After praising the Advocate’s analysis of GetEqual, I was pleased to see Bil Browning at Bilerico Project asking tough questions about the new kid on the block, especially in terms of funding and organization. That strong post was followed by a defensive, but informative, response from GetEqual. This is an example of how new media–or the Fifth Estate, as the Poynter Institute calls it–really shines by creating a conversation with readers, commenters, and leaders.
What Browning accomplished was raising some important questions, allowing people to respond, and then allowing the organization to respond. In the process, we saw GetEqual provide some much needed transparency and we saw Bilerico raising concerns that have been talked about, but not written about. While some may see it as typical circular firing squads, which are famous in LGBT organizations and politics, it seemed to me that it was a healthy conversation to start and in a place where it could be the most successful, a moderated by open blog.
Here’s what Browning had to say:
Who decided how much to pay everyone?
To help provide oversight, the group has invited six undisclosed people to serve on the org’s board. This group will meet at another retreat to be held later this month. These are the individuals responsible for GetEqual’s actions; until then there doesn’t seem to be any sort of check in place other than the threat of closing the pocketbook.
A half a million to a million dollars is a large amount of money. That’s not chump change any longer and it’s strips GetEQual of the “struggling activists with hearts of gold” mystique they’ve been capitalizing on lately.
It’s hard to be the common guy when you’ve got a million dollars. I’ve worked with tons of small independent little groups and operations that’ve struggled to survive financially. The constant competition for dollars, the demands for transparency, the constant criticism are draining and the pay is usually very low.
Throw in an economic downturn and many groups are shutting down. The not-for-profit and activist worlds are littered with the souls of good intentions. It’s grueling work and the burnout rate is high.
Most organizations are ruled by their boards – usually individuals who have donated large sums of money to the group and want a voice in guiding how the org moves forward. The motivations behind organizational decisions aren’t always what’s best for the community as much as what’s best for the board member.
And here’s the organization’s response:
his is actually offensive. Given that Bil has no knowledge of who has been invited to join the board or who we are planning to invite to join the board, everything that follows this paragraph is irresponsible speculation. And I can’t wait to see Bil’s post on GetEQUAL’s accountability to donors, the (not-yet-formed) board, or the community from which we have not raised a dime. We’re not holding back the names of board members — they’re simply just not confirmed yet. We’re happy to make those names public once they’re finalized.
It is true that GetEQUAL is in the process of applying for tax-exempt status — and with that status comes a demand for accountability. Even if we weren’t applying for that status, I think all of the staff would agree that we owe that to the LGBT community and to our allies who support our work. We will certainly continue to answer questions when asked and to offer information when available — and, more than that, we look forward to engaging folks in actions that will target pressure points and create openings for real social change.
As the Advocate article noted, GetEqual has been formed with a certain amount of mystery, including a retreat with hand-picked attendees, and funded by a millionaire investor. Bil’s concerns go to the heart of the question of whether GetEqual can keep its radical bona fides without greater transparency.
Journalists–whether traditional media, LGBT media or new media–can play a role in questioning “sacred cows” and holding activists accountable. There’s worry that too many new media people have been co-opted by activist organizations and causes, so it’s nice to see Bil show us otherwise.
Update: After I finished this, Browning posted another article questioning who holds GetEqual accountable.