Earlier today, two respected activists brought up the possibility that 75-percent of LGBT groups should be merged into departments inside one or two mega-national organizations. Because the ListServe this conversation occurred on is private, I have deleted information that might reveal the sources. Here is my reply to this idea of merging:
Did you ever think the opposite should occur? Perhaps we dismantle the big orgs, take 90 percent of the movement and money out of Washington and properly fund the smaller entrepreneurial groups where there is passion, vigor and independent thought. Inside Washington, we would leave just five, effective power lobbyists and and their personal assistants, and disperse the rest of the money.
Merging looks good on paper and for bean counters, but when you break it down, shoving groups into a basement of some larger group may rob the movement of creativity and ultimately success. These smaller groups were created for a reason — there were urgent needs that were not being fulfilled. Would making these groups into departments (likely underfunded with inferior talent) really take care of the issues these groups were created to address? Or, would their concerns become mere afterthoughts in a corporate culture and little more than annoying “tasks” to be mechanically fulfilled to justify grant proposals?
Furthermore, this discussion of merging is a useless exercise without actually naming specific groups to be merged. It is kind of like the GOP calling for a balanced budget without naming specific program cuts. Only when we name the organizations on the chopping block, can we effectively judge whether the movement would be better off with them as stand-alone groups or as part of a larger entity.
For example, would the marriage equality movement really have been better off with Evan Wolfson working in the attic of some national group? I’d say we are decades ahead of where we would otherwise be because Evan took his passion to a start-up like Freedom to Marry.
Would GLSEN really have made the amazing strides if Kevin Jennings was squeezed in some cubicle? (After all, large gay groups were terrified to touch this issue, lest they be accused of recruiting children.)
Would the notion of “religion-based bigotry” really be addressed if Mitchell Gold had not started Faith in America?
And, how about my group, Truth Wins Out?
You can’t seriously think that the legal departments of larger groups would give the green light to us photographing ex-gays in gay bars, conducting investigations to find out if an ex-gay activist is a convicted felon, or giving lie detector tests to people who claimed to have slept with anti-gay activists. Yeah, good luck with that.
What you would probably get if we were shoved in the basement of a large group, are series of sterile “fact sheets” that reiterate what the APA says about ex-gay therapy. (I’m sure the ex-gay groups would love that!)
________ offered to consider merging ___________ into a larger group. I commend him for volunteering this information and not simply asking others to take the leap. But, I would respectfully ask him, what happens when some ED in DC says that you need to focus on rounding up more support in __________, when your experience tells you that it is more important to solidify support in __________? Do you really think that an E.D. in Washington understands _________ better than you do? And, what would you do if the honchos in DC cut off 90% of________ funding in 2011-12 to concentrate on marriage equality in __________? Would this not undermine your ongoing efforts to educate constituents?
There are cases when merging a trans group into a larger organization might make sense. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that a new executive director is hired with little interest in the trans program. Does that mean for the next five years, during the tenure of that ED, the advancement of trans rights is essentially dead in America? At least with a small trans group, trans issues will always remain a top priority.
Furthermore, I wasn’t aware that pro-gay legislation wasn’t passed in DC because smaller groups were sucking the money away from the big groups. Last time I checked, their budgets were quite robust, so that is likely not an issue.
I conclude by asking, does the merging extend to others who are eating LGBT dollars? For example, there are no shortage of political consultants inhaling huge amounts of gay dollars. Perhaps, we need just one major political consulting firm that deals with LGBT issues and the leaders of the smaller firms can downsize into small departments. This makes more sense, as I’m willing to bet more donor money went to consulting firms than to small LGBT groups over the past five years.
I’m not reflexively rejecting the idea of merging. There are many cases where mergers make sense and should be explored, particularly where there is duplication of effort. But, we should be VERY careful before we blindly take the ax to appease bean counters and bureaucrat political types that would do serious damage to the movement.
For those who are old enough, think about some of those “urban renewal” projects of the 1970′s. They were supposed to improve cities, but often did severe damage and upset the social fabric. We should take great care before we blithely change the structure of the movement because it looks good on a Utopian budget.
Remember, it is always easier to destroy with the wrecking ball than to rebuild from the rubble.