Controversy erupts between activists, Equality March organizers

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 6, 2009

As groups around the country prepare to publicly demonstrate LGBT solidarity by attending the National Equality March, event organizers have found themselves in a series of fractious squabbles with the Dallas-based activist group Queer Liberaction.

The Rashomon-like conflict (in which each group's recollection of events differs; sometimes slightly, often significantly,) has played out in the blogosphere, in the Dallas Voice and through a series of emails and phone calls between the two groups.

EDGE recently spoke with representatives from the two groups - and found while both sides stand by their previous statements and perspectives, they said they are willing to meet in an effort to clear the air and achieve their common goals.

Recent disagreements came to a head in a Sept. 24 email National Equality March Executive Committee member Mark Reed sent to Queer Liberaction co-founder Blake Wilkinson. Reed, who offered to purchase Wilkinson's plane ticket to Washington as a private individual, withdrew the offer.

"I am canceling your free ticket to Washington and informing you in time so you can still make affordable plans," Reed wrote. "Although I was tempted to wait one day before the march, that is not my style.... and fostered out of anger that unlike you, I have learned how to control. As someone that has been working extremely hard to help promote the march, I am very disappointed that you have not done jack shit to help. Instead, you are posting lies on your web site and facebook page about the organizers of this event."

Reed's email message further quoted text on the Queer Liberaction Web site Andy Thayer of the Chicago-based Gay Liberaction Network wrote. The text criticized March organizers for "targeting congressional districts and lobbying Congress in an effort to win legal equality, the organizers' strategy looks suspiciously like a drive to elect and re-elect Democrats in the 2010 bi-elections, rather than make uncompromising demands on this President and his Congress."

"Lie: You obviously haven't read anything about our strategy and I do not have time to explain it to you," Reed responded.

Wilkinson maintained Reed rescinded his ticket because of what he described as a "difference of political opinion." He added he feels Reed made his decision after Queer Liberaction criticized the march.

"I'd love to have a conversation; to meet with him (Wilkinson) and talk about our side of this. Every part of activism has importance and value and the only way we're going to get anywhere is if we not put down each others efforts and att

"I got an angry call from Mark Reed when Cleve Jones was in town promoting the march, about the text that had been on the Gay Liberation Network site," Wilkinson said. "When I got that call, we subsequently put it up on our site."

Robin McGehee, a national co-director of the National Equality March, said Reed has been involved since June.

"The moment he joined, the first group he gave his airline miles was Fairness Forth Worth. Blake contacted him, he met with Mark, and that's when Mark decided to buy him a ticket." she said.

The passage of time - and the impending March - has resulted in a more conciliatory tone from both sides (at least in press interviews. There's been no direct communication between Reed, McGehee and Wilkinson since the September 24 e-mail.)

"I offered to meet with the organizers to clear up any misinformation," Wilkinson told EDGE in an Oct. 4 e-mail. "We would never knowingly put out false information or lies as Reed suggests. Instead of agreeing to meet with me to go over information the organizers said that they preferred to send an email. The only email I received was the one canceling my airline ticket. Others who received airfare were copied on the email, perhaps to send a message on what happens when you step out of line."

McGehee countered

"I'd love to have a conversation; to meet with him (Wilkinson) and talk about our side of this," she said. "Every part of activism has importance and value and the only way we're going to get anywhere is if we not put down each others efforts and attack from all sides."

Reed agreed.

"I would love, after we get done with the march, to get together and talk about what we've learned from this experience and how we can work together in the future," he said. "I believe in their (Queer Liberaction's) strategy."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.