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Commentary: The pros and cons of staging protests during the CAPI conference

It is late January and normally, I would be beginning my work with San Diego Pride to assist with the production of this year’s events. This is the time of year when I began to long for summer again, primarily because the countdown to Pride, which usually occurs on the third weekend in July, begins.

This year is different.

I am not feeling that excitement right now, and instead, I am fearful for the future of the organization that produces our community’s showcase event. As the community grapples with the question of whether to support the organization, much of the work that should be done at this time is at a standstill.

Certainly, there is a very talented, capable staff and some volunteers who are still working every day to organize this year’s events. However, a growing list of sponsors and volunteers have pledged to not support San Diego Pride until the current Board of Directors submits their resignations. It will be nearly impossible for Pride to happen without this support. It takes several hundred volunteers and tens of thousands of dollars to produce the organization’s annual events, and at this time, it looks like that support may not be there.

It is time for the community to reclaim OUR Pride. We can not allow a small group of greedy individuals to hijack what belongs to all of us. Community members are joining together and organizing. A group of business owners has begun to circulate a boycott petition. A group of volunteers and Ambassadors of Pride have circulated a petition calling for the resignation of the current board and reinstatement of terminated staff, with some volunteers pledging to not come back to Pride until the demands are met.

Another group of concerned citizens has organized a series of protests that weekend, aimed at putting pressure on the Pride board members and expose what has happened to members of the Consolidated Associated Pride (CAPI), an organization representing Pride organizations across the US and Mexico, who will be visiting San Diego this weekend for their annual conference. Protestors hope that by educating San Diego Pride’s peer organizations, they will feel further pressure from their colleagues.

The first protest was scheduled to take place tonight at the San Diego Pride office building during a welcome reception for attendees of the CAPI conference. That event has been relocated due to their office having been flooded by the rececent storms, and will instead take place at the Sheraton Mission Valley, the host hotel for CAPI.

The idea of such a protest has generated plenty of dialogue across the community, including on social networking sites such as Facebook. Pride volunteers and community members have certainly been put in a tough spot, having to make a decision they never thought they would have to make – continuing to support the organization knowing that things will get better, or holding off until those in charge of Pride make their own decision to do the right thing. I did not ever think I would be in this position. In fact, just hours before the news of “Pridegate” broke earlier this month, I had just sent enthusiastic e-mails to three Pride staff members asking when I could come in to the office to get to work on some of my projects! Instead, here we are, forced to figure out what the right thing to do is.

I’ve weighed the pros and cons of protesting at CAPI in my head and decided to share them with you here.

PROS

-By protesting the CAPI conference, the wrongdoings of the San Diego Pride Board of Directors are clearly exposed to Pride’s peer organizations. “Peer pressure” is often the most compelling form of pressure, and the embarrassment generated by such a protest may be cause for the Board to resign.

- It is likely that the Board believes this will “go away” and they will carry on as normal. By staging a protest, media will pick up on it and continue to shine the light on the community’s demand for the Board to resign.

-The community needs to stay mobilized and stand strong in their demands to get Pride back. Such protests provide that venue.

-Sponsors of the weekend’s CAPI events have been contacted about the protest, and are now aware of the actions of the Board of Directors. The Chuck Jones Gallery, an original sponsor of a Saturday night “Taste of San Diego” event for CAPI participants, has pulled their support. Others may follow suit. This sends a strong message to the Board that their supporters are demanding change!

CONS

-Nationwide embarrassment will put a permanent stain on the reputation of San Diego Pride, making it harder for the organization to solicit sponsors in the future.

-To the general public, this protest looks “gays tearing each other apart.” People may think that our community can’t get its act together and fogs their perceptions of LGBT people.

-Should we disrupt an event which has a purpose of bringing Pride leaders from across the country together to network, learn, and discuss best Pride practices? Is this the best forum?

-With volunteers and sponsors pledging to not give their support this year, Pride 2010 will be negatively affected. The current Board of Directors will (hopefully) conclude their terms after this year’s events, and every dollar and hour of volunteer time that is pulled, negatively affects Pride and its program, making it more difficult to pick up the pieces in the future.

We must get OUR Pride back. The situation our community has been placed in is detrimental to 37 years of activism, progress, courage and hard work. However you decide to do it, we all must stand together with Pride!