LGBT leaders, like the late Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect. We expect them to be paragons of perfection, impeccable role models without flaw. They cannot have outside jobs, interests, friends or partners, because they could get in the way of full time service to the cause. We expect them to do the dirty work for us and complain if they fall short. We bewail the lack of a queer Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nelson Mandela, without realizing that a King or a Mandela can only emerge from a supportive base.
Hardly a day goes by when one of our leaders does not come under severe criticism from the LGBT media or from other self-appointed representatives of our community. The executive directors of GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and the newly-renamed National LGBTQ Task Force are routinely criticized for everything from their past political affiliations to their current love lives. But we do not have to go to Washington to witness the defiling of our leadership. Our own local leaders are frequently the targets of self-appointed monitors who have no following or credibility themselves but who think they are entitled to attack those who do.
Having been on both sides of the leadership controversy, I see the need to keep our leaders on their toes. Without a free press or people, those who are in charge become smug, arrogant, corrupt or dictatorial. It is good that there are newspapers or blogs like ours that point out the flaws in our representatives and urge them to do better. On the other hand, our leaders are all too often the victims of unfair condemnation. These people are trying to do the best they can in a usually difficult situation and do not deserve all the mud we keep throwing at them. Though LGBT leaders are criticized for many things, criticism usually falls into the following categories:
1) We did not elect them to represent us.
LGBT leaders are usually chosen by the boards or the membership of the organization that they lead. They owe their success to years of professional experience or back-breaking work. The reason why our leaders are chosen by a relatively small group of people is because most of us are too busy or apathetic to be active in those organizations. Those who complain that A, B or C lead X, Y or Z should (a) join X, Y or Z and change their leadership from within or (b) start a group of their own and see if they can do any better.
2) They are not qualified to lead.
Some of our community leaders are skilled fundraisers, able organizers, and charismatic speakers, while others seem to do everything wrong. But as anyone who keeps track of politics knows, incompetency is not limited to LGBT people. In democracies, which most queer organizations theoretically are, the “people” (the members) choose their leaders (the board), who in turn choose the executive directors and other professional staff. If our leaders turn out to be imbeciles, which they often are, then those of us who elected them must turn them out the same way we turned them in, through the ballot box.
Sometimes outside forces can determine the leadership of an organization, as is often the case with various community centers or Pride committees. More often people express their disgust with the way a group is run by walking away from it. In short, if we don’t like what our leaders do, we can do something about it.
3) They are power-mad egomaniacs who are in it for themselves.
I admit that some of our leaders get carried away by their egos, especially when it comes to publicity, and chase after publicity the way some lawyers chase ambulances. But remember, shrinking violets do not seek high office. If a little ego gratification helps those in charge do their job better, then it is well and good. This does not apply to those who seek office in order to steal from the treasury, destroy their enemies or acquire absolute power. Corruption is corruption no matter where we find it.
4) Their personal and professional lives are an embarrassment to our community.
All too often, we judge our leaders by standards that have little to do with their leadership qualities. Their qualifications often take a back seat to their health, opinions, affiliations, sex lives, drug use or past war record (or lack thereof). It is getting so that nobody would want to run for any office, be appointed to any position, or do anything that would put them under the public scrutiny. But we are all human, and none of us are perfect. The fact that Leader X runs a sex club or that Leader Y was connected to a corporation that once gave money to an anti-gay politician should not disqualify them out of hand.
I agree that a person’s personality or background determines her or his performance in high or low office. I would not want a murderer, a child molester or a member of ISIL to run a group that I pin my hopes on. Nor would I want a leader who is a bigot or whose views are otherwise anathema to me. On the other hand, the fact that somebody made a stupid comment or wrote a controversial article twenty years ago should not keep her or him from being elected or confirmed. In choosing our leaders, we must strike a balance between judicious selection and nitpicking.
Our leaders, like the rest of us, are fallible beings. But they have one thing going for them. For better or worse, our leaders are people who are willing to step forward, take chances, and do something. How many of us can make that claim?