Activism | News | Robin McGehee

'Radical Minds' Meet at 'Secret' Tennessee LGBT Activists Retreat

Over the past few days if you've been reading around the gay blogs you may have heard rumblings regarding a secret LGBT activist retreat in Tennessee. Now activist and National Equality March co-organizer Kip Williams has shed some light on it in a Facebook posting.

Writes Williams:Highlander

Over the last year and a half, we have met some incredible folks in California in the aftermath of Prop 8 and nationally through our work on the National Equality March. Since the march last October, we have continued building on those relationships and discussing strategies to move forward in the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer rights.

Over the last 4 days we gathered at the historic Highlander Center in Tennessee with 45 activists from across the country who are sick of delays, compromises and excuses. Some who joined us have been activists for many years; some are new to the movement—all brought a vast depth of knowledge and a readiness to fight for a more just and equal world for all. Some have worked on national LGBTQ issues, such as ACT-UP, Equality Across America and Join the Impact; some were connected to organizations outside of LGBTQ rights, such as PETA,, Unite Here,, Greenpeace, etc. In our outreach we purposefully looked for those who were supporting and advocating for LGBTQ working people, communities of color, and trans rights.

Continued, AFTER THE JUMP...

We had one thing on our agenda: Discuss ways to build a national network of activists to demand full equality now. We believe that it is time to escalate our demands through coordinated nationwide nonviolent direct action, and we hope to build a broad base of organizers to work with all who struggle for justice and dignity in their lives.

We know that many people across the country feel the same way, and that many have been actively working within their own communities for a long time. The Highlander Center can comfortably accommodate about 35 people, and we broke those limits because we wanted more people to participate in the conversation. We had no secrets, only limited space and resources, and a very short time to organize this retreat. We wish we could have invited thousands.

We want to work with everyone to help inspire our community to bold action. We want to be what Kate Bornstein described as "an unpredictable outspoken force," and we want everyone at the table - no matter the sex, gender, race, class, look, age, ability, religion, family status, citizenship, class, and everything in between. We want to make the White House and Congress take notice. And we want everyone who stands in the way of full equality to be held accountable and wonder what just hit them.

We wish every voice could have been present at the Highlander Center this week, but that was neither a beginning or an end to the conversation. If you want to be involved, or if you have something to share, please let us know. You can email us at Also, if you're coming to Creating Change in Dallas next week, we'd love to get together to talk in person.

With hope and love, Robin McGehee and Kip Williams

So there you go. Here's Williams' post on Facebook.

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  1. I wonder if anyone squealed like a pig.

    Posted by: TANK | Jan 28, 2010 3:24:16 PM

  2. @Tank: LOL!

    Posted by: DEREK WASHINGTON | Jan 28, 2010 3:45:43 PM

  3. I bet those two rocking chairs is an appropriate symbol for these characters.

    Posted by: JT | Jan 28, 2010 4:19:50 PM

  4. Building on the phenomenal success of the March last year...

    "Some have worked on national LGBTQ issues, such as ACT-UP, Equality Across America and Join the Impact; some were connected to organizations outside of LGBTQ rights, such as PETA,, Unite Here,, Greenpeace, etc."

    In other words, the heads of a variety of failed initiatives coupled with leaders who washed out of successful grassroots organizations.

    The timing is impeccable: the country moves decidedly to the center so a faction of our community lurches as far as possible to the left.

    Remember all the hoopla about Cleve Jones which led nowhere except to an abandoned web site and two failed campaigns?

    Well, here we go again.

    Posted by: Rob G. | Jan 28, 2010 4:24:09 PM

  5. This sounds like it won't end well. "Radical" is not what we need right now. Maybe the PETA guy will suggest we rename gays "butt kittens"?

    Posted by: Matthew Rettenmund | Jan 28, 2010 5:07:31 PM

  6. Too bad their retreat didn't coincide with the planned Teabagger Convention coming up in Tennessee. They could have combined forces.

    Posted by: JONNY NYNY2FLFL | Jan 28, 2010 5:12:04 PM

  7. There is nothing "radical" about group leaders meeting in secret and only inviting who they want to make plans for ewveryone which will probably get bogged down in various committess and boards that will be set up. Just the same ole rhetoric from supposed activist who want to feel important.

    If they REALLY wanted to do something radical the 45 of them would have met in DC and walked to whe White House and hancuffed themseleves to the fence and demanded Equal Rights.

    Posted by: Wolf | Jan 28, 2010 5:38:35 PM

  8. Wow, I had often heard stories and rumors about the Highlanders when I was growing up in a nearby town but was never able to confirm any those rumors and the fence, driveway gate, and quarter-of-a-mile driveway were pretty ominous. I went by this place everyday on my way to high school. Cool to hear my native neck of the woods still have a liberal element.

