Saint Patrick’s Day has come and gone and we are all still alive. All of the turmoil around the parade has been educational. It is good for us to he reminded from time to time that a significant number of people do not like us and hold onto the most ridiculous of stereotypes. Our survival depends on being in touch with that reality. We should be very proud of our mayor for the courageous stand he took by refusing to participate in the parade. Politicians of substance are rare, indeed. Pat Schroeder and Nancy Dick and various city council members also are to be applauded for their outspoken support.
One unfortunate aspect of the whole situation was the lack of broad based gay and lesbian input into the events leading up to the parade committee’s vote and in the various negotiating sessions with members of the Pena administration. The reason this was so unfortunate was that an illusion was created in the minds of many gay and straight people. The illusion was that the Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Colorado and the few other individuals involved were representing the phenomenal diversity that is the gay and lesbian world of Denver.
On several occasions the straight media made reference to Carol Lease and “her group”. The implication being that “her group” was somehow synonymous with all gay men and lesbians. We, including Carol Lease, know how ludicrous that really is. The stark reality is that several gay and lesbian individuals negotiated the entire issue with no empowerment of representation from anyone. I am not criticizing any specific action or saying that any one handled themselves inappropriately. I am, however, saying that it is inappropriate for the GLCCC to engage itself in such an issue in the manner it did and even more unfortunate is that this expansion of role by the center is at the very root of its current financial crisis and is a major contributing factor to the credibility gap the center is experiencing within its own gay and lesbian community.
Let me explain this view with a little history and an analysis of the situation that may be helpful.
Some observers of the homophile movement of the past forty years have noted the parallel, but rarely congenially convergent themes of movement and community. A very simplified definition of these terms would be that “movement” is dealing and interacting politically with the hetero world that surrounds us. “Community”, on the other hand, re fere’s to the grassroots creation of, in this case, gay and lesbian space in which identity (beyond, but of course including, the sexual) can develop, flourish and continually redefine itself. Those concerned with movement feel it is necessary for society to acknowledge the existence of gay men and lesbians in the form of gay rights legislation (for example.) The National Gay Task Force is a movement organization. “Movement” work is vital and necessary but differs substantively from “community” work.
Will Roscoe, writing from San Francisco, states: “Unlike ethnic minorities, we are not born into a community; rather we must create our community and continually recreate it throughout our lives. Community is important, however, because it is the foundation for political action in the history of minorities.” To bring the difference home to Denver we can view the GLCCC’s involvement in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade issue as a movement matter. The GLCCC’s informational and networking phone line is a “community phenomenon” as it facilitates, for example, the formation of a Gay Father’s Support Group.
Where we have run into trouble here in Denver is to have allowed the CLCCC to try and evolve into a hybrid organization being movement and community oriented simultaneously. It hasn’t been a failure but it is not working very well either (as evidenced by the lack of monetary support for the center and its frequently poor image in the gay/lesbian community at large.) Many gays and lesbians are aware of this conflict on various levels and are reluctant to support the GLCCC.
I believe that at our current state of evolution this is appropriate – that movement and community be parallel energies. Gay and lesbian politics are so multifaceted and opinionated because they are reflective of our diversity as a community.
The problem is even reflected in the name “Gay and Lesbian Community Center.” It is not the center of the community – there is no center to the community. Similar organizations in New York and Los Angeles are called Gay and Lesbian Community Services Centers. This is the sort of name change we would do well to consider here.
The GLCCC has been, and is currently, a very successful community organization. It has gotten itself into trouble with many gay and lesbian people in Denver by simultaneously trying to be a movement and community organization. My intimate involvement with the GLCCC over the past seven years and most recently with Carol Lease and the Colorado Aids Project has shown me that her leadership style is very “movement” oriented. Under Lease’s leadership the GLCCC has established a certain amount of credibility in the straight community as being a ‘perceived’ source for information regarding gays and lesbians. More specifically, Carol Lease, is seen as a spokesperson for the gay and lesbian community by virtue of the leadership style she exhibits as the director of the center. This is, of course, not the case but nonetheless reflective of successful “movement” strategy on Lease’s part. This “movement” strategy of hers has many positive aspects. Unfortunately the well being and continued existence of the GLCCC are threatened by this “movement” approach and it would not matter who was in the position of Executive Director – the result would be the same.
It is absolutely vital that an organization exist in this town that is doing grass-roots community building. The current GLCCC and its various internal programs do this very well. This must continue to survive in some form or the other if we are to continue our evolution as a people here in Denver. I believe the center can be this organization and that it can survive but the Board of Directors and the membership must come to grips with the fact that the GLCCC cannot continue as a two-headed being. If the center is to continue to offer the wide range of services it currently does to the community it must divorce itself from the “movement” aspects of its present orientation. A first step would be the abolition of the Executive Director position – even though that salary and benefits are paltry, it would be a considerable savings forbthe financially beleaguered organization. A second step would be to stop publication of the Gay and Lesbian News. Expansion of the number of persons on the Board of Directors and involvement of those persons more directly in the day to day activities of the center would be yet another step in revitalizing the GLCCC. Many past and present board members have considerable hands on experience with various programs. Hire at half-time, with no benefits, a person who would be a project coordinator. The centers most viable programs are currently in the hands of very responsible volunteer coordinators. The expanded Board of Directors and the paid project coordinator would be responsible for ironing out the day to day kinks in running a grass roots community building organization. Once it is apparent that the center is concentrating solely on community building I am sure we will see an influx of funds.
There is, however, a need here to address the vital issue of movement. In the final scrutiny it may be difficult at times to separate it from grass-roots community building. It has been disastrous though to try and mix the two to the extent that current GLCCC has when you are dealing with a community as diverse as ours. A much needed direction “movement” could easily take is the formation of a loosely knit but very broad-based group that could deal with issues such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade controversy. I envision this group as being quite large to encompass adequately who we are. Therefore a consensus mode of operation would probably be unfeasible. This group would not necessarily need to meet on a regular-basis but could select a steering committee from its ranks representative of the diversity of the group as a whole. Ideally the steering committee would function by consensus using input from the larger group.
That the GLCCC should have made a valiant attempt at being both movement and community oriented in its outlook and outreach was an inevitable growth step. It is not currently working however. It is now time to stop and refocus. It’s time for some change.