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August 21, 2009

Ten ways Chris Crain was wrong

Crain This item deals with something from seven months ago, but it illustrates some nonsense that's been going on for years, and I wish to correct the record. Last January 12, former Washington Blade editor Chris Crain (pictured here) posted a blog entry titled "Can you spot the real activists?" Here's a sampling:

Even the local activists in Washington, D.C., lack the basic nerve to act and are woefully out of touch from even the local D.C. community they claim to represent.

Just last week, these "activists" declared victory when gay D.C. Council member David Catania decided not to introduce a marriage equality bill that had the support of the mayor and would have passed the Council by a lopsided vote of 12-1 or 11-2. Lou Chibbaro of the Washington Blade reported:

That's what "activism" looks like in our nation's capital -- convincing politicians not to act. Why? The excuses are old and tired and make even less sense today than they have for the last decade that we've heard them from the same small cadre of mostly elderly folks, who are sadly blinded by their own partisanship and arrogance or who value their own influence over the process than they do the constituents they claim to represent. They fail to realize, of course, that their power is wholly illusory, since politicians -- Catania excepted -- are only to eager not to act when given an excuse not to.

When I first moved back to Washington in 2001, this same group -- personified by Rick Rosendall ... of the ironically named Gay & Lesbian Activist Alliance -- urged caution because President Bush had proposed a federal constitutional amendment and Congress, which has veto power over D.C. laws, was under the control of anti-gay Republicans.

"Citizen Crain," as he unironically dubs himself, upon arriving in D.C. eight years ago quickly established himself as an imperious, perpetually sneering know-it-all. When he decided to go after GLAA in 2004 for not adopting his damn-the-torpedoes approach to the marriage fight, his paper proceeded to attack GLAA on a regular basis for months, including by means of disparaging characterizations in news stories. Here, in no particular order, are ten of Crain's errors, as illustrated by the above quote:

  1. Calling GLAA members elderly. The only truly elderly person who has attended GLAA meetings regularly is movement pioneer Frank Kameny, now 84; but he has long played more an advisory than an active role. As for me, I was 47 when Crain started insulting me in 2004; does he really consider that elderly?

  2. Calling us out of touch. I am not sure what Crain thinks we were unaware of. Believe it or not, just because someone disagrees with you does not make them oblivious or senile. Considering that GLAA doesn't contribute money to partisan candidates or incumbents, I wonder how Crain thinks we have consistently been so influential on local policy if we were as clueless as he pretends. The reason, of course, is that we are the acknowledged policy experts on gay-related matters in D.C.

  3. Suggesting that we purport to "represent" the community. GLAA is an advocacy organization, not a representative one. We have never claimed to represent anyone other than our own members; nor have we ever attempted to block the doors of the John A. Wilson Building to prevent anyone else from testifying or lobbying their mayor and legislators as they saw fit.

  4. Misspelling our name. How hard is it, really, for a former editor to notice that the word "Activists" in our name is plural? It has had an "s" at the end of it since the first meeting of what was then GAA on April 20, 1971.

  5. Writing as if I, Rick Rosendall, have single-handedly blocked marriage equality from happening in the District. The problem, as I tried to explain to Mr. Crain, is not me or GLAA but the 535 members of the House and Senate who hold constitutional power over D.C.'s local affairs and governance that they do not hold over the 50 states. Incidentally, several other people have played an active role in GLAA's work over the years; just because I am the longtime spokesperson does not make it a one-man show. It is true that our numbers are relatively few — and how it must annoy Crain that a handful of people manages to wield so much influence. The reasons for that influence, however, are fairly straightforward: Over a period of nearly four decades, we in GLAA have built a reputation for knowing what we are talking about; for being honest and fair; for being consistently engaged in our advocacy for LGBT people in the city, year-in and year-out; for giving credit where it is due and not only criticism; and for being people that our city's leaders can do business with. In other words, we do basic, solid activism.

  6. Claiming that GLAA based our more cautious approach solely on our concern about "anti-gay Republicans," and subsequently changed our rationale in our desperation to block progress. In fact, we repeatedly pointed out that congressional opposition to marriage equality has been bipartisan. Although Democrats have a much better record than Republicans on gay issues, it was hard to miss (by way of example) that all of the leading Democratic presidential candidates opposed marriage equality — unless you considered Dennis Kucinich a leading candidate.

  7. Not even knowing all the key players. Notably absent from Crain's diatribe is my esteemed colleague Bob Summersgill, a former GLAA president who now works independently (though we cooperate closely) and is the principal architect of the incremental legislative strategy that has been so successful in expanding the rights of same-sex couples in the District.

  8. Accusing us of partisanship and other narrow and petty motives. A search through GLAA's online archives for our candidate ratings will demonstrate our non-partisanship. One of the sad things about Crain is his reflexive resort to gratuitous nastiness. Why can't we be wrong, even damnably wrong, without having our motives maligned? He could, for example, have praised our years of dedication as volunteer advocates who are responsible for virtually every pro-gay advance in the city, while disagreeing with our strategy on marriage. Indeed, he could have noted that his (now former) paper regularly relied (and still relies) on GLAA's expertise. How, for example, did Crain know last January, months before passage of D.C.'s marriage recognition bill, that all but 1 or 2 D.C. Council members would vote for marriage equality? The answer is that GLAA has been tracking and publishing local politicians' positions on the issue for the past decade and a half.

  9. Accusing us of being afraid to act because we disagreed with him on strategy (assuming his "give us everything now" stance can be called a strategy). As it happened, early last spring a group of us huddled with D.C. Councilmember and Judiciary Chair Phil Mendelson, and we agreed that the time was right to proceed with marriage recognition legislation as a trial run for a full marriage-equality bill. In any case, the last word anyone could seriously apply to GLAA's advocacy, before or since, is "fearful" — and we've done plenty of advocacy, as a look at our website at will show.

  10. Saying that we "declared victory" when Councilmember Catania postponed introducing his marriage bill. This fabrication doesn't even make sense, since at that point it was unclear when Catania would introduce a bill. (David was keeping things close to his vest.) In fact, we in GLAA have been the principal advocates of marriage equality in the District of Columbia since long before Crain came to town. We are glad that we were joined a couple of years ago by the grassroots group DC for Marriage, with whom we collaborate amicably, and this year by the Campaign for All D.C. Families, which we (or at least I) helped set up. Contrary to Crain's imputation of base motives, the only victory GLAA seeks is full equality. You don't have to take our word for it; you can look it up.

GLAA's incremental approach, so endlessly vilified by Chris Crain, has been vindicated recently by our victories before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and in D.C. Superior Court (we were not a party to that case, but our three decades of legislative work played a key role). Current Blade editor Kevin Naff acknowledged as much in an editorial on August 7:

A handful of city activists — led by Bob Summersgill and Rick Rosendall — have pursued a deliberate, calculated and ultimately effective strategy of incremental rights gains. Their patience and persistence have paid off and their strategy, sometimes criticized as overly cautious, is vindicated. Visit for a fascinating timeline of the marriage recognition struggle in the city, which began as far back as 1975.

I have already thanked Mr. Naff for his gracious remarks. As to Crain, I didn't even notice his latest disparaging remarks for eight months, so I can hardly be called obsessed about his ill-informed carping. But given how well our approach has been vindicated, I thought this might be a teachable moment — for others if not for Citizen Crain, who already knows everything.


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