“Movement Malpractice?” Jennifer Chrisler Responds to Criticism over Attending White House Events

Today, our own Executive Director, Jennifer Chrisler, wrote a guest
post for Pam’s House Blend. We’re proud to be
cross-posting her statements and Pam Spaulding’s comments here:

This is a guest post by Jennifer Chrisler of the Family
Equality Council; as executive director for the organization, she
attended the Presidential limited federal benefits extension
signing ceremony last week. Chrisler is also one of the invitees at
the White House’s upcoming commemoration of Stonewall, billed by
the administration as an event in the vein of its St. Patrick’s Day
or Cinco de Mayo fetes. Jennifer is here to share her view that
this social gathering is an opportunity for members of the
community to meet with the President and convey their thoughts
about progress (or the lack thereof) and to keep open communication
channels with those who can effect change.

Of course there are others who do not share Chrisler’s view,
and believe that the social event should be boycotted and is
nothing more than a dog-and-pony show opportunity for this White
House, with those attending being used as PR props. I’ll give my
personal take at the end of the essay.

Movement Malpractice?

By Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of Family Equality

Malpractice is defined as engaging in professional wrongdoing that
will result in harm.

As one of those many leaders across the country fighting for
equality for LGBT families, failure to accept the President’s
invitation to meet with him at the White House this coming Monday
would be committing “Movement malpractice.”

For more years than I care to remember we have bemoaned the lack of
access and the lack of progress at the federal level for LGBT equal
rights. It is no surprise then that after years of toiling to elect
fair-minded leaders, and with the assumption that we now have that
in the White House and the Congress, we want action and we want it
swiftly. When we¹ve struggled as a community for more years than
we care to count to achieve equality and we believe for the first
time that it is now achievable, our hopes are incredibly high. The
knife of disappointment cuts that much deeper and the wounds take
much longer to heal.

But that anger, justified as it may be, is no reason to stage a
walk off. Time and time again LGBT people have suffered painful
setbacks in our struggle to achieve equality. Giving up and walking
away from the work is not an option for effective leaders. Each
time, we must re-group and re-strategize for the challenges ahead.
Walking away from the opportunity to meet with the leader of the
free world to make our case for equality yet again would be
movement malpractice on my part.

That is why I will be at the White House on Monday, commemorating
the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots. I will be there in the
spirit of those who stood up for themselves and all of us in June
1969. If anything, it insults those who came before us, on whose
shoulders we stand, to not acknowledge the birth of the modern LGBT
rights movement at the invitation of the President of the United

My job as Executive Director is to educate and enlighten lawmakers
and the American public about our families, the impact
discrimination has upon them and to advocate for full equality.
That means speaking up and speaking out, in EVERY venue possible so
that we remind those in power that real lives and real families are
affected by their actions and inactions. This act of speaking up
and speaking out is something every LGBT person needs to do. I
already do this on behalf of my family and the families I serve
everyday at soccer games, at school fundraisers, around the table
during Sunday dinners and yes, finally, at the White House with the
President of The United States.

On June 17th, I stood with the President prior to his signing of a
Presidential Memorandum extending some federal benefits to same-sex
couples. In those few minutes I showed him pictures of my twin 7
year old boys. I spoke to him about the millions of children like
mine being raised by LGBT parents and how important his leadership
is to protect families. He looked and he listened and we made a
connection — one parent to another. And he got my message. Our
families are more alike than we are different. And my family
deserves the same rights and protections as his family.

At Family Equality Council we train LGBT parents to share their
personal stories with friends, family, co-workers, educators, faith
leaders and elected officials. We know that when the public is
educated about our families, we change hearts and minds. We are
proud of the impact our advocacy has had all around the country one
person at a time. Youth bravely standing up to school
administrators who deny them gay-straight alliances. Parents
bravely standing up to politicians who deny them custody and family
recognition. Grandparents who challenge their faith leaders about
the inclusion of their grandchildren in their places of

Speaking up is never easy but it is the strongest tool we have in
our quest for equal justice.

When Sharon from Illinois tells us of the devastating financial
impact her family is experiencing because her company doesn’t offer
domestic partner health benefits for her long term partner who is
receiving expensive medical treatment, people listen and learn.

When Martha, who lives in the Netherlands, tells us she cannot move
back to the United States to be with her ailing 80 year old mother
because her wife is not allowed in the country and Martha cannot
sponsor her as a heterosexual spouse could, people listen and

And when Chris & Rich and their teenage children tell the
President on Monday, that their California marriage is just as
meaningful as those shared by their straight counterparts, the
President will listen and hopefully learn.

These are our stories. These and thousands more are the compelling
arguments we present for equal treatment under the law. On Monday,
while at the White House, in the company of those who can change
our laws to provide equality I will tell these stories.

For decades we have been invisible to our government. Today, we
have a President who is welcoming us to his home and wants to hear
from us. He has made promises that our community will hold him
accountable for, and I hope on Monday he will speak with the
passion and conviction his voice carried forward on the campaign

Yes, I will be at the White House this Monday. I will have one of
the most important conversations we can have with one of the most
important leaders in our nation¹s history.

