Newsweek on GetEQUAL and the quest for LGBT civil rights

Great article from Newsweek’s Eve Conant looking at GetEQUAL and the fight for LGBT equality. GetEQUAL’s first meeting was held at the same place where Rosa Parks “studied” non-violent civil disobedience. Not everyone agrees with the use of the civil rights terminology. But, if people in this country aren’t equal, civil rights are at stake:

As the fight over same-sex marriage and “don’t ask, don’t tell” rages in the courts, Congress, and the media, gay activists and their allies are invoking the language and imagery of the civil-rights battles of a half century ago. And their efforts are changing the tenor of the debate. Sen. Joe Lieberman, calling for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” told a Connecticut reporter earlier this month that the fight for gay rights is the new “front lines” of the civil-rights movement. When President Obama included protections for gays and lesbians in federal hate-crime legislation earlier this year, the Associated Press called it “the biggest expansion of the civil-rights-era law in decades.” And at last week’s federal appellate-court hearing in San Francisco on same-sex marriage, one of the judges pointedly asked whether California voters, whose 2008 passage of Proposition 8 stripped gays of the right to marry, were entitled to reinstate school segregation. “How is this different?” Judge Michael Daly Hawkins asked the attorney defending the measure. Legal heavyweights Ted Olson and David Boies, representing the pro-gay-marriage side, wrote in their plaintiffs’ brief that the case tests the proposition whether gays and lesbians “should be counted as ‘persons’ under the 14th Amendment or whether they constitute a permanent underclass ineligible for protection under that cornerstone of our Constitution.” The 14th Amendment removed the clause once embedded in the Constitution that slaves equaled three fifths of a person.

The rhetoric has inspired gays and lesbians. But it has also galvanized their opponents, who say homosexuals are fighting for “special rights,” not civil rights.

Conant talked to a number of homophobes. I’m not going to include their quotes. You’ve heard it all before.

The organization is combining smart politics with its activism:

Working with recognized figures in the gay-rights fight like Dan Choi, a former Army lieutenant who was discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the members of GetEQUAL can often be found at the Washington, D.C., home of political strategist Paul Yandura, strategizing sit-ins and other nonviolent protests. Before their first “action” in March, when Choi and a fellow ousted soldier handcuffed themselves to the White House gates, the protesters were busy writing phone numbers on their arms and stomachs so they would have them at the ready for their designated phone call once arrested. In jail, Choi and the fellow discharged soldier recited passages from King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” to keep each other inspired.

Even as they invoke the civil-rights struggle, GetEQUAL’s members are trying to be politic. Philanthropist Jonathan Lewis and his family, who have funneled a half-million dollars to create and support GetEQUAL’s efforts, says gays and lesbians are absorbing lessons and inspiration from the civil-rights movement, not taking away its importance. “Our movement is not the same,” he says. “Yes, it’s not life or death every day like the civil-rights movement was,” says Michelle Wright, who is African-American and became involved in GetEQUAL after coming out last year. “But it’s still discrimination, and therefore it’s wrong.” Now she and her fellow activists just need to get the rest of America to see it that way. So they will continue searching, however long it takes, for their movement’s own lunch-counter image.

I do think GetEQUAL has already changed the debate about LGBT equality. The photos of protesters on the White House fence have become iconic. And, those who purport to be our allies know we’re words and party invitations aren’t enough.

For the record, the “fellow ousted soldier” arrested with Dan Choi in March is our friend, Capt. Jim Pietrangelo.


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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