The Pitfalls of Gatekeeper Advocates: Protecting the Integrity of Advocacy

Dr. CJ Cook, DBABlog

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

The adage “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” holds profound relevance in advocacy. As advocates, our mission extends beyond providing temporary solutions to immediate needs. Instead, we strive to empower individuals and communities by equipping them with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to navigate challenges and effect lasting change. By embracing the ethos of teaching rather than simply giving, we can foster self-reliance, resilience, and sustainable progress.

Being a good advocate means recognizing the importance of education and capacity-building in driving meaningful change. Instead of merely addressing surface-level issues, effective advocacy involves empowering individuals to understand their rights, advocate for themselves, and participate actively in decision-making processes. Just as teaching someone to fish enables them to sustainably feed themselves, advocating for education, training, and skill development empowers individuals to address systemic injustices, break cycles of poverty, and build brighter futures for themselves and their communities.

Moreover, the “teach a man to fish” principle underscores the importance of inclusivity, collaboration, and empowerment in advocacy efforts. By actively listening to the voices of those directly impacted by injustices and involving them in advocacy efforts, including assisting them in attending meetings, we can ensure that solutions are specifically tailored to address their needs and aspirations. This approach fosters a more inclusive and effective response, as it acknowledges the unique perspectives and experiences of those most affected by the issues. By centering their voices in decision-making processes and providing support to facilitate their participation, we empower individuals to advocate for themselves and create positive change that aligns with their goals and aspirations.

Through mentorship, guidance, and support, advocates can help individuals develop the tools and confidence to navigate complex systems, challenge inequalities, and create positive change from within. In essence, being a good advocate means addressing immediate needs and investing in the long-term empowerment and self-determination of those we seek to serve.

The Role of Advocacy

Advocacy is a crucial mechanism for amplifying voices, promoting justice, and driving positive societal change. However, within the advocacy realm, a concerning phenomenon exists known as “gatekeeper advocates.” Understanding the dangers gatekeeper advocates pose is essential for safeguarding the integrity and effectiveness of advocacy efforts.

Advocacy plays a vital role in addressing systemic injustices, challenging discrimination, and promoting the rights and well-being of marginalized communities. Genuine advocates strive to amplify the voices of those they represent, empower individuals to advocate for themselves, and work collaboratively to effect meaningful change. However, gatekeeper advocates subvert these principles by wielding power and control over the very communities they claim to serve.

Gatekeeper advocates are individuals or entities who purport to advocate for marginalized groups or communities but often control or limit access to resources, support, or opportunities within those communities. They may exert power and influence over decision-making processes, manipulate outcomes to serve their interests, and exclude or marginalize certain individuals or groups within the community. Gatekeeper advocates may operate without transparency, suppress dissent, and perpetuate inequality by reinforcing existing power structures. Their actions can undermine the principles of authentic representation, diminish the impact of advocacy efforts, erode trust within the community, and hinder progress toward achieving equity and justice.

Identifying Gatekeeper Advocates: Gatekeeper advocates typically exhibit several key characteristics:

Control Over Resources: Gatekeeper advocates often control access to critical resources, funding, or opportunities within a community or organization.

Lack of Transparency: Gatekeeper advocates may operate without transparency, making decisions behind closed doors and excluding community members from key discussions or decision-making processes.

Exclusionary Practices: Gatekeeper advocates may engage in exclusionary practices that marginalize certain individuals or groups within the community. This can include favoritism, nepotism, or discrimination based on factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, or disability.

Silencing Dissent: Gatekeeper advocates often silence dissenting voices or suppress criticism in order to maintain their power and control. This can create a culture of fear and intimidation that stifles open dialogue and prevents meaningful engagement within the community.

Speaking for Others: While often well-intentioned, can carry significant dangers that undermine the autonomy, dignity, and community of those being spoken for. Firstly, there’s the risk of oversimplification and misrepresentation. When one person or group assumes the role of spokesperson for another, their perspective may not accurately capture the diverse experiences and nuances within the community they claim to represent. This can lead to stereotypes, the elimination of individual voices, and the perpetuation of harmful misconceptions.

Furthermore, speaking for others can reinforce power imbalances and marginalization. It can disempower marginalized groups by silencing their voices and relegating them to passive subjects rather than active participants in discussions that affect their lives. This dynamic can perpetuate systems of oppression and inhibit genuine dialogue and understanding. Additionally, speaking for others without their consent can be patronizing and disrespectful, as it denies individuals the opportunity to speak for themselves and advocate for their own needs and desires.

Overall, while advocating for marginalized communities is important, it’s essential to do so in a way that respects their autonomy, acknowledges their diversity, and amplifies their voices rather than speaking on their behalf. This requires active listening, allyship, and a commitment to centering the perspectives and experiences of those directly affected by the issues at hand.

The Dangers of Gatekeeper Advocates: The presence of gatekeeper advocates within advocacy movements poses several significant dangers:

Undermining Authentic Representation: Gatekeeper advocates undermine the principles of authentic representation and community-led advocacy by exerting control and manipulating outcomes to serve their own interests.

Perpetuating Inequality: Gatekeeper advocates perpetuating inequality by hoarding resources, excluding marginalized voices, and reinforcing existing power structures. This obstructs progress toward achieving equity and justice for all members of the community.

Diminishing Impact: Gatekeeper advocates diminish the impact of advocacy efforts by prioritizing personal gain or self-interest over the collective welfare of the community. This hampers progress toward meaningful social change and undermines the effectiveness of advocacy initiatives.

Eroding Trust: Gatekeeper advocates erode trust within the community by operating with a lack of transparency, engaging in exclusionary practices, and silencing dissent. This damages relationships and undermines solidarity, making it difficult to build consensus.

Overcoming and Ensuring Trust is Not Eroded: Fostering an environment where feedback is encouraged and valued is crucial. By providing a platform for open dialogue, individuals can voice their concerns regarding any perceived biases or limitations in advocacy.

Annually, IRC organizes a multitude of public input meetings, focus groups, and listening sessions, covering crucial topics such as the Purchase of Services (POS) disparity, National Core Indicator (NCI) Survey outcomes, Caseload Ratios, Performance Contract, and language accessibility focus groups. These gatherings serve as indispensable forums where community members can freely express their viewpoints, advocate on their behalf, voice their concerns, and share ideas on issues that profoundly affect their lives and the larger I/DD Community.

These meetings are regularly publicized on social media platforms and the website Typically, announcements are made 60-90 days before the meeting date, and they are repeated multiple times throughout this period to ensure widespread awareness and participation.

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Additionally, our public meetings will be featured in our newsletter and frequently distributed through our listserv.

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If you require interpretation accommodations (ASL/Vietnamese/Tagalog/Arabic/Chinese), don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at [email protected] at least 14 days before the event.

In conclusion, to uphold the integrity and effectiveness of advocacy efforts, it is essential to recognize and address the dangers posed by gatekeeper advocates. By promoting transparency, accountability, and inclusivity, advocates can work collaboratively to amplify marginalized voices, challenge systemic injustices, and drive positive change in society. Together, we can build a more equitable and just world where all individuals have the opportunity to thrive and participate fully in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Posted by:

Dr. CJ Cook, DBA

As Program Administrator, CJ is responsible for the proactive oversight of various units within IRC, including Community Management, Service Access and Equity, and Training and Development. CJ's oversight extends to Language Access and Cultural Competency (LACC), Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), equity in the Purchase of Service (POS), and the National Core Indicator (NCI) project. Furthermore, CJ is tasked with managing the IRC's Performance Contract with DDS and overseeing Emergency Services.

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