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Queer Town: The Torie Osborn Speech


Torie Osborn in downtown Los Angeles

Torie Osborn in downtown Los Angeles

In a recent speech given by Torie Osborn at a grassroots training seminar called Camp Courage, the longtime gay rights activist and former executive director of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center called for a new way of doing things within the gay establishment -- and to completely let go of the politics of victimization. It's a very post-Prop. 8, Obama-era notion, and one that was totally embraced during the street protests and boycotts this past November.

Rather than post the entire speech,

which has been circulating on the Internet, I've excerpted a section that most directly speaks to the gay community

and its leaders. There will be different interpretations of Torie Osborn's remarks, but she made it perfectly clear that change must come. With the 40th anniversary of Stonewall

soon upon us in June, these words, which were spoken about half-way

into her speech on April 19 in San Diego, may also end up in the gay history books:

"In two months, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall

riots. (I LOVE that our movement was born of a riot against police

abuse by transfolk!) For these 40 years, LGBT activists - and I've been

one of them - have pressed for our rights as a single social current.

"We've been superb activists. We led the most successful civil rights movement of the last 25 years.


"We built a network of thousands of community organizations to meet our political, social, and spiritual dreams.


"We educated our own community about AIDS when the government refused to act.


"We won many legal rights across the country, including our right be

safe on the streets and in the schools here in California.


"We defeated Anita Bryant, John Briggs, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.


"We elected our own leaders.


"We even got our own TV shows.

"We won laws to protect our right to raise families, to visit our

partners and make decisions for them when they were sick and dying. A

mere nine years ago Civil Unions seemed radical in Vermont. Now it's

retro and we have marriage in four states. FOUR STATES!


"But here in California, will we win next time? Will all those who can, be ready to join us?


"YES WE CAN! But only if we continue to transform our movement as we are

doing here this weekend. The temptation for us to do what we've done in

the past instead of what needs to be done will be strong. But what

worked 30 -- even 10 -- years ago is not what's needed now.


"We cannot carry a single agenda forward anymore and win.


"The words that galvanized the country last fall were 'YES WE CAN! SI SE

PUEDE!' - was a recognition that the time has come to set aside I in

favor of WE. YES WE CAN! swept aside the culture of identity politics

and its mentality of 'I WANT MY RIGHTS TOO,' or, 'I'm more of a victim

than you are.'


"But it's hard to leave what you know. We need our tribes. The pain of

coming out leads us to create alternative family and safe spaces. We

build support networks. But sometimes those spaces become just a little

too comfortable. We end up talking to ourselves. We isolate ourselves.


"Prop 8's passage exposed the fault lines and limits of that isolation.

It revealed that our established organizations had lost touch with the

grassroots. They had become too focused on institution-building and

forgotten about movement-building. Prop 8 revealed that our major

organizations had become disconnected from the rising tide of poverty

and despair that engulfed our natural allies in communities of color.

Prop 8 revealed the ugly racism just under the surface of our

successful movement. Prop 8 revealed that our work reaching the hearts

and minds of Californians is far from done. It shocked us. Many of us

were living our lives in the false assurance that in most Californian

eyes we were equal. We are not. Our work is not done. We need fresh

leadership, new thinking.


"To win, we need to change from a culture of mere activism to a culture

of organizing - connecting with others. We need to change from a

culture of building individual institutions to a culture of

movement-building. We need to look in the eyes of those different from

ourselves -- whoever we are -- and find our common heartbeat, our

shared belief in the American promise. The call to Fresno for the week

of the court decision is a metaphor for this change: Meet in the

Middle. We need to go where people are, literally and figuratively.

That's what organizing is. As Harvey Milk used to say, We want to

recruit you.


"Because our cause is not fundamentally about economic gain, we lost

touch with the economic divide that was slashing to smithereens

America's dream. And we lost touch with the inescapable web of

mutuality between all struggles for equality. The YES on 8 people beat

us at what should be our own game: they bill a grassroots army of

100,000 that went door to door, and they built a powerful multi-racial

coalition. It's our turn."

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.