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Dallas does principles: Dallas Principles frame next steps [22 July, 2009]

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Over the weekend of May 15-17, 24 people gathered in a hotel room at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport to discuss the next steps for the LGBT movement.  They emerged with a set of eight points that they called the Dallas Principles.  These include statements like, “separate is never equal” and “the establishment and guardianship of full civil rights is a non-partisan issue.”  In addition, the group emerged with a list of “Full Civil Rights Goals,” which includes “Dignity and Equality,” and a “Call to Action.”  Windy City Times spoke separately to two of the authors, Juan Ahonen-Jover and Jon Winkleman, about how the document came about and where they see it going.

Ahonen-Jover and his partner Ken Ahonen-Jover are co-founders of eQualityGiving.org, an “online donor community.”  According to him, a preliminary discussion about LGBT issues came about on the group’s listserv a little while after the Obama election, and many of the discussants expressed disappointment at the pace at which LGBT issues were being addressed: “We saw that despite the tremendous success [of Democrats] , [LGBT concerns] were not translating into issues fast enough.  So we wondered, how do we accelerate?”  From there on, the discussion brewed for some time before Ahonen-Jover sent out a call to “People I knew personally on our listserv.”  He also “asked them to invite other people” to come to a meeting to discuss concrete future actions.

According to Winkleman, the 24 who eventually showed up at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport hotel were among many who had been invited.  Both men said that the meeting began without any preconceptions of what it would lead to, and that the principles were the end product of a weekend of long conversations.  According to Ahonen-Jover, the goal was to establish a broad set of directives which could guide the LGBT movement towards “full equality,” which he defined as “legal equality, to have the same protections that other groups would have.”  Winkleman said that the language was purposely kept broad in order not to confine the principles to specific issues.

Since May, the principles have gathered many signatures on the Web site and some criticism.  In the gay paper Dallas Voice, John Wright commented that “no one from the media—and certainly not Dallas Voice—was notified about this meeting in advance,” and that the authors were mostly from the coasts.  The writer and activist Jewelle Gomez, appearing on Laura Flanders’s GritTV, liked the principles but pointed out that they were crafted by people who are “predominantly male, predominantly white.”  Asked why there had not been a public callout for people to attend, Winkleman said that this was partly logistical (no one could predict the numbers that might then show up) , and partly because the organizers themselves did not go into the meeting with a clear sense of what would come about.

Judging from the biographies of the authors made available on the Web, most appear to have fundraising and political backgrounds within traditional electoral politics, and the group appears relatively homogenous in terms of race and ethnicity.  They include Charles Merrill, whose bio states that he is of the Merrill Lynch family, and John Bare, who “worked as a research molecular biologist and geneticist, but evolved into a donor and activist.”  Also included are Mandy Carter, an African-American activist and co-founder of Southerners On New Ground and the African-American blogger Pam Spaulding.  Winkleman said that he worked in as a waiter in a restaurant.  Asked about the economic diversity of the group, Ahonen-Jover was adamant that there was “significant diversity.”

Where do the authors see this project going? Ahonen-Jover sees the principles giving “a perspective that empowers people.”  The name of the project echoes that of the Denver Principles of 1983, a defining document for establishing the dignity of people with AIDS.  The historian John D’Emilio, talking to Windy City Times, said, ‘the Denver Principles grew out of early AIDS activism and became important in developing the politics of AIDS.  Will the Dallas Principles develop the same traction, and what will that traction mean?”

The Dallas Principles can be found at www.thedallasprinciples.org/The_Dallas_Principles/Home.html.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 22 July, 2009.


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