By Rick Rose
Robin McGehee is Co-Founder and Director of GetEQUAL. Robin, who received her MA in human communication from Cal State, Fresno, envisions a society in which LGBTQ people are free from transphobia/homophobia and believes that, “When we speak, we shape the world!” She walks boldly and relentlessly, and asks us to join her. Here she speaks with her signature relentless passion and intelligence to lgbtSr and Rick Rose
RR: What was the top driver for you to begin GetEQUAL? When was it? And are you where you want to be with the organization right now?
RM: GetEQUAL started shortly after the National Equality March — and was born out of the experience in organizing the march. It was clear that there were hundreds of thousands of people who were willing to show up in DC when the call was made, and that most of the people there were willing to do much more than that — but the movement wasn’t asking enough of them. We have worked to change hearts and minds, we have strategically lobbied, we have donated, elected and marched – yet still, we live and die unequal. We started GetEQUAL in an effort to fill a gap in the movement — to create an “outsider” force that could build up the power and influence of the established “insider” force in DC — but also to create a mechanism to ask more of the folks (both LGBT and allies) who are willing to take far bolder action than simply writing a check. In the great words of Julian Bond, at the National Equality March of 2009 – “Change doesn’t come to those who wait, it comes to those who agitate!”
RR: Posting that quote on FB. Thanks for sharing, Robin. Who makes a better activist, a 19 year old (like Richard Aviles from your Board) or a 50+ (like Mark Reed who introduced us and who I profiled here in the past)? Both great men, btw.
RM: We need all kinds of activists – people willing to recruit, plan, organize and take action – so, in my opinion, it does not matter if a person is 18 or 101, if they are willing to do the work for our equality – I want to work with them. I’d love to talk to more of the sage individuals of our movement about getting more involved and taking a larger role in showing there is a senior community that is unwilling to die unequal, but is willing to take bold, iconic, action to highlight that fact as they fight for change. We also need people willing to financially invest in the work of on-the-ground street activism. If you can’t take action – help finance the work of those who are willing and able to do it on your behalf.
RM: GetEQUAL is a civil rights organization that is fighting for LGBT equality. Our mission is to empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take bold action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way. I do not believe that is the intended operation of HRC, although I don’t think it would hurt them to try being a little more bad cop. I was influenced by the images of ActUP and in the iconic actions and imagery, as well as the relentless pursuit to fight for those dying, who lacked support. Those images tell us, as well as the images of social movements before us, that real change happens when we create the urgency to make it happen. Recently I heard that NY Governor Cuomo changed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote – “the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice” to “the moral arc of the universe doesn’t bend towards justice, it’s *bent* towards justice.” I couldn’t agree any more – fantastic modification that is absolutely true. A lesson learned from Ghandi, King and ActUP as well.
RR: I love that “allies” are part of your mission with GetEQUAL? How do you move someone who loves you unconditionally, like my Mom, who is quite passive into being an activist? I mean she loves me, but she doesn’t even talk about my struggle with her friends.
RM: It is a long journey for people to know how they feel about us and what they could and should do. I am willing to take time with people like your mom, well, you can take that time – and, I should be willing and able to push her – and, so should our other organizations. I do not offer that excuse to the politicians that represent us – we should expect nothing less than full acceptance and a relentless pursuit to help us gain our equality. They don’t have to like us, want us over for dinner – but, we are tax paying citizens and we deserve nothing less than full equality under the law.
RR: Is there a value for the NOH8 campaign and are they your friends?
RM: Yes, I definitely think there is value to the NOH8 campaign – I think the images they produce are iconic and serve as a personal witness of the shear numbers of those who support equal justice for LGBT people. I have met Adam Bouska and his team briefly, but would love to talk to them more about utilizing the masses they take in to get involved in a sustained active campaign for LGBT equality. Adam and his team bring them in the door and that energy needs to be empowered and released in the streets for change.
RR: Is equality enough? After years of suppression and having proven that we are dynamic leaders, why shouldn’t we ask for more than equality; don’t we deserve more? Or is that a bad attitude on my part? Just sayin’!
RM: We will never realize full equality – maybe, civil equality – I HOPE! But, there will always be injustice, social inequality and discrimination and connected to that the other society plagues of racism, ageism, ableism, economic injustice, etc. that will always need to be pushed back against. But, I believe as Cleve Jones has so eloquently stated, we will always have those plagues of injustice that need to be addressed, but when we come to the table to discuss those issues – I want to do it as an equal.
RR: Love that! Lots of changes going on over at HRC? Any comments, concerns? It was the first organization many of us knew to fight for our rights.
