[Marxism] Rejecting the marriage equality agenda

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 5 12:14:00 MST 2009


This article appeared in the November 23, 2009 edition of The Nation.

Stonewall 2.0
By Christopher Lisotta

Before November 2008, Tanner Efinger was just another 24-year-old 
working at a bar in the city of West Hollywood, the lesbian, gay, 
bisexual and transgender (LGBT) center of Los Angeles. "I was 
really not a political person, even a little bit," he says. "I 
didn't even know who Nancy Pelosi was and didn't really understand 
what a senator was."

But that all changed after the election of Barack Obama and the 
passage of Proposition 8, the voter referendum that banned 
same-sex marriage in California. At a postelection Prop 8 rally, 
it hit Efinger that despite all the cultural assimilation he has 
witnessed in his young life, gay people were still second-class 
citizens when it came to legal rights. "It is totally unfair," he 
says. "I thought, 'I know nothing about politics, but what can I 
do? I don't even have activist friends.' So I started Postcards to 
the President."

Using his workplace as a catalyst, Efinger encouraged people to 
write postcards to Obama encouraging him to repeal the Defense of 
Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 federal legislation signed by Bill 
Clinton that defines marriage as something only between one man 
and one woman. "I like to joke he created a monster, and now he 
has to be prepared to feed it," Efinger says, touting Obama's call 
for supporters to be the change they believe in. Events at bars in 
New York and San Francisco followed, along with a website and 
Facebook page. According to Efinger, more than 15,000 postcards 
have been sent from thirty states, with his most recent Postcards 
to the President event taking place in Bowling Green, Kentucky. 
"It all happened so quickly," he says. "My life has changed 
completely."

Efinger is not alone. Until late last year, LGBT activism had been 
dominated for more than a decade by a handful of established 
national organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the 
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, along with a network of 
statewide groups. These gay organizations saw scattered progress 
in the waning days of the Clinton administration and then fought 
vainly against a tide of state referendums banning gay marriage. 
But with Obama's election and the anger that grew out of Prop 8's 
unexpected passage, a host of twentysomethings have jumped into 
the fray with a new set of national strategies, often starting or 
joining new grassroots organizations that bypass the old guard.

Arisha Michelle Hatch is a 27-year-old attorney in San Francisco 
who quit her job early last year and began phone-banking for 
Obama. "I haven't gone back to the law firm yet," Hatch explains, 
noting that in March she joined up with Courage Campaign, a 
California-based group that is pushing for gay equality. Hatch is 
now the Southern California field manager for the organization's 
equality program. But most recently she was on loan to Maine, 
fighting Question 1, the statewide same-sex-marriage ban. Hatch 
was stunned last November when California, which went heavily for 
Obama, also passed Prop 8. She was even more shocked when news 
reports connected Prop 8's passage to majority support from 
African-Americans. "I don't want to believe that of my people," 
she says. "It is important as a straight African-American woman 
brought up in a Baptist church to say, This is about equality, and 
it's not OK."

The kids are not doing it all by themselves, however. Courage 
Campaign was begun by Rick Jacobs, an established organizer who 
was Howard Dean's California campaign chair in 2004. And Efinger 
has become more involved thanks to Cleve Jones, who as a young man 
worked for slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and went on 
to create the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Now a labor activist, Jones 
began receiving thousands of e-mails from young people after they 
saw the Oscar-winning film Milk, which came out after the November 
election. In many of the e-mails Jones kept reading about young 
people's desire for a national march for LGBT equality, which at 
first he actively discouraged. "I viewed it through the lens of 
other marches," he says, "which had been enormously expensive, 
where some people weren't paid and other people were paid too much."

Like many others, Jones assumed that with Obama entering the White 
House and Democrats holding majorities in Congress, a gay rights 
agenda would move forward. But then Obama picked antigay pastor 
Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration, and House Speaker Nancy 
Pelosi suggested that repealing DOMA was not a priority. On his 
website veteran Democratic operator David Mixner called for a 
national marriage equality march in November; Jones wrote back 
that it should be a full equality march, in October and done for 
no money. Mixner agreed on an LGBT website and said Jones was 
organizing it.

It was then that all hell broke loose, Jones recalls. "The whole 
chorus started singing about how this was impossible and 
irresponsible," he says of the more established LGBT rights 
groups. "But in the community people just totally got it and got 
it early. All I did was reach out."

