There is an interesting debate going on in the LGBT movement around strategy of where to focus resources. It had been coming up more and more around discussions of the usefulness/cost-effectiveness of the National Equality March vs. the Maine campaign to defend marriage equality, but then jumped into high-octane when Cleve Jones, the principal proponent of the March, made a remark in an interview with Bil Browning at the Bilerico Project:
We're trying to change the strategy of the movement. We believe that the strategy that we have followed thus far - which was what made sense at the time and a strategy that was advanced by good, dedicated, hard-working people - is nonetheless a failed strategy. I am tired of fighting state by state, county by county, city by city, for fractions of equality. I am tired of compromises and I am tired of the strategy that divides us from each other. It is time for us to unite across state boundaries in a truly nationwide movement to win full, actual equality, which can only come from the federal government. That's not my opinion. That's a fact. If we want to be equal under the law, we must now - as the great heroes of the Civil Rights movement of 1963 and 1964 showed us - turn our attention to the federal government.
He repeated this on September 14th:
"We are trying to change the strategy," he said. "We are doing this because we are tired with the endless state by state, county by county, city by city hoped for victories that, even when achieved, are incomplete and impermanent.
"It's our perspective that true equality can only come from decisive, unequivocal action from the United States Congress, the United States Supreme Court, and the president of the United States," he said. "We're really engaged in an effort to shift the strategy to open up a new front in this struggle at the federal level."
A few thoughts on this. One is the old adage, that the states are the laboratories of democracy. Toni Broaddus of the Equality Federation (the coalition of state-based LGBT orgs) nails that point in her response open letter to Cleve. If by chance a cautious Senator gets over his or her hand-wringing on anything LGBT, one big reason is because the states have done it first. One of the best predictors of a federal legislator's position on something is where his/her state is on the issues. That means that, however unfortunate, a state has to demonstrate that legalizing same-sex marriage does not cause the man upstairs to rain fire on the populace of Massachusetts as the haters have forecasted, does not force churches to marry couples, does not cause businesses to go bankrupt providing benefits to same-sex partners, etc. before federal action is taken on DOMA. This matters at the Supreme Court level too. It's the equivalent of planting the seeds before expecting the plant to yield fruit. You can't run off to DC expecting fruit to be borne by not investing in a state and local strategy.
Second, his "true equality can only come from federal action/state by state is incomplete" argument rings true enough. My quarrel is with his dismissal of the efforts altogether. It's one thing to make an argument that there needs to be more of an investment in federal efforts, and quite another to say you're tired of "failed" state-focused efforts (which is altogether weird, as Cleve is a Senior Advisor to the Courage Campaign, one of the pioneering groups working largely at the state level). In the first place, state-focused efforts have been somewhat successful. In 21 states and DC, there are LGB employment protections- even for transgender people in 13 states. In six states, same-sex couples have the right to marry, several more (like NJ) are close, and several more (NY and DC) recognize such marriages for couples wishing to reside there. Aside from that, issues like adoption for same-sex couples is considered at the state level, not federally. You have to focus on the states. What do we have on the federal level? Virtually nothing. What will we get without state-based investments? Nothing. Saying you're "tired" of "failed" state-based efforts is unstrategic and frankly offensive to many LGBT individuals and couples living in those places.
Third, two of the main criticisms of the march are that poor planning set it up to fail, and that it's not cost-effective in terms of what it will accomplish. Cleve, in a clever bit of PR jujitsu, is trying to pivot away from that criticism by arguing such critics are following a failed strategy in the first place, so why should you listen to their criticism. It doesn't actually answer a lot of the basic logistical arguments against the march- such as Congress not being in session during the event and serious budget cuts in orgs across the country leading to problems such as no resources for the planned AIDS vigil at the Lincoln Memorial. State or federal strategies aside, there is still a basic failure in how Cleve ran this show, which is announcing on June 7th there will be a march and then going to plan it, leading to the problems I describe above. Arguing critics have a failed strategy doesn't change that valid argument.