January 23, 2008
Foreman winds up mixed bag tenure
Posted by: Chris
Matt Foreman announced today that he'll be leaving as executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force in April, a position he has held since 2003. His half-decade tenure at "the Task Force" -- which he successfully rebranded from its NGLTF days -- will probably be looked back upon as something akin to Elizabeth Birch's decade at the helm of the Human Rights Campaign.
Both leaders put their organizations on stronger financial footing. As with Birch's HRC years, the result has been a blossoming -- some woudl say bloating -- of budgets and full-time staff, to the tune of $10 million annually and 54 employees in Foreman's case.
And, unfortunately, as with Birch, Foreman has precious little beyond institutional strength to show for the work. A press release trumpeting his departure credits him with raising the Task Force's visibility, but that was largely this year in the bruising, divisive fight over transgender protections in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
It was largely Foreman who organized the "United ENDA" coalition of GLBT groups that announced their opposition to historic gay rights legislation because it did not also include "gender identity" protections; the fact that the votes weren't there was beside the political point.
The Task Force has always been the more grassroots-focused of the national GBLT rights groups and always more left-wing and "social justice"-minded -- meaning it is a part of the organization's mission to align with other progressive groups on non-GLBT causes. Ther'es nothing wrong -- and much that is right -- with that strategy, except that it's almost invariably accompanied by some admonition that a narrow focus on gay rights is somehow unjust and retrogressive. Foreman did more than his fair share to reinforce, rather than to dispel, that unfortunate and wrong-headed attitude.
Whether Foreman really smoked his own United ENDA dope, is still trying to purge his guilt for having successfully lobbied for New York's trans-excluded Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), or whether he just saw a clever wedge strategy to use against HRC, the whole trans-or-bust ENDA push will go down as one of the most counterproductive and divisive tactics ever waged in a movement that has a long history of them.
Foreman was a talented and charismatic leader for an organization that has long been in need of one. It's too bad that he deployed his considerable skills to the detriment of the movement as a whole and the interests of 90-plus percent of his own constituents -- but that often is the price of uncompromising identity politics.
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