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The Coalitionist: Robin McGehee

When you hear Robin McGehee speak, you may come away thinking she’s the next Harvey Milk. Sassy, straight-talking, and passionate, McGehee, a 36-year-old professor of human communications at the College of the Sequoias in central California and mother of a young son and daughter, became a rising star in the gay rights movement in 2009. She did so by insisting that grassroots activists have a seat at the table next to established power brokers like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“There’s been a knitting together of grassroots organizations through the [National Equality March] that will create lifelong friends and will build a solid base for the larger gay rights movement,” says McGehee, who codirected the October march in Washington, D.C. After McGehee first made her name as lead organizer of a pro–gay marriage, post–Proposition 8 event in Fresno, Calif., dubbed Meet in the Middle, longtime gay rights activist Cleve Jones asked her to help put together the march in the nation’s capital. Even though she was still paying off the debt incurred for the Fresno event, McGehee accepted the duty. Her modus operandi: “Some people still say you can’t push too hard for full equality, but we have to do something to protect our people.”

McGehee’s strong beliefs have at times made her a polarizing figure within activist circles. Just before the National Equality March, HRC announced that President Obama would speak at a Washington dinner during the weekend of the march. Some applauded Obama’s gesture. McGehee wasn’t one of them, and she wanted more than another inspiring speech. “If it were me [in charge of the dinner],” McGehee says, “I wouldn’t bring Obama to the dinner unless he had some new policy to announce.... We have ourselves to blame for not being further along in the movement.”

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