Choosing Its Battles

The Task Force Breaks its Silence on Iraq

by Will Doig
Published on January 2, 2003, 12:00am | Comments


The American Federation of Labor is linking arms with the Anti-Capitalist Convergence. The National Council of Churches is shoulder to shoulder with the ACLU. Even Noah Wyle and Camryn Manheim are signing the same protest petition, and these are two people whose programs compete for an Emmy. Nothing like the prospect of a war to bring rivals together.

After months of silence on the issue, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) joined the already eclectic anti-war movement on December 26, formally announcing their opposition to a U.S. war with Iraq. The announcement came after much speculation on whether the organization would take a position. In the past, the Task Force has opined on a range of issues, from racism to abortion to foreign policy.

NGLTF opted to join "Keep America Safe: Win Without War, " a coalition that includes the Sierra Club, the National Organization of Women, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the NAACP.

"We have grown increasingly alarmed that under the guise of a nation at war, the Bush Administration has eviscerated many of the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded, " said Task Force Executive Director Lorri L. Jean in a statement. "Without the constitutional rights and protections now being gutted by this Administration, our GLBT movement would not be where it is today. "

But despite the link that the Task Force makes between war with Iraq and the gay rights movement, critics of the decision say gay groups should stay focused on issues that directly affect the GLBT community.

"By trying to be all things to all people, they stop doing anything particularly well, " says Bob Summersgill, treasurer and former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance (GLAA). "I don't consider this war to be a gay issue at all. "

NGLTF's Deputy Executive Director Darrel Cummings disagrees. He says that as a progressive organization, the Task Force "looks at GLBT issues in the context of a broader social movement for racial and economic justice. "

"We believe it is germane to our movement at this time because of the Bush administration's overall assault on our civil liberties in the name of war, " he says. "We don't think this issue is outside our agenda. "

That agenda is out of step with the attitudes of the gay community at large, says Rick Rosendall, GLAA's Vice President of Political Affair. Rosendall was one of the most vocal critics of NGLTF's opposition to the Persian Gulf War in the early Nineties, which cost NGLTF some of its donors.

"These people claim to be patriotic, but they always blame the United States, " he says. "Lorri Jean has made it clear from the outset that she has no interest whatsoever in working with this president. "

The announcement came on the heels of a boycott of NGLTF, spearheaded by Kevin Weaver of "Out Against The War, " a coalition of GLBT groups opposed to war with Iraq. Weaver says the boycott was aimed at pressuring NGLTF to take a stand against the war, and that it ended when the Task Force made its announcement on the 26th. Weaver is generally happy with the Task Force's decision.

"NGLTF continues to be one of the few civil rights groups in the queer community that takes stances on things that are unpopular, " he says.

But Weaver is disappointed that the announcement didn't come sooner, and feels that the organization failed to assume a leadership role. There's been much speculation as to why the Task Force waited so long to announce its position. Some surmise that the group didn't want to take a controversial position just before the holidays, a critical fundraising period. Others suggest that it wanted to bury the story by announcing its position the day after Christmas, a time when many people are still on vacation and media outlets are working on a skeleton crew. When contacted for comment regarding the issue, neither Summersgill nor Weaver had heard about the announcement.

"December 26 was the first day we could issue something after the board made its decision [on December 23], " says Cummings. "Press releases by themselves don't do a lot to create change. The real work of opposing this war will be amongst a coalition of organizations. "

For NGLTF, that coalition will not be the gay-specific "Out Against The War. " Cummings says NGLTF joined Win Without War instead because it wanted to do "what would have the greatest impact. " Weaver says the group's decision not to join his coalition "doesn't matter much, " but thinks the Task Force did itself a disservice by not joining a more confrontational coalition.

At MW's press time, the Task Force had not received any feedback regarding its announcement, but Cummings says the organization is ready for a mix of support and criticism.

"NGLTF has a history of doing things that we believe are in the best interest of our community, " he says. "We remain in keeping with the progressive politic without respect to how some members of our community might view it. "