Frequently Asked Questions
Who started GetEQUAL and why?
Kip Williams and Robin McGehee created the initial idea of GetEQUAL in October of 2009. After the National Equality March (NEM), Kip and Robin were interested in applying political and social pressure to push forward the LGBT big-ticket legislation that the LGBTQ community has been promised, by using bold, on and off line, direct actions as a tactic to push for full federal equality. They had organized locally, planned and implemented statewide events, and had organized with a grassroots network of 100 people to plan and produce the October 2009 NEM. At the conclusion of the NEM, both decided not to move forward with the entity that had produced the march, Equality Across America (EAA). EAA’s mission was to organize 435 congressional district action teams which would lobby and produce local actions to push for full federal equality. Both Kip and Robin felt that the current political window was quickly closing and that to successfully push large legislative items, such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) more time would be needed to authentically support local organizers. But, in the meantime, regional “strike force” teams could be organized to take strategic action an apply pressure more quickly.
Kip and Robin felt that the ideal next step would be to bring together organizers from the NEM, other organizers who were organizing actions within their states, and leaders from different social movements who have used direct action as a tactic to push for change. This retreat was called the Radical Minds Retreat and was held at the Highlander Center in Knoxville, TN, in January 2010. There, the group discussed history and lessons from different social movements, the current climate within LGBTQ organizing, potential targets, tactics, and possible next steps. By March of 2010, GetEQUAL launched with a community of organizers who were ready and willing to take action across the country. Those involved with the GetEQUAL community are tired of the delays, excuses, and empty promises from legislators who should be fighting for, demanding, and achieving moral justice for LGBTQ people who experience and suffer from inequality. GetEQUAL deeply feels that we have passed the point of working to secure social acceptance and should be acquiring the full federal equality we have been pushing for decades to achieve.
Where are your financial documents?
You can find the 2010 IRS Form 990 for GetEQUAL Action (our c4 entity) here: https://www.box.net/shared/rf60yuhsgd.
You can find the 2011 IRS Form 990 for GetEQUAL Action here: https://app.box.com/s/pl7ge5nwt4vzuid2lgen.
We will post the 2012 IRS Form 990 for GetEQUAL Action following the submission of those documents to the IRS.
How are decisions made?
Each decision is made by working with and seeking consultation from leaders and organizers associated with different advocacy groups, political insiders, LGBTQ and mainstream media representatives, community organizers, and those taking action themselves. After all information is gathered, we only take action with consensus within the group that is taking action.
Who’s accountable for GetEQUAL’s actions? Who is in charge?
Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez and Heather Cronk are the co-directors of GetEQUAL, and are accountable for ensuring that the organization reaches its goals. The board of directors holds Felipe and Heather accountable to that job responsibility, so they are ultimately accountable to the board. GetEQUAL is working to build a supporter base that can continue to inform the organization’s direction and actions.
Who is on the board, and how/why were they chosen?
Each individual who was chosen for the board of directors brings a diverse perspective from their own experience as grassroots organizers. While many nonprofit boards are filled with donors, we chose to create a board that can give us strategic advice from an activist perspective. We asked people to join our board who have their feet firmly planted in grassroots organizing, and who represent a wide variety of viewpoints on organizing in order to lend a wide array of opinions on GetEQUAL’s work.
Bios for the GetEQUAL staff and for provisional board members can be found at http://getequal.org/staff-and-board.
A public statement from the board following the first board retreat in August 2010 is below:
The newly-formed provisional Board of Directors is committed to providing leadership and direction to GetEQUAL. We seek to create a societal environment that fosters freedom, equality, and justice for the diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community. One of our main goals is to illuminate discriminations that exist — to cause tension and force our leaders and society to respond. GetEQUAL will continue to employ tools to create tension, specifically including nonviolent direct action, to bring our crisis to the attention of our leaders — for a community that has consistently been denied freedom, equality, and justice.
We seek to underscore these issues so that they can no longer be ignored.
