Queer Town: The Torie Osborn Speech
|Torie Osborn in downtown Los Angeles|
"In two months, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. (I LOVE that our movement was born of a riot against police abuse by transfolk!) For these 40 years, LGBT activists - and I've been one of them - have pressed for our rights as a single social current.
"We built a network of thousands of community organizations to meet our political, social, and spiritual dreams.
"We educated our own community about AIDS when the government refused to act.
"We won many legal rights across the country, including our right be safe on the streets and in the schools here in California.
"We defeated Anita Bryant, John Briggs, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
"We elected our own leaders.
"We even got our own TV shows.
"We won laws to protect our right to raise families, to visit our partners and make decisions for them when they were sick and dying. A mere nine years ago Civil Unions seemed radical in Vermont. Now it's retro and we have marriage in four states. FOUR STATES!
"But here in California, will we win next time? Will all those who can, be ready to join us?
"YES WE CAN! But only if we continue to transform our movement as we are doing here this weekend. The temptation for us to do what we've done in the past instead of what needs to be done will be strong. But what worked 30 -- even 10 -- years ago is not what's needed now.
"We cannot carry a single agenda forward anymore and win.
"The words that galvanized the country last fall were 'YES WE CAN! SI SE PUEDE!' - was a recognition that the time has come to set aside I in favor of WE. YES WE CAN! swept aside the culture of identity politics and its mentality of 'I WANT MY RIGHTS TOO,' or, 'I'm more of a victim than you are.'
"But it's hard to leave what you know. We need our tribes. The pain of coming out leads us to create alternative family and safe spaces. We build support networks. But sometimes those spaces become just a little too comfortable. We end up talking to ourselves. We isolate ourselves.
"Prop 8's passage exposed the fault lines and limits of that isolation. It revealed that our established organizations had lost touch with the grassroots. They had become too focused on institution-building and forgotten about movement-building. Prop 8 revealed that our major organizations had become disconnected from the rising tide of poverty and despair that engulfed our natural allies in communities of color. Prop 8 revealed the ugly racism just under the surface of our successful movement. Prop 8 revealed that our work reaching the hearts and minds of Californians is far from done. It shocked us. Many of us were living our lives in the false assurance that in most Californian eyes we were equal. We are not. Our work is not done. We need fresh leadership, new thinking.
"To win, we need to change from a culture of mere activism to a culture of organizing - connecting with others. We need to change from a culture of building individual institutions to a culture of movement-building. We need to look in the eyes of those different from ourselves -- whoever we are -- and find our common heartbeat, our shared belief in the American promise. The call to Fresno for the week of the court decision is a metaphor for this change: Meet in the Middle. We need to go where people are, literally and figuratively. That's what organizing is. As Harvey Milk used to say, We want to recruit you.
"Because our cause is not fundamentally about economic gain, we lost touch with the economic divide that was slashing to smithereens America's dream. And we lost touch with the inescapable web of mutuality between all struggles for equality. The YES on 8 people beat us at what should be our own game: they bill a grassroots army of 100,000 that went door to door, and they built a powerful multi-racial coalition. It's our turn."
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.