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Cleve Jones: Corporate Money Has Too Much Influence on LGBT Movement

by Peter Cassels
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Apr 4, 2012

Longtime activist Cleve Jones told EDGE during a wide-ranging interview in Boston on Monday that he fears the LGBT movement may be losing its way and that corporate money has too strong an influence.

A close friend of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco supervisor assassinated in 1978, Jones was portrayed by Emile Hirsch is the Oscar-winning 2008 movie "Milk."

He went on to found the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987. The project grew to become the world's largest community arts project, memorializing the lives of more than 85,000 Americans who died from HIV/AIDS.

Jones has been on the staff of UNITE HERE, a union representing workers in the hospitality and related industries in the United States and Canada, for the last six years. He visited Boston to speak to Local 26 members and MassEquality and described his mission as strengthening the coalition between the LGBT and labor movements.

"One of the most important and central questions is whether or not we are a progressive movement and whether we care about other communities and other issues," said Jones. "The big philosophical question is what kind of movement we want this to be now that we appear to winning. A movement that seeks to advance only its own members is going to accomplish little. I want to be in a movement that transforms the lives of millions of people."

Jones said he worries about corporations that pour large amounts of money into the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other national LGBT organizations. Citing HRC's appointment of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein as a spokesperson for its national marriage equality campaign, he expressed fears that LGBT groups have become beholden to corporations.

Jones said the move shows HRC is "either remarkably tone deaf, is incredibly cynical or it was maybe bought and paid for." The activist also pointed to the brouhaha over the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's initial endorsement of AT&T's decision to merge with cell phone service provider T-Mobile.

Then-GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission supporting the merger. The organization ultimately withdrew its endorsement and AT&T has since cancelled plans to buy its competitor.

The firestorm of protest "cost Jarrett Barrios his job, pretty much ruined his career and was a body blow to GLAAD," said Jones. "This would not have happened had it not been for AT&T's influence."

He also cited the Hyatt Corporation, the hotel chain that he said is marketing "very aggressively to the gay community, offering sponsorships and deals and claiming to be this great place for gay people to work." He further contends that the company "brutally exploits immigrant women, has a very high rate of on-the-job injuries and non-union Hyatts require workers to endure conditions that I would find intolerable."

He cited examples of hospitality workers and LGBTs working together to effect change. These include successful boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego after its owner made a substantial donation to the group that successfully placed Proposition 8 on the ballot in California. Workers' calls to boycott the Sheraton Anchorage prompted the Imperial Court of All Alaska to move that state's largest LGBT fundraising event out of the hotel after 40 years.

Jones said the soul-searching and finger-pointing that followed Prop 8's passage taught the LGBT movement a valuable lesson.

"We needed to do a better job in communicating our message to working families, immigrants and people of faith, a population we haven't been particularly successful in reaching," he said.

He noted that all labor unions support LGBT rights and fight for protections during contract negotiations.

Jones is no longer involved with the NAMES Project, which fired him over a disagreement in the organization's direction. The parties reached a settlement after he sued, but he said it's violated the deal.

"It breaks my heart," he acknowledged. "The quilt panels live in a storage facility in Atlanta. I'm disappointed in the leadership. I feel they decommissioned one of the most effective weapons in the war against AIDS. But in many ways my own personal rupture with the foundation ended up moving me in new directions, which are extremely positive."

Jones acknowledged that ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) will observe its 25th anniversary on April 25.

"Obviously it played an enormously important and positive role," he said. "There's been a bit of a tendency to mythologize ACT UP, which should be revisited, but its contribution was incalculable."

Asked about whether President Barack Obama will endorse marriage equality before the November election, Jones said "I kind of doubt it." He went onto say that he's been among those who have harshly criticized Obama "not just on LGBT issues."

"I will vote from him, I will campaign for him," added Jones. "With all of his problems, he is infinitely better than what the other party has to offer."

In spite of these criticisms, he said LGBTs have made enormous strides under the Obama administration.

"They have reached out to us and have publicly embraced us," he pointed out.

Jones specifically pointed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech on global LGBT equality in Geneva in December as further proof of this commitment. "I don't think people really understood how significant that was," he said.

"We don't have that kind of solidarity as a community where leaders would emerge," Jones replied when asked why the gay movement never produced leaders as happened during the early days of the civil rights movement and women's movements.