We are confident in the leadership of GetEQUAL and believe we have begun to lay the foundation for a solid organization to achieve these goals.
The social and legal inequality of our community is incompatible with the ideals of the American people, and we call on our national leaders to join in the global momentum towards liberty and justice for all.
What is the role that Paul Yandura and Jonathan Lewis play?
Kip Williams contacted Paul Yandura during the planning of the NEM to discuss the possibility of securing funding to hire campus organizers to bring more youth to the March. At the time, concern regarding a solid plan for next steps kept Paul from feeling as if the extra investment would have any long-term effects, so he asked to hear about next steps after the March. Paul is the donor advisor to Jonathan Lewis; Kip and Robin submitted a funding proposal to them after stepping down from Equality Across America. Mr. Lewis’ only role with GetEQUAL has been to examine funding proposals and to make decisions on whether to help fund GetEQUAL’s next steps. GetEQUAL has received funding from Mr. Lewis up front, with no strings attached – only the expectation that GetEQUAL would follow the steps laid out in the original proposal. Paul Yandura has been a mentor during the organizing process, offering lessons about the politics of Washington, as he has political strategy experience based on his years learning from/with the Clinton Administration and Democratic Party. His advice and mentoring has been invaluable, as has that of other past and present Democratic insiders and outsiders. However, Paul and Jonathan have only ever offered advice and have never required any particular action. The staff and organizers of GetEQUAL are free to plan, organize, and implement in a manner that feels authentic and strategic to us and to the local organizers that work with GetEQUAL.
With only one major donor how do you stay independent?
As stated above, all funding that has been offered from Jonathan Lewis has come with no strings attached and offered as a sustaining contribution as GetEQUAL builds toward next steps. Before Kip and Robin left their jobs or took any first actions, GetEQUAL was provided with the entirety of the funding grant, up front. In all instances, Paul Yandura and Jonathan Lewis have given assurance that our actions are our own, –based on our own research, reflection, and strategic planning — and that no part of funding is dependent on the requirement of any particular type of action or target.
Since that initial support, Jonathan Lewis has continued to support GetEQUAL — and so have many additional donors. We value a diverse array of support, and are happy to receive funding from both small and large donors alike.
How many members do you have and what is the criteria for becoming a member?
GetEQUAL does not currently offer paid membership, so we do not have “members.” GetEQUAL counts as supporters all those who have expressed interest in taking online or offline action with us, which includes those on our email list, our Facebook page, our Twitter feed, and those who have taken action with us in person. As we move forward, we will ask our supporters to do more — to organize online, to organize offline, and even to donate to our ongoing work. More important than anything else, we are interested in offering our supporters multitude of ways to take action and to “own” their equality. Many LGBTQ organizations have asked too little of the community and of our allies — GetEQUAL hopes to be able to mobilize a critical mass of people who are willing to take action in their own community and to support the actions of others who are fighting for full legal and social equality.
What is GetEQUAL’s strategy and what are the results you must achieve to be successful?
The guiding principles taken in our strategic theory of change can be viewed at http://getequal.org/about/#theory. We will not consider ourselves successful until full federal equality is realized by all LGBTQ people, in regards to queer and trans rights. We will know we have organized successfully when more grassroots direct action groups are taking the fight for equality into their own hands and are organizing the critical mass needed to produce the change we desire and have been promised.
Won’t these stunts make our allies angry?
Our goal is to work towards building a critical mass of people who are unwilling to accept the delays of equality that we are experiencing. We do realize that direct action, as a tactic, is part of a broader organizing strategy that has the potential to upset and even anger some of our allies — but no social change has been gained without similar tensions. If we do not anger our allies, we are bound to continue receiving the minimal change we have currently accepted as “major” progress. Truthfully, we have more reasons to be angry than our occasional-allies do. When do we get to be angry that 92% of our transgender brothers and sisters are still facing job discrimination every day while our “friends” continue to pay lip-service to the passage of ENDA? When do we get to be angry that 1 in 3 youth suicides are youth that identify as LGBTQ? When do we get to be angry that gays and lesbians are still being discharged from the military and having to pay back training and other costs to the government, while that same government asks homophobic servicemembers their opinions on shower curtains? Let’s not forget this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., as he sat thoughtfully contemplating his position in a Birmingham jail: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” We have found, with each action taken, we or other LGBTQ advocacy groups doing specific legislative work related to the action, have seen positive direct effects of our efforts.
