the lgbt movement did not, it turns out, tone it down

“Groups Debate Slower Strategy on Gay Rights” was the title of this 2004 NY Times article that I just discovered in my file drawer.* In which the author describes a bedraggled and frustrated LGBT movement just weeks after George W. Bush had been elected to his second term.

In the past week alone, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, has accepted the resignation of its executive director, appointed its first non-gay board co-chairman and adopted a new, more moderate strategy, with less emphasis on legalizing same-sex marriages and more on strengthening personal relationships…

One official said the group would consider supporting President Bush’s efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the program.

While the article quotes two academics, George Chauncey and Jonathan D. Katz , who disagreed with a sharp, “They are, of course, completely wrong,” the most interesting tiff is among politicians:

Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said it was important for the movement to sensibly pick its fights…In recent weeks Mr. Frank has been particularly critical of Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco for his decision earlier this year to allow thousands of gay couples to wed at City Hall. The marriages, which Mr. Frank called “spectacle weddings,” were later invalidated by the California Supreme Court.

It is pretty clear at this point that Newsom’s “spectacle weddings” were very important to social change, both culturally and legally. Barney Frank is now married to his long-time partner, James Ready.

I don’t want to be accused of implying that all is well for LGBT rights and equality, but it certainly is a very different political world 10 years later.


*Is printing and filing research-relevant news stories a thing normal people did as late as 2004? Doubtful.

7 thoughts on “the lgbt movement did not, it turns out, tone it down”

  1. more on strengthening personal relationships

    Of course, all this is easy in hindsight, but that does sound really wimpy for an organization that had demography so plainly on its side. Even so, the change in public opinion on same-sex marriage is the most profound trend in public opinion in our lifetime.


  2. In 2006, I interviewed Cheryl Jacques, who was the HRC Executive that this story refers to as having just resigned, after only a few months (and one very disappointing election). She was very positive about the movement, especially about same-sex marriage. She told me that when people saw lesbian and gay people as parents, and when their kids were friends with the kids of same-sex couples, everything would change.

    Her ideas are looking pretty smart in hindsight.


  3. Jeremy: what do you mean “demography on its side?” I’m not familiar with arguments for why gay marriage tipped.

    Let’s hope pot is next so we can put a dent in mass incarceration.


    1. I’m not sure Andrew shows the strong age gradient. Younger people are much more pro-gay. But there is also strong within-individual change across ages.


      1. Now I feel a little sheepish that I didn’t link to my article with Bob Andersen, which as OW kindly points out, demonstrates that within-age-group changes are really happening–a rarely seen phenomenon. And you will also see there that younger cohorts hold vastly different attitudes than older ones. Our data are on attitudes toward homosexuality, not same-sex marriage specifically (a question that wasn’t asked in earlier surveys).


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