The state of the gay civil and equal rights movement is not good. In fact, it is in a state of disarray. With the president of the United States pushing a Constitutional amendment that would ban gays from partaking in the sanctity of marriage – a move that would basically write a segment of the population right out of the Constitution – and the leading Democrat for the presidential nomination lobbying for a similar amendment in his own state, it is clear that the gay movement is weak. With the strong message that the movement has though, its state of affairs can certainly be better.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the gay rights movement went wrong, but it is clear that it happened around the time it became an institution rather than a grassroots movement for equality. A movement that used to rely on radical organizations and creative collective actions has now become a movement that relies on national organizations that rely on big donors and corporations that have a moderate to conservative political agenda. A movement that used to kiss in the parks of San Francisco to show the ignorant that they will not make them afraid of showing their love to the world is now a movement that relies on useless press releases to express “disappointment” toward the homophobes of the world.
It is true that at one point or another social movements do become institutionalized. One could argue that this has occurred in the black rights movement in the form of the NAACP. Indeed, a co-worker of mine where I intern during the week has complained that the black rights movement has been usurped by moderate elites who control the institution’s agenda with their donations. However, while black Americans obtained civil rights and reached some major objectives before they institutionalized their movement, gay people did not. The gay rights movement has moved too far and too fast and has accomplished too little by relying on national organizations with political strategies that simply do not work.
What the gay rights movement needs to do now is go back to its roots. It needs to pull out its weeds and plant some new seeds. It needs to abandon its weak institutions and look for something fresh. It needs a new backbone that will not break under the pressure of large donors that have a moderate and ineffective political agenda. It needs a backbone that is young and flexible and willing to try new and radical things to reach its objectives. It needs what every movement eventually needs; students and the new minds that inhabit them.
Looking at successful movements of the past century, it is clear that they succeeded because they employed young people and students. This is true of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Students help movements succeed because they are unencumbered, able to think outside of social institutions that they have not yet had the opportunity to join or experience and are willing to take risks without the worry of families of their own or major financial responsibilities.
What is clear for the gay rights movement right now is that it needs students. The movement needs imagination and risk takers to send a strong message to those who will use gays as political scapegoats.
And it is for this reason that today, March 1, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and their allies from around the D.C. area are joining together to form The Student Equal Rights Campaign (www.theserc.org). It is for this reason that Monday students are meeting in Marvin Center 404 at 8 p.m. to make a difference to send a message to our leaders and our organizations that we are not going to take it anymore, that we are going to get things done, and that, yes, we will succeed. It is for this reason that in a few years we will continue to have a constitution of the people, by the people and for the people of the United States, rather than of George ‘Jim Crow’ Bush, by Jerry Falwell and for Pat Robertson of the Christian unRight.
-The writer, a senior majoring in human services, is a Hatchet columnist.