Not only do I live by the "if you can't say anything nice" rule, but I also believe that a city-wide newspaper is not the place for criticism that might be hurtful to people's feelings (It's uncivil!). Even when covering controversial topics like same-sex marriage and civil unions--which I do with alarming regularity within these pages--I picture every word as a finger that gently plucks the reader's heartstrings.
So you can imagine how exasperated I was to read Just Out's May 6 feature article, "Is Love Makes a Family Still Effective?" which took aim at one of the state's oldest Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) rights groups, and in particular its founder, Bonnie Tinker.
Actually, I'll can the nicey-nice bullshit--it's making me ill. Here's why this thing is fucked: Even the most generous reading should show the Just Out article was little more than a blatant attempt to discredit one of Basic Rights Oregon's loudest critics through the pages of Oregon's only GLBT newspaper, based on zero evidence. Its author, Jaymee Cuti (a former Mercury contributor), ostensibly set out to uncover LMAF's financial wrongdoing--but after coming up empty-handed, filled the article with quotes from BRO supporters shit-talking the organization.
Why is that notable? Ultimately, it nailed the coffin on two lingering questions: 1.) Whether Just Out is anything more than BRO's publicity arm and 2.) whether BRO, the most powerful GLBT rights group in the state, has the maturity to cope with criticism from within the progressive community (you can read the article and draw your own conclusions). Funny enough, the question it didn't answer is whether Love Makes a Family is still effective.
Speak Now (But Not Against Us)
The schism between LMAF and BRO dates back to early last year, just before BRO approached Multnomah County about marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Tinker has since been critical of BRO's strategy, saying it generally excludes members of other civil rights groups--notably Love Makes a Family--from the decision-making process. Tinker isn't the only one making this claim; numerous community members have voiced similar complaints, but would only speak off the record.
She has also said the No On 36 campaign failed largely because of BRO's failure to partner with faith groups early on and disputes the wisdom of aggressively pushing for civil unions, which were declared "unacceptable" and "inadequate" before Measure 36 was passed last November.
Interestingly, when Tinker was given the opportunity to respond to the attacks against her for this story, she took the high road, choosing instead to take the diplomatic route.
"Just Out alludes to differences in program and strategy between BRO and Love Makes a Family, and it's unfortunate that they didn't discuss that in more detail," she said with an amazing amount of tact. The official response from the LMAF board of directors was equally diplomatic.
On the flip side, each of the interviewees in the Just Out story made the most of their chance to paint Tinker as unstable, disruptive, out of touch, and ineffective.
Also caught in the cheap shot was a little known group called the Equality Coalition, which was started by Portland Community College students in response to the passage of Measure 36. The coalition comprised dozens of individuals and groups with the goal of promoting equality for all. Member groups included United Sexualities, PFLAG, and Love Makes a Family. Although still in its infancy, the Equality Coalition was deemed "toxic" by Rev. Tara Wilkins of Community of Welcoming Congregations, a close BRO ally.
The only "evidence" for this toxicity goes back to December, when BRO held its now-infamous "Speak Now" public forum in Portland. By all accounts, conflict between BRO and its GLBT critics spun wildly out of control; even though it was only Tinker and one other Equality Coalition member who were vocally criticizing BRO's No On 36 campaign strategy, the blame was placed on the entire Coalition--despite the fact there had only been one informal Equality meeting before the forum. (Interestingly, BRO is also a member of the coalition.) The future of the coalition now is unclear, with its members deciding to take a break at least through the summer.
Go Along, and Get Along
In response to the article, Just Out received a handful of letters calling them on the transparency of their suckerpunch. Dave Mazza, editor of The Portland Alliance, also chimed in, using his June editorial to debunk the article. Just Out publisher Marty Davis, however, was still willing to go to the mat for the piece. In the June 3 issue, Davis said, "I find it ironic that Just Out is accused of stifling dissent and difference of opinion at the same time we're being told not to promote dissent and difference of opinion." Problem is, it isn't really dissent when you're propagandizing for the group in power, and difference of opinion doesn't mean character assassination.
In the end, Just Out's flying fists haven't only landed on Tinker and the Equality Coalition; they've given black eyes to both the civil rights movement and local journalism. First, the paper has shown that if you are fighting for equal rights but disagree with BRO's decision making, you can expect to face a campaign to discredit you personally and professionally. And if you've really pissed someone off, you'll find it splayed out in the pages of the most widely read GLBT forum in the state (keep an eye out for the next Just Out cover story, "Why Scott Moore Is a Homophobic Douche Bag"). What other lesson could they possibly be trying to teach us?
Second, it shows that the current movement for equal rights for Oregon's queer population has no room for anyone not toeing the BRO line. In reality, if Oregon is ever going to achieve true equality, it's going to require a social movement that is mature enough to encompass a wide range of groups and ideologies--and that includes both BRO's pragmatic legislative work and Grandma Bonnie's "radical" methods.