While the gay-marriage movement is far from played out, advocacy organizations are beginning to look ahead at shifting the momentum of the marriage movement to other issues facing the community, according to a new study.
"At the Crossroads: The Future of the LGBT Movement" suggests that these organizations need to expand their vision and cultivate new allies to keep the momentum going. The study was released in June under the auspices of the Building Movement Project, a New York City-based organization committed to developing research tools, training materials and partnership opportunities supporting nonprofits. The authors sent questionnaires to 62 advocacy organizations across the country; of those, 58 percent were returned.
Co-author Frances Kunreuther admitted that the methodology and results were unscientific, but said several overlapping concerns emerged from the surveys. The most universal was setting policy goals that extended beyond gay marriage.
"People were saying, 'we know marriage isn't enough, and we should be thinking ahead to the next ten years,'" she said. "Depending on who you talked to, some people felt correctly focused on marriage and some felt usurped by it."
"What surprised us is that the leadership is really thinking ahead, and considered [marriage-related] gains as gains towards total equality," Kunreuther added.
She suggested that the LGBT rights movement begin looking for opportunities that might help build a more "embedded" base of allies, rather than depend primarily on supporters who emerge at times of ballot initiatives and important legislation. "When the base changes, that's when change is really embedded. Expand the vision and we will have more wins."
"The question becomes, Can you embed those gains in the hearts and minds and everyday practices of our everyday lives? I think we see the hard work people have done on gay marriage, and it has both rewards and limitations," Kunreuther said.
If the gay-rights movement were to adopt a strategy more concentrated on anti-discrimination, for example, they might be able to foster alliances with other movements. "At a time when the Voting Rights Act was just gutted, we should be fighting discrimination against immigrants and people of color. Reproductive rights for women would be another focus. We could build momentum and expand that base."
"I thought it was great that, when the Voting Rights Act was put down, so many LGBT groups came out for so many of their brothers and sisters who had lost tremendous tools for equal rights," Kunreuther added. "We need to do much, much more of that."
The study authors also asserted that building an infrastructure extending across the U.S. is vital. A great deal of activism centers on the east and west coasts, where much of the nation's LGBT population is concentrated. But that hinders lasting relationships between large organizations and grassroots organizers in other parts of the country. Furthermore, regional organizations are often underfunded and rely on their leadership to work for little to no payturnover is higher, which can sometimes contribute to a lack of cohesive vision.
"Inside the Beltway groups have done a tremendous job with gaining access," Kunrether said. "But if they're not connected to the base and don't hear the base, they're not going to make the types of gains that are necessary. It's not a question of refocusing their strategy; it's a question of making new connections. So you don't just go into states to raise money or mobilize during national electionsyou go into states to build longstanding relationships."
Those relationships, she added, could better forge ties so advocacy groups and policymakers could focus on other issues that might not have shared the spotlight with gay marriage so much, such as transgender issues or LGBT poverty, for example, and continue the struggle for full marriage equality across the country.
"The amazement we still feel at the striking down of DOMA and the support of gay marriage is really remarkable," said Kunreuther. "We have had some sharp focus on marriagethat was the right strategy at the timebut to make the gains we need to expand the vision. We will have more allies and people on the ground to make things happen; we can't do that alone."
For more information on the study, visit www.buildingmovement.org .