Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dysfunction in LGBT organizations

The Washington Blade has reported yet again on an LGBT event that combined good intentions with inept execution. Sadly, poor planning and general dysfunction are all too common in LGBT organizations. Too often, activists lose sight of where they want to go and how to get there.

Many groups have no clearly defined purpose, apart from the implicit purpose of stroking the egos of those who would rather be someone than do anything. For example, many LGBT religious ministries seem to exist only to let people play church; I do not exaggerate when I say that basic theological questions are sometimes answered with "We haven't thought that one through yet." Also, I was once involved in an LGBT political organization whose leaders kept changing their minds as to whether the organization would represent a particular position on the Nolan chart or just speak for anyone who opposed some hazily defined "Left."

Moreover, even when a group's leaders have a clearly articulated goal, they may not have thought through how to achieve it. Someone may object to solutions that have been shown to work in other contexts, for no better reason than that those solutions exceed that person's comfort level. In other words, never mind whether it works in practice; how will it look on paper? Someone else may propose a project that sounds good over cocktails until people ask, "What is it good for?" and "How shall we implement it?" Still another person may propose, and actually implement, the sort of "politics as performance art" public demonstration that alienates the very people whose sympathies we need. One activist of my acquaintance answered such objections with "Isn't it sometimes a worthwhile goal just to vent our anger?" No, it is not, nor can we afford that luxury.

Even day-to-day administrative tasks seem beyond the abilities of many LGBT organizations. We have quite a reputation for running our organizations on "gaylight savings time" and putting off major tasks until the last microsecond. One person kept reassuring me that he would be able to obtain certain materials; he ended up telling me on the morning of Pride Day that he had been unable to do so. Leaders seem particularly inept at assigning tasks; too often, the shyest person gets the pressing-the-flesh job, the busiest person gets the most time-intensive job, and, of course, the most popular person bears the onerous responsibility of showing up at the last minute to take all of the credit.

Finally, trying to address the above dysfunctions is often a waste of time. The long-term members of the organization often view it as an exclusive club and view newcomers as interlopers. Not only do they often take an NIH (not invented here) attitude to new ideas, no matter how meritorious, but they may also even answer offers to do the work with that all-purpose scathing rebuttal known as pretending not to have heard.

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