RM: I am a former member of HRC. I deeply love and admire our largest national lobbying group. HRC does amazing work for our community – much of that work goes unrecognized and unnoticed, but it’s happening. But, there is much improvement needed if we are going to build the movement that we’ll actually need to gain our equality in many of our lifetimes. Sadly, too many in our movement believe *they* have *the* answer(s), when it will take a large diversity of perspectives and tactics to build a strategy that can actually accomplish a goal of LGBT equality. One of the reasons I absolutely love the Dallas Principles – which you can find at http://www.thedallasprinciples.org/The_Dallas_Principles/Home.html, is because they offer a very clear and concise format for doing business that involves our community’s civil rights. If we had deeper leadership learning about and abiding by these principles, I deeply believe we’d be a better and more just movement. Until then, I think HRC is too much of an organization that allows others to use its power and growth for personal gain, access and power. I am hopeful, with its new leadership change, we will see a focus on sustainable support for grassroots efforts, more strategic and proactive lobbying efforts and relationship building on The Hill that is not only benefiting one person or organization, but the “movement” and our community as a whole.
RR: Who is more dangerous: Bachmann or Perry? Can they be stopped?
RM: I definitely believe that Perry is more dangerous, because I believe that Bachmann is more beatable. Both of these people are very, very scary and detrimental to the LGBT, and minority communities in general, and that is why, although I can still continue to be frustrated with my President, Barack Obama, I will still support his presidency over theirs, any day of the week.
THE DEEP SOUTH
RR: Could you be as effective in your work, living back in Jackson, MS? How has being from the south or a smaller town (like many of us) shaped us into being who we have become as vocal leaders?
RM: I do not believe I would have felt safe enough to speak up and out, as I do today, had I stayed in MS. I’d love to move back to MS and open a branch of Equality Mississippi, but I would not be willing to do that while my children are in public schools. Currently, I live in a town that is not much different from the soil I ran away from, but I look at it as a message from God that I need to do the work, not run from the work. So, I’m in the Central Valley of Fresno, doing the work that I feel must be done – and, although I long for the small town feel, I do not miss the blatant discrimination that was/is felt in the South. I also think that, because of my experience living in the South, it is as you say – an influence on the vocal person I am today – I was influenced by the social movements that were happening in the South and I also knew that it was not far to be forced to survive in the inequality state of MS, while others found home in the safe spaces of friendly meccas. It is not fair to have our homes, our communities, our families hijacked from us, but when you have no safe alternative – leaving is the only thing that feels safe. We must do the work to change that.
RR: What did you think of the movie, “The Help?” Was this your childhood experience?
RM: I enjoyed “The Help” for many different reasons. I thought the acting was superb. My mom had a hard time watching it because she felt like it gave a bad name to Jackson, MS – her and my hometown – but, I know that her feelings came from a space of protectiveness and not denial that deep racism did and still does exist in the state of Mississippi. Hell, racism is rampant across the world, it is just sad to know that our country is not smart enough to learn from our very clear lessons and do better. And, that is not only said in reference to LGBT issues, I am addressing immigration policies, economic injustice, etc – that is continuing to plague us as a country. My childhood experience was deeply influenced by the activist work of Martin Luther King, Jr, Medgar Evers and the countless other historical images, landmarks and people I learned from as I was growing up in Jackson. I went to fully integrated schools, but also had to take action in my high school to have the Rebel Flag removed as our high school symbol – so, although we were integrated – the messages of hate and exclusion were/are still present.
STRAIGHT TALK, TOUGH LOVE
RR: The most heated discussion I have had this week with friends is whether banning bachelorette parties from gay bars in Chicago is discriminatory or if it is the right reaction to flaunting ones ability to legally be married in the face of those who can’t be. How would you weigh in on that? And what was the most heated discussion you had this week, with whom and did it change your mind any?
RM: I think it is a very valid point that we, as a community, should be standing up for ourselves and showing the harms and results of continued discrimination. Making a clear stand that LGBT services should not be offered to those who are accepting a civil right that we are denied, in my humble opinion, only advocates our injustice more clearly. But, I do believe we need a strong ally base and it may mean working out with the LGBT bars in Chicago, that do host these events, a clear process on how straight allies can support the fight for LGBT equality.
The most heated discussion I have been in this week, with my 8 year old son, Sebastian, who did not want to do his homework. And, yes, the discussion changed me to think more about how tired he is and what might be going on in his world that might not make my request so important. Same with politics, my focus is gaining my equality, but I have to be fair and also realize that our representatives have a million others with the area of focus that is important to them – it’s my job to understand that dynamic and figure out ways to highlight a way my injustice needs to be addressed with urgency as well.