    Posted by: B | Jan 28, 2010 6:37:52 PM

  9. Rob G hits the nail on the head. Despite the chest pounding and high fiving still going on with all those involved with the National March, despite the continued battle cry of "we made a difference" from the same folks, as well as the voices from all these other listed orgs, what has been accomplished? The march was stimulating, but nothing more. Do we now have to go through another year of email BS about how this group is going to do something "daring", like holding another rally?

    WOLF has it right as well, radical would have been handcuffing yourself to the fence at the White House. I don't foresee anything "daring" or "direct action" coming from these folks. For all their "progressiveness", they refused to let certain people speak at the National March simply because they refused to follow a prescribed script. Sounds kind of "conservative", doesn't it?

    They're back "networking ideas" to follow the same path and ideology which has failed miserably, while we watch LGBT rights crumble all around us. Generally, when you're losing, which this group has become good at, you CHANGE your strategy, you let others take charge, you don't drink tea in the mountains until it's time to give the tired tactics another go...

    Posted by: Chris | Jan 28, 2010 6:42:33 PM

  10. If these people were really "activists", why wouldn't they have met in (and supported the local economy of) a state with more progressive laws?

    Posted by: Curious | Jan 28, 2010 6:54:07 PM

  11. Oh joy, the fringe left are going to scream and throw tantrums and claim to represent our community. Goodie. I wonder if they took time to endorse PITA's robot groundhogs and to vote on whaling.

    I was hoping that our community had grown past the "Everyone on the Lunatic Left" coalitions and were actually appeals the the vast majority of Americans who don't think that KFC is morally equivalent to Auschwitz.

    Posted by: Timothy Kincaid | Jan 28, 2010 9:01:25 PM

  12. The Highlander Center has for decades acted, not as some secret retreat, but quite openly as a training for activists, with an emphasis on non-violent direct action. Rosa Parks was trained there, for example. There's nothing secret about the place; you can go on tours.

    Posted by: Clay | Jan 28, 2010 10:03:05 PM

  13. Positioning gay rights as part of the radical fringe is completely counterproductive. If anything, it's a great way to keep the issue side-lined, and most likely just alienates the majority of the electorate. Ever wonder why gay people in the UK/most of Europe/South Africa (including some very conservative/traditionally homophobic countries) have legal equality while folks in the US don't? There was a lot of work involved, but it didn't generally involve trans-activists chaining themselves to the parliament building or leather daddies parading naked through town, however psychologically satisfying those activities might be (telling a hostile world to f-off has its appeal). It mostly involved using personal and political connections to quietly lobby those in power. Back rooms deals might not seem all that admirable, but, sadly, that's the way the world works.

    Posted by: DaveB | Jan 29, 2010 5:18:07 AM

  14. Daves, you seem to forget thsat the UK is a civilized country and the USA isn't. NEVER in the USA has anyone been given thier rights by asking nicely. Also for those of you who think that radical activities, protest, and civil disobedience are not the way and that everything should go through legislature its just not possible as long as you have career politicians who are more worried about thier jobs, perks, and power than actually doing whats right. I would think that Health Care would have taught us that.

    I for one think that we need to go back to radical activism. Back to pickets and marches (Spontaneous angry ones. Not the 'preplanned circut parties and seminars that have made us impotent) Cleve Jones had one thing right. We need to DEMAND ALL OUR RIGHTS at once and stop this pissing on and fighting a million small battles. Thats where they beat us. They splintered our fight

    Posted by: Wolf | Jan 29, 2010 7:03:12 AM

  15. Trying to blame the difference between the state of affairs in Europe and the state of Affairs in the US on "radical activism" is deeply misinformed. The few rights gay people eked out in the 70s and 80s were thanks to activists who put gay rights on the agenda in very public ways, and fought bitterly for gay issues. Indeed, what was not long ago considered fringe activism here put marriage equality on the horizon.

    Gay rights has benefited from effective, collaborative activism across Europe and other countries as well. To pretend that it has all been the genteel work of backroom deals of individual gay lobbyists betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation abroad. Advances in Spain, which has full marriage equality, have been the product of broad-based coalitions with other progressive groups and intensely public activism.

    Differences in results are more related to fundamental cultural differences and legal particularities. Just because a country has what you perceive as a more traditionally homophobic or "macho" culture doesn't mean that it hasn't culturally been more open to gay issues or women in power.

    Posted by: BCLance | Jan 29, 2010 12:12:32 PM

  16. DaveB doesn't know much about LGBT activist history in the United States. His statements are in direct opposition to actual history. Another example of how anyone can post a comment on an internet site, acting all high and mighty, when their actual knowledge of our own American history is pretty much devoid of intellect and education.

    Posted by: Chris | Feb 4, 2010 10:49:34 PM

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