This Saturday, Equality NC held its third annual Equality Conference at UNC Greensboro, an event which I attended along with a small group of Duke students. Of the sessions that I attended (and taking into account my exhaustion that day...oh lord, the stories...), one of the more interesting panels was a discussion of the Dallas Principles by some of its authors, Pam Spalding, Mandy Carter, and Jimmy Creech. For those of you who are not aware of what the Dallas Principles are, in short they are a list of goals, guiding principles, and a call to action for the LGBT rights movement, drafted by leaders in the movement in May of 2009. The crux of this document was the urgency and impatience of some in the LGBT rights movement, the sense that our rights must be won now, that you are either with us or against us, that our allies in government will only be counted as our allies if they actively work to help us attain our rights, and that the pussyfooting of this administration around working for full equality for the LGBT community will no longer be tolerated.
But what does this actually mean? What difference can the Dallas Principles really make? While these might have been created by the minds of many of this movement's leaders, unless these demands and goals are incorporated into the language of the larger movement, their effects seem to be minimal. And along the lines of embracing these goals, there is certainly still contention as to whether or not these principles really encompass the best path forward for the movement right now. One of the more immediate arguments confronts the demand of the authors of the Dallas Principles that change happen now. For some, this might appear to be a dangerous or reckless approach that would cut off more gradual methods of gaining rights (although the panel addressed this in their response to a similar question, clarifying that the principles were not meant to negate the organic evolution and calculated strategy of the movement). This issue is being grappled with throughout the movement. For example, a couple months ago Equality organizations in California voted on whether or not they would work toward repealing Proposition 8 in 2010 or wait until 2012. While some argued that we cannot wait, that marriage equality must be taken back now, that we need to use the momentum we have instead of running the risk of it fizzling out, others contended that we need more time to educate our neighbors and develop a more concrete foundation for winning this fight against Prop 8 at the ballot.
In addition to questions concerning the validity of the Principles themselves, a debate in which I personally fall on the side of largely agreeing with the goals and principles set forth, one of the greatest challenges for the propagation of these ideas is the ability of its authors and supporters to make these goals an integral part of the movement and how the movement functions. While the panel on the Dallas Principles at the Equality NC 2009 Equality Conference might have been informative for those that chose to go to it, what assurance is there that these participants will be willing to, or even have any interest in, spreading their new-found understanding? For that matter, what assurance is there that participants at any of the panels, or other events like the Conference, will propagate their knowledge to their peers?
There isn't any.
Like any other grassroots idea, the Dallas Principles rely on the willingness of the individual to first be educated and then be the educator. Unlike other movements that might be able to infect the minds of hundreds of thousands of followers with the ideas of a few men (cough* conservative republicans*), the movement for LGBT equality is rife with the opinions and ideas of many individually minded people working toward common goals, with different notions of how these goals might be reached. As such, it is important for us, as individuals, to evaluate each idea, each method proposed, critically and thoroughly in order to determine whether or not the suggestion conforms to our own understanding of the goals of our movement. It is our responsibility to be aware and to educate ourselves and those around us.