How do you know if you have been effective or not?
We are working on creating a set of “empowerment metrics” that will help us to measure the impact of GetEQUAL’s organizing model of individual activists — empowering LGBTQ individuals and our allies is a primary part of our mission. Additionally, GetEQUAL tracks the perceived impact that campaigns and actions have on legislation and on social issues. While it is difficult to draw “causation” in a legislative environment, we are tracking the “correlation” of our actions with legislative progress, which we learn from watching level/depth of media coverage, changes in media/organizing narrative, intelligence from other advocacy groups and political insiders, and progress on legislative and social targets.
Have you been effective?
In short, yes. GetEQUAL has helped to spur movement on both the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and on the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. While our work is certainly not the only cause for movement on those two legislative priorities, it is clear from media coverage and from reports from our allies that our work has helped create political will for movement on those two issues. Larger advocacy organizations have followed suit, putting resources into lobbying on ENDA during the August 2010 recess that had not previously been planned. Even with the movement seen in regards to DADT, many credit actions taken by GetEQUAL with the minor movement we have seen on repeal.
The nature of direct action is that the true impact isn’t known until well after the fact, if ever at all — part of the responsibility of those using direct action, as part of a larger organizing strategy, is to forecast possible impacts and to track progress in order to report back to the community. Direct action targets, in order to hold on to power, must pretend to act as if they are not moved by those tactics — otherwise, their power structure would crumble while others followed suit. Past uses of direct action took months and years to catch on nationally, but were instrumental in ultimately creating the tension necessary to elicit change.
We will be posting recent case studies of successful uses of direct action soon but, in the meantime, feel free to browse through the following examples that we look to as our inspiration:
What is your ultimate goal? How do these “stunts” achieve that?
Our ultimate goal is to acquire full federal equality – settling with nothing less than equal protection in all matters governed by civil law. We also have a social obligation to respond to social inequality and understand completely that once we are fully equal, our community will continue to suffer from social discrimination and injustice that will need to be addressed.
Our strategy to get there is to create the critical mass needed to organize direct actions that lead to moments of crisis in existing power structures – moments that result in more power for our allies in the movement and the political will for those in power to resolve that conflict by demonstrating the leadership needed to move us closer to obtaining the equality we’ve been promised. Direct action is just one tactic we have used to create that power and political will — and we have, thus far, seen movement on DADT and ENDA each time we have carried out an action.
Right now, GetEQUAL is focusing on legislative change because of the unique political window open to us. However, the organization will soon be shifting to a more holistic approach to obtaining full legal and social equality — one that does not split the LGBTQ community’s power or the progressive community’s power. The existing power structures — especially existing political power structures — demand that advocacy organizations fragment their attention and their power, fighting against allied interests in order to make the most noise. GetEQUAL is interested in moving beyond that advocacy model — in creating a political framework in which allied interests fight with and for one another, and do not leave pieces of the progressive community behind enemy lines.
Why haven’t you targeted Republicans?
We have not yet targeted Republicans because Republicans have not yet made our communities any promises. In the first stage of GetEQUAL’s work, we have been targeting Democrats who have made promises to the LGBT community about legislative priorities and have sought to hold them accountable to those promises. Without that baseline level of work, those who have made promises to us have no repercussions for not following through with those promises, and our community is left in the wake with no other political options.
GetEQUAL will soon be moving into a second stage that will target both Republicans and Democrats who have an opportunity to take a courageous stand for our community, but who have not yet taken that stand. Our hope is that, after politicians see their colleagues making good on promises to the LGBTQ community and retaining (perhaps even increasing) their political power, more Members of Congress will join them in doing the right thing.
