Peak Gay

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National LGBT lobbying groups face the horrifying prospect of seeing their profits dwindle as legal equality gains ground in the US. In response they’re seeking new ways of capitalizing on discrimination and exploiting volunteer labor.

On Thursday night Allyson Robinson gave a one-hour talk to a small audience of parishioners at St. Mark’s Cathedral, one of many events the downtown Minneapolis church has hosted in celebration of our city’s Pride Month, focusing this year on transgender issues and individuals. I attended, and found the presentation both intriguing and infuriating in what it revealed about the industry of high-level civil rights lobbying.

Robinson, former director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the first and last director of the bankrupt Outserve-SLDN, an LGBT network of active military personnel, now runs a boutique consulting firm, Warrior Poet Strategies, “advising select clients in organizational design, diversity and inclusion, and social and civic entrepreneurship.” She will also participate tonight in a discussion among transgender panelists, Out in Gospel, and will preach the sermon at St. Mark’s special 4:00 pm Pride Service this Sunday.

After lengthy prefatory remarks recognizing leftist criticism of “Gay Inc.”* for their hefty executive salaries, coziness to power (particularly the Democratic Party), and their insular, DC Beltway focus, Robinson admitted that she rather took pride in what originated as a pejorative term. The epithet Gay Inc, she said, suggests the same sort of successful model as Apple and Amazon — small corporations that have grown within a mere couple decades into gigantic powerhouses. She neglected, of course, to mention that those businesses did so by exploiting their workers ruthlessly, conniving with politicians, and gobbling up any small competitors they didn’t simply put out of business. Some comparisons are simply too appropriate.

She also drew an analogy between “peak oil”, the point in time where the maximum rate of oil production occurs, and what she terms “peak equality”, where the maximum rate of progress toward equal rights is reached. Peak oil worldwide is expected around 2020; peak equality in the US, Robinson says, may be occurring right now. Both cases, she suggested, will require corporations involved to radically alter their strategies if they wish to survive. She predicted that within a decade, contributions to HRC would dwindle from $40 million a year to half that, and that the current 503(c) model for non-profits would be largely abandoned in favor of methods such as crowdfunding, a la Kickstarter.

Allow me to wipe away a few crocodile tears for the plight of Gay Inc. As one of the many leftists whose critiques Robinson referred to, and generally seemed to agree with, I long ago stopped looking to the national LGBT lobbies for leadership in obtaining equal rights. Politicians and capitalists like them rarely take the vanguard; instead, like Barack Obama, they “lead from behind”. The fight for marriage equality, for example, occurred primarily at the municipal and state levels due to the energy and commitment of thousands upon thousands of dedicated individual activists and a few brave local politicians. Most of us who advocated same-sex marriage were dismissed as pipe-dreamers twenty years ago, with national groups advocating separate-but-equal “civil unions” if they even cared to broach the issue. Like pride parades, however, big business has now taken to its bosom what once was the province of radical activists. Our success has been monetized.

I don’t regret that in itself. I will be glad when the LGBT pride parades of June become like the Irish pride parades on St. Patrick’s Day, simply another excuse for debauchery and wearing garish clothes that emerged from a struggle for justice. But when Gay Inc. grabs the energy (and the credit) in order to dole it back out at its own whims to local fights, it becomes a hindrance, skimming off profits as insurance companies do while providing little real benefit to anyone but the rich and famous. The larger a company, the less responsive it is to the people it serves, and the more it stifles smaller local concerns.

And fundamentally I find the fight for equality contradictory to the nature of a capitalist system. Capitalism requires a few very wealthy people sitting atop a mass of impoverished workers. Certainly it will be a great day when sexual orientation or gender identity can no longer be used to divide us from one another, but in order to maintain a hierarchy, some other distinction (such as immigration status or prison record) will necessarily come to the fore. Best to fight to change the entire system as we change our own section, rather than simply shift the burden from one group to another while keeping the fundamental injustice in place.

We can’t place a price tag on justice; why then do we think we can slap a corporate logo on it?

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* “Gay Inc” — insider slang for the million-dollar nonprofits such as HRC, NGLTF (the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) and GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) that dominate the Washington DC queer lobbying establishment.