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Building A Transformational Movement

The following remarks are excerpted from a keynote address given by Kerry Lobel, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, at the fifth International Bisexual Conference held in Cambridge, MA from April 3 - April 5, 1998:

Twenty-five years after my coming out, and in NGLTF's twenty-fifth year, I find myself at the helm of the oldest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization. I'd like to tell you about my vision for NGLTF and the principles I hold dear as we work for social justice.

We must be a transformational movement &endash; one that brings all people forward together and that fundamentally challenges and transforms our society. At our core, we must recognize that we too have bought into the myths about how we are culturally represented. How many of our organizations are led by people of color, by bisexual or transgendered people? How many of our organizations work on issues like affirmative action, welfare, immigration, and childcare.

We act as if we believe the myth of gay whiteness, of gay wealth and all too many of us are content to be just like everyone else. Here's the reality. Not all of us want to be like everyone else. We make a serious mistake when we create a dress code for civil rights.

As a young woman, I was taught that bisexuals were fence sitters, unwilling or unable to choose a sexual orientation, unwilling to face the stigma of being gay or lesbian, seeking comfort in heterosexual privilege. What harm was done to me and others with these very notions cannot be calculated, but the harm to our movement has been enormous.

I believe that our process as a community must reflect the world that we want to build. If we want to be like everyone else, we will act like everyone else. We will be greedy, we will value style over substance, and we will cast out those that challenge us and our comfortable assumptions.

If we want to build a movement that is transformational, we will model honesty, we will model openness and we will take the risks that challenge conventional thinking. We will act with integrity in our personal relationships and in our relationships with our colleagues. We will seek out and lift up every voice, challenged by what we hear but not afraid. We will listen to every voice.

The true test of democracy is how it embraces those who look, act, and think differently, not just those who are the same. This is the world we dream of - a more compassionate society. One that values the worth and dignity of all people.

We can't subscribe to the "I'll get mine now and we'll add you later" mode of politics. As a woman, as a lesbian, as a Jew, I can't be a woman on Thursday, a lesbian on Friday, and a Jew on Saturday. And I challenge any organization that requires that I make that choice. Perhaps it is an old fashioned notion, but I believe that to move forward, each of us must move forward together.

Bisexual and transgender activists are forever transforming our understanding of sexual expression and gender identity. You have made great progress. For the first time, bisexual and transgender leaders are part of a roundtable, convened by NGLTF, of executive directors and chairs of national GLBT political organizations.

Together, you're challenging the increased reliance on gene-based theories of sexual orientation and paving the way for each of us to accept the fluidity that for many of us is our sexual expression. And perhaps you are leading us to the day where there will be less need and desire to categorize ourselves by sexual labels.

But I challenge you to go further. I challenge each of you to break through your world to new place, to challenge your assumptions, to develop new relationships, to act as though the world that you create for yourself and your community is the model that each of us should live by. I challenge to tear down your walls, to tear down your stereotypes, and to lead.


©1998 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.