How do efforts to embarrass our political friends (Democrats) help the LGBT Community?
Social change doesn’t come because those in power suddenly decide to make it happen. Social change occurs when those in power are pressured into making change via a direct catalyst that interrupts the normal state of affairs. That interruption might be a direct action, or it might be a well-delivered moral argument — but change rarely comes on its own. Our own elected leaders have told us to make them make change, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi did at Netroots Nation and President Obama has done on numerous occasions before that event. GetEQUAL comes at our organizing work with a sense of urgency for all those without job protections, for all those whose military careers are being ruined, for those bi-national couples being torn away from their non-citizen partners, for all those who are unable to marry their partners and for all those young people facing the prospect of harassment or suicide. We don’t like to embarrass our friends — but we like even less to live under the specter of inequality.
How does “demanding” lead to changed minds or additional support for the LGBT Community? What “threat” is attached to these so-called “demands?”
It is neither politically strategic nor politically courageous for us to “ask” for equality. GetEQUAL is committed to finding political and social pressure points that raise the stakes for those politicians who stand in the way of LGBTQ equality — we are not threatening anyone. However, we are also not patient with those who stand in the way of full legal and social equality for the LGBTQ community, and we are willing to hold those people accountable to our community and to our allies. The LGBTQ community has played by the rules — we have voted, we have volunteered, we have donated, we have registered others to vote, we have visited our Congresspeople. GetEQUAL’s staff has been on the traditional legislative side of pushing for equality and justice, but in doing this work, they know that they and many others have also done and have grown tired of work that is not providing the legislative gains we have been promised. While these things must continue to happen, we must also make every effort to reverse the commonly-held belief that the LGBTQ community is not willing to withdraw political support, enthusiasm, contributions, or moral acquiescence from those who do not stand up for the community. We must, at some point, stand up and proclaim that our self-worth and our dignity matter, and, that coming to this legislative process, less-than, already puts us at a disadvantage that we are no longer willing to just accept.
Why don’t you hold open meetings where all are invited?
We have organized open meetings in New York, DC, Texas, Virginia, Montana, Mississippi and California – and we are very much interested in and planning for open townhalls in areas where direct action trainings and local organizing next steps have been requested. As we head into the fall, we plan to make those trainings and townhalls happen more frequently and in more geographically diverse areas.
Why are you prioritizing ENDA and DADT?
We view the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) as two pieces of legislation that the LGBTQ community is closest to securing. Both ENDA and DADT are big-ticket legislative items that have been promised by high-level leaders within the Democratic Party and our current President – both offer employment protections that no person should be expected to live without. We also hope that other legislative priorities — the passage of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and even the discussion of a possible equal rights bill called, the American Equality Bill (AEB) — will gain traction in Congress soon…and we look forward to throwing organizing weight behind those efforts, as well.
While GetEQUAL continues to do social/cultural organizing such as our work with groups in Arizona to get Lady Gaga to take a stand against SB 1070 or our efforts to stand behind Harold and Clay — a couple who experienced horrible discrimination upon Harold’s death — we also recognize that there is a unique political window open to us at this time. Even though we are a young organization, we will do everything possible to move pieces of legislation that will impact millions of LGBTQ people across the country — our largest hope is to move into discussions about a more comprehensive approach that will remove the need for such piecemeal divisions of rights.
Why are you fighting for inclusion in an unjust industry (DADT)?
Although many within the GetEQUAL community share an anti-war ideological stance, the reality of our mission is to fight for the right to serve, or not, for every LGBTQ person who would like that choice. We are deeply opposed to the recruitment policies of the U.S. military, specifically in regards to efforts to recruit in low-income communities and communities of color, and feel deeply that the current wars in which we are engaged are not in our name. However, we believe strongly in the right of those who have chosen to defend/serve our country to serve with respect, honesty and integrity, and we recognize the power that military integration has held historically (i.e. African Americans, women, etc.) in the efforts toward integration and full equality in the wider society.
