Building the fight for LGBT rights

March 31, 2010

Madeline Burrows describes Equality Across America's Northeast Regional Conference, where hundreds of activists gathered to discuss the next steps in the fight for LGBT equality.

SOMERVILLE, Mass.--"Are you ready to fight?"

This was the opening question at Equality Across America's (EAA) Northeast Regional Conference--and the resounding applause that ensued reflected the energy and excitement of a movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights that is on the ascendancy.

Some 380 people gathered in Somerville throughout the weekend of March 26-28 for the conference, titled "LGBT Rights: Making An Impact." The conference was organized locally by Join the Impact MA, GLSEN Mass., the Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, and Equality Across America (EAA)--a national network of grassroots activists formed out of October's National Equality March--with the purpose of fighting for full federal equality in all matters of civil law in all 50 states for all LGBT people. It was cosponsored by over 20 organizations regionally

It was a leap forward for a movement that has developed nationally but had yet to gather regionally since last fall's National Equality March. The conference reflected the character of the LGBT movement for equality: a movement that is multiracial and young, keeps transgender rights at its heart, and stands against all forms of oppression.

Veteran activist Tom Barbera, founder of LGBT labor organization Pride at Work, spoke at the opening panel of being reinvigorated by the influx of young people in the movement for LGBT equality: "When I look at this audience I see youth and I see progress."

Al Riccio, a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, heard about the conference through the New York City-based group Queer Rising. Riccio said she attended the conference because she "feel[s] like the state of our rights is being sugar coated and we're given a false sense of security when really it is the grassroots movement that is going to win these things."

After hearing that legislation--the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)--that would outlaw sexual orientation-based employment discrimination was first introduced 36 years ago, while 89 percent of Americans today support ENDA's passage, Riccio expressed the residing sentiment at the conference: "It is ridiculous that we should still be waiting when the majority of the country agrees that we should have our rights."

WORKSHOPS ADDRESSED issues facing the movement today, such as the struggle for an all-inclusive ENDA, repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Others expressed the need to integrate lessons from the history of LGBT activism and other movements into the movement today.

Gerry Scoppettuolo, who helped organize the successful long-term boycott of Coors beer by LGBT, Chicano, and labor activists, highlighted the significance of uniting labor and the LGBT movement, and activists brainstormed ways to involve unions in their local LGBT organizations.

Gunner Scott, director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, expressed the need for transgender issues to be at the heart of the movement, saying that the movement "cannot speak for transgender people, it has to speak with them." Activists discussed regional actions for transgender rights, including mobilizations to the annual New England Trans United March in Northampton, Mass., which will be held in September 2010.

Attendees agreed for the need to stand against all forms of oppression and express solidarity with other oppressed groups. Some of the most heavily attended workshops were "A Radical History of the LGBT Movement," "Sexuality and Socialism," and workshops on student activism, immigration issues in the LGBT movement, and issues of diversity in the LGBT movement.

Poet and activist Staceyann Chin reiterated the need for solidarity with other oppressed groups, and received the longest standing ovation of the weekend after she performed a poem that expressed the need for the LGBT movement to discuss issues of racism, sexism and systemic inequality.

Sherry Wolf, author of Sexuality and Socialism and EAA interim board member, expressed the need to build a national movement with coordinated actions, saying, "Consciousness is with us, but consciousness doesn't change policies. Movements do. If we want to fight national bigotry, we need a national movement."

On Sunday, 70 activists gathered to discuss next steps for the movement. While there was no formal national coalition formed, over 80 activists signed up to be part of EAA, and activists agreed for the need to act locally, as well as nationally. City-wide organizing meetings in Boston, New York City and Northampton will take place in the coming weeks to plan for a national day of action coinciding with Harvey Milk Day on May 22.

The conference was a huge step forward for the movement for LGBT equality, both regionally and nationally, and represented the desire to build a new movement on its own terms and by its own political definition: One that is grassroots and democratic, stands against all forms of oppression, puts transgender rights at its center and fights for full federal equality.

For Al Riccio, the conference gave a sense of "the state of our movement, the state of our rights, and what needs to be done going forward." Echoing the spirit of the conference as a whole, Riccio added, "We can't just take things in bits and pieces. We need full equality now."

Further Reading

From the archives