NGLTF Executive Director
Lorrie L. Jean
(Photo by Michael Wichita )
When it comes to Iraq, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force can’t get a break.
In 1991, when the progressive organization formally opposed the Persian Gulf War, many of its donors pulled their support, saying that the group had strayed from its mission. In 2002, as the U.S. began drawing plans for yet another potential Iraqi conflict, the Task Force refrained from taking a stance — and took a hit from its pro-peace supporters. Finally, the day after Christmas, the Task Force announced that it had joined a coalition called Win Without War. Then last week, Win Without War announced that, actually, no, they hadn’t.
“Win Without War is pleased to have the interest of NGLTF, but they’re not part of the coalition because we haven’t received an application from them, ” says Lynn Erskine, Win Without War’s Project Coordinator.
In the six weeks since the Task Force asserted its alliance with the coalition, a series of miscommunications, flawed systems and erroneous assumptions have plagued the process. The debacle has incited friction between the group and its pro-peace supporters, and has reopened a can of worms that the Task Force thought they had closed on December 26.
The revelation that NGLTF had not joined Win Without War was first posted on January 30 to the website Temenos.net by activist David Mariner. Mariner reported that Win Without War had never been approached by the Task Force, and “had not heard any discussion about NGLTF from coalition members. ”
The news resonated with Task Force critics who have questioned the organization’s effectiveness. But within hours, the validity of the story itself was being challenged by NGLTF. In the article, Mariner had claimed that the Task Force was unavailable for comment, an assertion that the Task Force vehemently disputed in a terse press release later that night. The Task Force claimed that Mariner had told them their deadline to comment was January 31, but had then posted the story a day early without giving them a chance to offer their statement. By not waiting for their side of the story, the article became a one-sided indictment of the Task Force, and, according to the organization, largely inaccurate as well.
Rebutting this allegation, Mariner said he doesn’t “want to get mired in the details of that. ”
“I ended up running the story on Thursday because all my other quotes came in, ” he said. “I told [Task Force Media Relations Manager] Sheri [Lunn] that I was doing the article that week. She kind of blew me off and I didn’t think she was going to get back to me. Sometimes you just get the sense that people aren’t interested in commenting. ”
On the contrary, says the Task Force. In the press release, the organization explained their side of the story, faulting both Mariner and Win Without War for the confusion.
“NGLTF took numerous good faith actions to advise the Win Without War coalition founders that it desired to join the coalition, ” read the release. The Task Force claims to have formally endorsed the coalition statement by signing onto it online, and to have informed a majority of the coalition’s founders, as well as the public, of their desire to join.
Win Without War calls the confusion “understandable. ” The coalition just took on its first permanent staff member on January 1, and the joining process when the Task Force signed on seemed nebulous at best.
To join, an organization must have national scope and bi- or multi-partisan membership, agree with the coalition’s mission and political statements, and assign a staff member as a liaison. At press time, the coalition had still only spoken with NGLTF’s Media Relations Manager.
“They need to get on the website, look for a press release, and contact the number on the press release or contact someone in Washington, ” says Win Without War’s Erskine. “They made an effort, but there was miscommunication. ”
Though Mariner is a supporter of the the Task Force, he questions the group’s sincerity in this case.
“These are organizations that are actually doing work against the war, ” he says of Win Without War’s other members. “The Task Force says they filled out their name on a website and thought they were joining. NGLTF is the foremost leader on grassroots organizing, and they of all people know that joining a coalition is more than signing a name on a website. ”
Kevin Weaver, spokesperson for Out Against The War, a coalition of GLBT groups against war with Iraq, concurs.
“This does not instill confidence, ” he says. “They’re talking the talk but not walking the walk. ”
NGLTF remains adamant that they have taken steps to officially join the anti-war movement.
“Regardless of whether the Win Without War bureaucracy has completed or ever completes its process of ‘officially’ recognizing NGLTF as a coalition member, ” said the Task Force in a statement, “NGLTF has made its position against the war and in support of the coalition statement eminently clear. ”
Despite all of this, Mariner, a Task Force supporter since 1997, says his “feelings were hurt ” by the organization’s response to his article, which he continues to defend as “one hundred percent accurate. ”
“If [the Task Force] tells the world that they’ve joined a coalition, ” he says, “then that’s what we expect of them. ”