The Dallas Principles, Five Years Later

May 16, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Five years ago, from May 15 to 17, 24 LGBT activists met in Dallas to promulgate the Dallas Principles in a virtual non-step weekend in the basement of the Hyatt Regency at the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport just off Terminal C. Participants included Juan Ahonen-Jover, Ken Ahonen-Jover, John Bare, Jarrett Barrios, Jeffrey H. Campagna, Mandy Carter, Michael Coe, Jimmy Creech, Allison Duncan, Michael Guest, Joanne Herman, Donald Hitchcock, Lane Hudson, Charles Merrill, Dixon Osburn, Lisa Polyak, Barbra Casbar Siperstein, Pam Spaulding, Andy Szekeres, Lisa Turner, Jon Winkleman, Joe Falk, Paul Yandura and me. As Will O'Bryan wrote in Metro Weekly that summer, "time will judge the Dallas Principles." So how does it look five years out?




Here are the enumerated Principles, without the preamble and listing of the goals and call to action:

The following eight guiding principles underlie our call to action. In order to achieve full civil rights now, we avow:

1. Full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay and excuses are no longer acceptable.

2. We will not leave any part of our community behind.

3. Separate is never equal.

4. Religious beliefs are not a basis upon which to affirm or deny civil rights.

5. The establishment and guardianship of full civil rights is a non-partisan issue.

6. Individual involvement and grassroots action are paramount to success and must be encouraged.

7. Success is measured by the civil rights we all achieve, not by words, access or money raised.

8. Those who seek our support are expected to commit to these principles.

We met six months after the end of the Bush administration and the election of Barack Obama. It was also six months after the passage of Prop 8, which I've touched on here in recent weeks in reference to Jo Becker's book Forcing the Spring. It was a time of great hope as well as fear, and we as yet had no idea whether the Obama administration would come through on its pledges to the LGBT community. A long list of requests had been submitted, but by May there had been no concrete action, and the presidential honeymoon period, severely limited by the previous fall's financial crash, was over.

The Dallas Principles were an effort to codify, in a manifesto of sorts, the values with which the LGBT community could most effectively move forward. I think we did a good job at expressing our beliefs and putting them into language that could be embraced by the community at large.

Let's take them one by one:

1. Clearly, we as yet do not have full civil rights. None of us expected that we would have them five years out, but none of us expected that we would have the marriage-equality victories sweeping the country either. We did expect that ENDA would be enacted early in Obama's presidency, but for various political reasons it was not (and still has not been), and we're still waiting for an executive order banning discrimination against all members of the LGBT community in the federal-contractor workspace. We do have an inclusive federal hate crimes law, and we have repealed "don't ask, don't tell."

2. There have been increasingly few efforts to move forward on gay rights without including the trans community. Even though little is being done to make New York, New Hampshire and Wisconsin fully inclusive in their state protections, the efforts now underway in the South and West are fully inclusive. Transgender persons are now covered under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act with respect to employment, supported by the EEOC, and efforts are now underway to expand Title VII to include gay persons as well. Unfortunately, the military still has its head in the sand regarding transgender service, but the community is working hard and speaking out forcefully on the issue.

3. Efforts towards marriage equality long ago left civil unions and domestic partnerships behind. Trans-rights legislation is written to fully mainstream gender-nonconforming individuals.

4. Laws based on freedom of religion have been proposed in many states, and famously one was recently vetoed in Arizona. Protecting religious expression is one of America's founding ideals, but the promotion of people's religious beliefs cannot be allowed to impact the free expression of others.

5. The growing movement for marriage equality is increasingly bipartisan, with support from Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch in the early days, and now with support from the Cato Institute and Republicans in several states that have passed laws. The upcoming same-sex marriage of the daughter of Prop 8 lead attorney Charles Cooper is only one example of the change in the culture.

6. While the group at AFER introduced federal marriage cases, along with teams at Lambda, GLAD and the ACLU, the groundwork was laid by the spontaneous outburst of revulsion across the country in the immediate aftermath of the Prop 8 defeat. Grassroots action has played a role in the passage of ENDA in the Senate, and individual involvement through various relationships and networking has, as always, proven indispensable in all the victories of the past five years. As it will continue to be as we move forward.

7. While some choose to celebrate total equality prematurely, the vast majority know that, even when their rights are protected in their localities or states, the rights of many others are still significantly curtailed. The States of Equality scorecard is available and frequently updated. And we're coming to the realization that for many members of the LGBT community, formal rights are very important and necessary, but hardly sufficient.

8. This is always a challenge, as exemplified by the recent endorsement by the Victory Fund of Richard Tisei, a gay Republican who supports his tea party colleagues, rather than John Tierney, the Democrat incumbent who happens to be straight but is a great ally. To put it mildly, this has raised some eyebrows in the political community, but it's not the only time the Victory Fund has alienated long-term allies this year.

That's a rough, back-of-the-envelope recapitulation of the past five years. Did the Dallas Principles play a role? I've heard that they have, though, of course, it's always hard to know the extent of the impact. I can state that many of those who wrote the Principles have continued to play outsized roles in moving our community forward, politically, socially and philanthropically, and in the media as well. Most importantly, they continue helping us keep our eyes on the prize and the community in constant movement toward that prize.


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