We continue our Op-Ed series about the future of state advocacy organization Equality California.Â Todayâ€™s Op-Ed is written by Vincent Jones.Â I interviewed Vincent for my grassroots profile project in 2009.Â These days, Vincent continues his work as a Senior Program Officer at Liberty Hill Foundation, serves as board co-chair of the National Teen Leadership Program and sits on the national boards of Lambda Legal and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.Â –Syd Peterson
Turn EQCA Upside Down: Empower the People to be Changemakers
by Vincent Jones
Equality California helped to transform the legislative landscape for LGBTQ equality in this state.Â Geoff Kors wasnâ€™t singularly responsible for all of that but he was a force for change and should be applauded.Â Other orgs, such as Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, NCLR, the Williams Institute, and the American Foundation for Equal Rights have led the charge on the judicial front.Â What our movement lacks in California is a strong grassroots arm that is able to win on the ground.
EQCA began to build a grassroots infrastructure with its marriage project led by Marc Solomon and Amy Mello.Â Regional coalitions were supported with resources, information, and other assistance.Â Grassroots organizations that target particular communities were sought as strategic partners.Â People outside of the “gay ghettos” where engaged in conversations about LGBT issues in an effort to gain their support, win their hearts, and change their minds.
Whomever leads EQCA next, in my opinion, should build on that nascent infrastructure and transform the entire organization into one that empowers the several hundred thousand people on its email lists to be changemakers actively engaged in the efforts to advance LGBTQ equality.
At the same time, the next leader needs to educate its supporters so that they understand that the average LGBT person is not at a $300/person dinner or an exclusive cocktail party in the Hollywood Hills.Â Poverty, homelessness, job & housing discrimination, and immigration inequality are real issues for a larger segment of the community than most acknowledge, as is HIV.Â Â For all of the important legal protections won by Geoff Kors and his team over the years, it is critical for the next EQCA leader to make sure those legislative victories have the intended effect on the ground and for all facets of the LGBTQ community.Â Â Laws on paper are great but mean less if the police officer in Redding, landlord in Chinatown, HR manager in Yuba City, or Principal in South Los Angeles is unaware or hostile to them.
Most importantly, the next leader of EQCA should be adept at collaborating in a manner that yields success.Â No one individual or one entity holds the sole right to setting the agenda for LGBT equality.Â We are lucky that several viable groups exist at various levels that incorporate LGBT issues into their advocacy and organizing.Â Those organizations have a track record and relationships that must be honored and leveraged and not belittled and derided.Â While EQCA may be statewide in scope and have the capacity to raise millions more than most groups, it should not assume that it is the leader of the movement in California.
Lastly, my sincere hope is that the Board of Equality California chooses an individual with some experience in other movements to give her or him, and in turn, LGBT leaders some perspective and authentic relationships to non-traditional allies.