Comment from a communications expert

Some advice from a highly respected professional on the need for a timely response from the LGBTQ community to breaking news.  This regards the Rick Warren situation, but certainly applies to local, regional and statewide issues as well.  This sums up exactly what went wrong when the State Legislature announced a Pittsburgh based hearing on the Marriage Protection Amendment last spring — an uncoordinated, slow response to disseminate information and a failure to utilize contacts in the new social media.  We MUST do a better job and capitalize on the groundswell of grassroots energy by strategically responding so we can control the dialogue.  I hope Equality Advocates under new leadership will take a statewide approach to coordinating this infrastructure. 

We don't need more groups.  We need to invest our more precious resource — ourselves — into the existing groups to give them the tools they need to be more effective.  If you are feeling jazzed by Join the Impact, I implore you not to start a new Pittsburgh chapter or a new group period.  Get yourself to a Steel City Stonewall or a Gertrude Stein Club meeting.  Join the PFLAG Advocacy committtee.  Find out what's happening in the loosely organized LGBTQ faith communities around advocacy.  Join the Pride Committee.  Help organize the Dyke March. Then bring those folks to the Join the Impact events.  Join the Impact should be a TOOL, not a new organization.  The title says it all … JOIN, not START an impact.  We need you! 

In all breaking news events, quickness of response is key – as are the fit of the identity of the responder and the content of the response to the context of the issue.

HRC did a great job of getting out there early on the Warren selection and was henceforth quoted widely – however, their first response was from a solely secular perspective when a voice from the LGBT faith community should at least have been included. Later on (or so it appeared anyway), HRC involved Harry Knox, but – by then – Joe’s quote was all the media was using.

In a vacuum of voices from within the faith community, my first piece on HuffPo ( received a lot of attention and was widely quoted (especially the “act of spiritual violence” part of my post which was quoted on NPR and a couple of other mainstream outlets including the Austin Statesman, picked up widely on the blogs, and resulted in my being interviewed on CNN and invited to do the piece on Again, this was because my piece was quick out of the box.

On the other hand, Integrity had a wonderful response – including being able to offer suggestions of alternative Evangelical representatives who could have been selected – but it was three days after the fact and got no play.

Given that one of our primary battlegrounds is going to continue to be around issues of faith, we need to strengthen to communications capacity of our voices from within the LGBT faith community. That is a primary lesson we can take away as a community from the Warren situation, and it can be applied at the national, state and local levels with the respective levels of media.


Leah McElrath, Managing Partner
Renna Communications*
Washington, DC | New York, NY
917.757.6391 cell



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  • Dear Leah Please come to Pittsburgh and bring some communication skills with you. Not only do we not have a message. We don't have any messengers. Just names. And a lot of hot air. People either want to be the media (like Sue) or want to be elected to office (like that guy from Steel City who looks like Sean Penn). But no one wants to lead US. They just want to USE us to get ahead. Fucking bullshit. Pittsburgh is a pit. We are going to look like idiots when that big political gay conference comes to town.

  • 1. What big political gay conference? Netroots Nation? It's not gay only.
    2. If you want to be lead, why don't you get involved? I went to the last SCSD meeting, and was one of less than 10 in the room. Hard to build a movement out of 10 willing to serve.
    3. I never saw anyone at SCSD who looked like Sean Penn. More's the pity.
    4. Sue, for better or worse, is the only functioning gay media in this city. Trust me, you want her to fill this role.
    5. Buck up, dude! It's getting better all the time! Watch out for ways to participate, and take them up! It's not about hero worship, or charismatic leaders, it's about individuals willing to work for the common good. It takes a few at the top to provide some framework for positive action, but it mostly takes people willing to do that hard work political activism requires. The revolution will not be televised. This is not the movies.

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