How do these “crazy shenanigans” benefit the LGBT Community?
Let’s be clear, the use of “crazy shenanigans” was a tongue-in-cheek way of referring to how “insider” groups could refer to GetEQUAL’s actions with those in political power, with which they are negotiating our equality, if they so choose. In fact, after first launching GetEQUAL, we were contacted, off the record, by a well-known executive director doing work on Capitol Hill — this person called to say that being able to reference GetEQUAL’s organizing as an example of potential actions allowed the ability to get meeting time and added “suites of power” pressure with a well-known representative.
GetEQUAL’s work serves to highlight inequalities in stark, and often uncomfortable, terms — but there is much opportunity available to “insider” groups to lean on these actions in order to obtain more power and bring the LGBT community closer to full equality. These “crazy shenanigans” are actually well-scripted and thoroughly-strategized actions that are part of larger campaigns — all of which are created through thorough research as to what the key pressure points are that will lead to legislative or social movement. They benefit the LGBT community by creating space for those with a seat at the political table to wield more of an edge in negotiating the points at which LGBT legislation will be urgently prioritized.
What happened in Vegas? Did you parachute in? Did you blow off meetings with Sen. Reid?
We had been planning on attending Netroots Nation for a few months, but as the event grew closer and the summer grew longer, we continued to gain frustration around the benchmark promises made by Speaker Pelosi regarding ENDA, and the continued passing of the buck between Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. We decided to hold an online poll for our members to decide which target they felt was holding up movement on ENDA and offered four options — which included strategic reasoning behind each option. Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. George Miller, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi were listed and online voting had Sen. Reid in 2nd place and Rep. Pelosi in 1st place. We knew going in to Netroots Nation we wanted to influence the conversation and questioning around our LGBTQ legislative agenda when Reid and Pelosi spoke to the Netroots Nation audience, so we chose to plan an action on the Las Vegas Strip, calling on Reid to take action on ENDA. By using this direct action to create a media moment around ENDA, Reid would be forced by local and national media to address ENDA by interview, public statement or at his speaking engagement at Netroots Nation.
We spoke with local organizers from Las Vegas Stonewall Democrats and a few other local groups, gathering input and ensuring that the tactic being used would not be seen as disrespectful but, rather, as exerting pressure in a way that would yield a conversation. We were asked if we’d like to have a meeting with Sen. Reid on Saturday, after this speech and said, yes — unfortunately, plans for that meeting was never finalized.
We took the action on Tuesday, doing a banner drop in front of the statue of liberty which is outside the New York, New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Closing down seven lanes of traffic for nearly half an hour allowed ENDA and the LGBTQ community to become a media talking point as this action was covered by local and national press. GetEQUAL was personally called by DC lobbying groups who had heard of Majority Leader Reid’s inquiry into our action and from Reid’s and Pelosi’s staff, who wanted to assure us that the Majority Leader and the Speaker would be addressing ENDA in their remarks. That Saturday at Netroots Nation, not only did Speaker Pelosi address LGBT issues in her first question, but continued to bring up ENDA throughout the conversation and explained that she believed our frustration and urgency were justified. Majority Leader Reid chose to address ENDA and DADT in his opening remarks and, as a result of action taken by Lt. Dan Choi, DADT was a prominent component of discussion during his remarks and throughout the rest of the conference.
News reports into the following week were addressing ENDA, a piece of legislation that had fallen off the radar and had been declared dead by many, and insider conversations have been occurring to determine potential next steps to obtain a House and Senate vote. While many other national organizations had let ENDA drop from the priority list, those organizations have now picked it back up, and the LGBTQ community is now rallying to bring ENDA back from the dead.
Link to a recording of GetEQUAL’s open press conference call on August 10, 2010:
Link to a transcript of GetEQUAL’s open press conference call on August 10, 2010 (and special thanks to Michelle Wright for laboriously transcribing the whole thing!):
There was also a press call on November 18, regarding our meeting with White House staff. Link to a recording of the call is here: