a fresh commitment to learn about and execute the principles of anti-oppression work and social justice in their decision making process.

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