It's always interesting how things are never exactly what they seem when it comes to Equality California, one of the leading gay rights groups in the state and a major force behind the failed "No on 8" campaign.
Whether it's caused by the leadership of Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors or some kind of strange, institutional culture within the organization, there's often a controversy brewing about the way they do business. EQCA's announcement that it would be pushing for a 2012 pro-gay marriage ballot measure is just one more example.
The latest ruckus involves Equality California and Yes! on Equality, a grassroots, gay rights group that has filed language with the state Attorney General's Office for a 2010 pro-gay marriage ballot measure. Yes! on Equality charges that Equality California raised over $1 million statewide by calling up people and expressly telling them that the gay rights group was pushing forward with a 2010 ballot measure. Equality California essentially says this didn't happen.
In an email obtained by Queer Town, members of Yes! on Equality wrote to Equality California honchos that in early July, "it was brought to our attention that EQCA had hired a
professional fundraising corporation known as Grassroots Campaigns Inc. Since then, we have heard numerous reports that this money was being raised with a script promoting Gay Marriage in 2010." According to Yes! on Equality, EQCA has raised over $1 million statewide through this effort.
Chaz Lowe, one of the founders of Yes! on Equality, confirms his group sent the email, which then asks EQCA if at least some of that cash will go towards the 2010 effort that other gay marriage groups, such as Courage Campaign, are pushing. If not, Yes! on Equality asks, will that money be refunded?
"At the very least," the email reads, "people should be able to request a refund, if they
wish, as numerous individuals were assured that their money was being
used for 2010."
Equality California's Marriage Director Marc Solomon responded to Yes! on Equality with his own email, which Equality California spokeswoman Vaishalee Raja gave to Queer Town.
Solomon did not dispute the amount of money that was raised or that Grassroots Campaigns was working for EQCA, but he did write that the fund raising group was "specifically and repeatedly told not to mention a particular year for a ballot initiative."
"We have heard of about a dozen cases where canvassers have not followed this directive, and we have immediately gotten in touch with GCI to correct the error. GCI has repeatedly told its canvassers to focus on the issue and not discuss the year in which we would return to the ballot box. If anyone on this list has been asked to donate for 2010, we are very sorry. These canvassers were not following the explicit instructions they were given."
Chaz Lowe thinks there's still something fishy happening, and he should know.
In June, for example, L.A. Weekly reported how Geoff Kors and Marc Solomon offered jobs to Lowe and other members of Yes! on Equality at Equality California. By putting them on the payroll, Lowe thought, Equality California was essentially trying to buy the ballot measure language they had filed with the Attorney General's office.
With the latest brouhaha, Lowe writes to Queer Town that he finds Solomon's response "highly questionable."
"We contacted a few directors/workers with Grassroots Campaigns and were informed that the
money was being raised for 2010," writes Lowe via email. "There were several people on the call
when we dialed CGI about the money being raised. Not to mention, what
are the odds that dozens of CGI workers would make the same 'mistake?'"
It certainly does seem odd, which made me look back at my notes for an interview I conducted with Marc Solomon in late May.
At the time, the California Supreme Court had just upheld Proposition 8, and the feeling in the streets and among many gay rights activists was that 2010 was the best year to go back to ballot, particularly since gay marriage advocates did not want to compete for money and volunteers with President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.
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When I asked Solomon what year he thought was best for a new, pro-gay marriage ballot measure, he replied, "We believe 2010 is the year." A few months later, though, that line of thinking had obviously changed.
Which is fine. People change their minds all the time for different reasons, and hopefully for the right reasons. But that seems to be the problem with Equality California -- other gay rights activists regularly complain that EQCA often seems to look out for itself first and foremost, and what's right for the larger gay community comes second.
It was this kind of mindset, they say, that brought the disastrous results of this past November, and now Equality California and Geoff Kors want to lead the charge again. It understandably makes people nervous.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.