Part of that is that members of the movement don't share a common history, Jones added.

"Gay people are born into every sort of family one can imagine: every color of skin, every faith tradition, every political ideology," he said.

As others have, Jones described the LGBT community as dysfunctional.

"We are incredibly and viciously cruel to anyone in our community who accomplishes anything," he maintained. "It's a pathology."

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is pcassels@edgepublications.com.


Comments

  • , 2012-04-04 11:31:34

    I respect Cleve but he’s way off on this point. Without Corporate funding many of our c3’s in the LGBT community would shut down or would be crucially cut. Cleve just no longer understands how much money these things take nor can he provide a way to make up those crucial gaps.


  • , 2012-04-04 12:49:42

    I’m not speaking of the social service providers. I’m talking about the political advocacy groups. If you’re feeding the hungry or sheltering the poor or caring for people with HIV, I say take the money. But it you claim to represent us in the political arena, that money comes with too many strings attached. Hope that clarifies my position for you, anonymous.


  • IndianaJag, 2012-04-04 15:09:28

    We should listen to this man’s wisdom. I have long felt our movement is too self centered, and we are not inclusive. The things we fight for matter to everyone - not just GLBT folks!


  • , 2012-04-04 17:00:13

    It’s always interesting to hear Cleve’s POV. However I must chime in regarding a few key inaccuracies and ones that are ultimately slandering the character of former GLAAD CEO Jarrett Barrios. Cleve states that GLAAD’s AT&T-T-Mobile merger support "cost Jarrett Barrios his job and pretty much ruined his career." Neither are true. Barrios resigned after being pressured by the Board to support the merger. In solidarity with Barrios, almost 40% of the board resigned with him. Also, Barrios’ career is nowhere close to being ruined. In November last year, Barrios was appointed head of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts - a much more prestigious, cause-driven organization than GLAAD with operating budgets that dwarf the deficit-laden GLAAD budget. Hats off to Jarrett Barrios for rising above the political nonsense of GLAAD.


  • , 2012-04-05 07:19:54

    He’s absolutely right.


  • , 2012-04-06 08:48:17

    Hearing in person Cleve’s insight and clarity, my admiration for him has increased in reading this article. The statements "We are incredibly and viciously cruel to anyone in our community who accomplishes anything," he maintained. "It’s a pathology." points to the ongoing failing of both LGBTQ individuals and the movement. Being for equality, being driven for equality often is delivered through politically skilled hands exorcising deeply held personal unseen demons seeking to vanquish questions of self-worth through pursuit of being validated ... at any cost. Experiencing and breathing the air of global loathing seeps into our cellular makeup defining us individually as outsider, insufficient, intrinsically wrong. Seeking to undo these defining wounds often occurs on the public stage of equality pursuits while the personal experience of separation and castigation lives unaddressed. Left separate, alone and internally bleeding our damaged self value thrashes about often doing external good works to rectify this missing, often damaging others in the process of seeking self-validation. Desperately we seek our place through our western model of Hero-Gladiator, not Lover. Mixed in our internal programming is seeking validation and war. Maturing into Lover from Hero-Gladiator is yet to occur and will occur when we individually do our individual work to experience first love of our self by our self, and from that love, love for others. That Cleve is where we effectively disrupt the pathology.


  • , 2012-04-08 21:15:07

    "We don’t have that kind of solidarity as a community where leaders would emerge," Jones replied when asked why the gay movement never produced leaders as happened during the early days of the civil rights movement and women’s movements. Part of that is that members of the movement don’t share a common history, Jones added. "Gay people are born into every sort of family one can imagine: every color of skin, every faith tradition, every political ideology," he said. As others have, Jones described the LGBT community as dysfunctional. "We are incredibly and viciously cruel to anyone in our community who accomplishes anything," he maintained. "It’s a pathology." Yes, I’m afraid he’s basically right. We need to face up to the truth if the LGBT movement is to grow. I think it is largely due that, for the first few years of coming out to self, each LGBT is totally isolated from his own kind, and has been trained exclusively to be something he is not and to hate what he actually is. At least that was the case in the past; now, with Glee on TV and with the Internet, maybe things will be different.


  • Marc , 2012-05-26 00:03:57

    Gay rights is gay rights. Just because you are gay it shouldn’t obligate you to sign up for a larger left agenda of


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