I will honor the bravery and vision of the LGBT families I work
daily to support. I will share their stories with people in power
and mince no words about what we want, when we want it and how.

This is the oath of my office. Hold me to mine, as I work to hold
the President to his.

Jennifer Chrisler is Executive Director of Family Equality
Council, the national LGBT organization working to ensure equality
for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families by building
community, changing hearts and minds, and advancing social justice
for all families. Jennifer is raising her twin sons with her
same-sex spouse in Newton, MA.

{Pam from Pam’s House Blend joins in the commentary:}

My two cents — I think our community should meet with the
President for substantive discussions about policy; I also believe
that social gatherings can present a means of cultivating
communication and relationships between groups, particularly ones
that need to bridge gaps in strategy, outlook, and timelines about

That said, there’s not a lot of trust out there for our various
professional advocacy organizations, based on the tons of email to
me (thousands – my inbox is a mess), Facebook messages (another
mess) from average LGBT people. And these are the orgs that are
seen by the White House, Congress, and the MSM as representing the
voices of the community. A common theme is that for too many of our
“leaders” there is more emphasis on personal and professional
upward social/political/financial mobility than there is community
advocacy. Similarly, charges of fealty to the administration at the
expense of the good of the community for the sake of gaining
employment (well, DC is a company town, right) has been a running

Well, from my POV, since I don’t need a job in the admin, or work
for one of these organizations, or live inside the Beltway (or get
invited to these events, lol), it appears the truth lies somewhere
in between. No, we don’t vote for who serves as leaders of the LGBT
community; the people who are there stepped up to the plate. They
work long and hard to do the right thing from their perspective,
and often feel they are in a no-win situation and can’t please
everyone. That said, those same people have to take the public
lumps for the miscues, dodges, mistakes and biases that set the
community back as well — after all, they are $$ by the
community. How about each invitee to that White House Stonewall
gathering bring a discharged service member to meet the President,
or someone who was fired for being gay in the private sector? What
about bringing as a guest a transperson beaten as a result of a
hate crime? There’s a bit of reality to bring to the President’s
attention, some activism in that social setting.

I want to remind folks of the Call to Action of The Dallas Principles:


1. We demand that government officials act now to achieve full
civil rights without delay.
2. Our organizations and individuals need to develop a
collaborative and revolutionary new organizing model that mobilizes
millions of supporters through emerging web and phone

3. All LGBT individuals must accept personal responsibility to do
everything within their power for equality and should get involved
in the movement by volunteering, giving and being out.

4. We will hold elected officials and our organizations accountable
for being transparent and achieving full civil rights by active
participation when possible and active opposition when

5. Our allies need to be proactive in public support for full civil

6. Every government measure that quantifies the US citizenry must
permit LGBT individuals to self-identify and be counted in every
way citizens are counted.

7. We demand that the media present LGBT lives in fair, accurate
and objective ways that neither include nor give credence to
unsubstantiated, discriminatory claims and opinions.

In this new world of politics and activism, “leadership” is more
than someone who earns a paycheck for an organization that
represents a specific portion of our community. The face of
leadership has changed — it’s not just a figurehead, it’s all of
you — those who take the responsibility of contacting, meeting and
holding your elected officials accountable. Those of you who show
up to volunteer, those who organize — online or offline — to
mobilize action; individuals who come out of the closet in
less-hospitable parts of the country — that’s the most powerful
advocacy tool of all.

The real problem is that there is often a lack of alignment between
leadership and the grassroots, exacerbated by differences in race,
class, gender, location — a multitude of factors. And the
principal difference is access to those in power. The advocacy
groups have served as the buffer between political institutions and
the average LGBT citizen. Messages that are not in alignment can
and do result in PR and policy disasters of epic proportions, not
because everyone isn’t on the same page, but because they often
aren’t even in the same library in the same country. It appears
that many LGBTs out there see much of the community’s leadership as
out-of-touch, unwilling to listen, and, by extension, cannot be
trusted to lead and hold a slippery administration accountable lest
they lose access.

And that’s where the fundraiser comes into play. While one can
debate the utility of social gatherings to effect change, it’s
impossible to justify emptying the gAyTM to support repeated
nose-thumbing at the community by this administration and the Dem
party, either by silence, foot-dragging, evasive answers or
outright offensive acts like some of the arguments lodged in the
DOMA brief. You have money to donate? Give to your state
organization; give to specific candidates that don’t pussyfoot
about supporting equality. Send a message.

It’s been made clear over the last few days that while the social
glue of niceties is one thing, withholding cold hard cash gets
attention much more quickly. And your pressure on this LGBT DNC
fundraiser, as the invited guest list shrinks by the day, can be
repeated over and over. The DNC is hurting, take a look at the May
fundraising date. Those queer dollars aren’t meaningless, or you
wouldn’t see the scrambling for crumbs to toss at the

What we need is better and more engagement all around, less
paranoia, more reality-based conversations — within the community
and with those in power, not efforts to stifle dissent or worse,
pretend it doesn’t exist — or that it can be solved at a cocktail
party or barbecue with a particular group of people.