Privately many LGBT career advocates dismissed the march, 
suggesting it would be little more than a high school hot mess. 
Congressman Barney Frank publicly called it a "waste of time" and, 
using his signature wit, predicted that "the only thing they're 
going to be putting pressure on is the grass."

But in the meantime younger, less experienced organizers jumped on 
board. Jones stresses that he played only a small part in 
organizing the event compared with the work done by the many young 
people he met through promoting Milk, including guys like Efinger. 
On Columbus Day weekend, Efinger and Jones joined some 200,000 
demonstrators for a march that culminated in a rally in front of 
Capitol Hill. The weekend's activities included meetings with 
legislators, organizing seminars and other networking events that 
were set up without the support of established gay groups. Efinger 
notes that with a budget of just $200,000, the organizers pulled 
off an event that "cost less than a dollar a person."

Besides being an activist incubator, the National Equality March 
was also an amplifier. Utah native Chloe Noble, 27, owned a 
cleaning service and had done some work with a local shelter, but 
when it became clear that Prop 8 had passed in part because of the 
heavy involvement of the Mormon Church, she got motivated. Noble, 
who identifies as "bi-queer," was shocked to find out that as many 
as 40 percent of homeless teens identify as LGBT, according to a 
study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. That prompted 
her to begin a 6,000-mile walk across America to raise awareness 
of LGBT homeless youth through her organization Operation Shine. 
But Noble put her journey on hold when National Equality March 
organizers asked her to plan a youth event at nearby Gallaudet 
University the weekend of the Capitol Hill demonstration. She put 
together more than a dozen programs at the three-day fair, 
including a flash mob that involved hundreds of people. Back on 
the road, Noble says, "The youth that I worked with nationwide are 
really angry, and that's the most common thing I hear them say 
about what's happening in the United States."

That anger has led to a sea change in the fight for LGBT equality, 
which had been dominated by state-by-state fights and an almost 
surgical focus on a limited number of federal issues, like 
repealing "don't ask, don't tell." In contrast the National 
Equality March demanded "equal protection in all matters governed 
by civil law in all 50 states."

Jones is fully aware that enthusiasm from marches and other big 
events comes and goes. From the post-Stonewall years to Harvey 
Milk, ACT UP and the development of an LGBT "market" by corporate 
advertisers, he's seen it all. But this time he feels things are 
different. After the election someone used the term "Stonewall 
2.0," Jones says. "When I read that, I snickered out loud and said 
to myself, We'll see about that." But now Jones says that he is 
witnessing a "sustained national grassroots movement." "Not one of 
the national organizations has come close to it," he observes.

Efinger is among the many trying to maintain the momentum from the 
National Equality March. He is working with the march's outgrowth 
organization, Equality Across America, to organize Congressional 
District Action Teams, or CDATS, in all districts to put pressure 
on local representatives.

"This has been going on now for a full year," Jones says. "Part of 
it is Barack getting elected. You can be as cynical as you want, 
but you can't deny the milestone of that generation."

Conrad Honicker is one of that generation. A senior in high 
school, he is already something of a veteran organizer. Soon after 
he came out at 14, Honicker led his first demonstration in his 
hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. "It was the largest LGBT rally 
Knoxville had ever seen," he explains. He also fought to have a 
Gay-Straight Alliance club in his high school, a first for Knox 
County. Not only did Honicker succeed; the greater Knoxville area 
now boasts eight GSA clubs. Thanks to a National Equality March 
co-chair who was also a Knoxville native, Honicker was asked to be 
on the steering committee, which makes sense, since much of his 
free time is spent whipping together local rallies and other 
events, including a gay-friendly prom. "I guess I just like to 
stay busy organizing," he admits.

When the march organizers proposed legislation as benchmarks to 
establish equality, Honicker noticed there was nothing 
youth-specific. "They were all really good pieces of legislation," 
he says. "Sure, I want to get married one day, but I'm certainly 
not thinking about it right now."

Honicker suggested advocating federal antibullying legislation, 
"which is very much needed," he says with some tension in his 
voice. As an intern at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education 
Network, the local GSAs' national umbrella organization, Honicker 
attended Obama's June reception commemorating the fortieth 
anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion. Honicker spoke to Obama 
about antibullying and felt that the president was very supportive.

While other gay advocates have been skeptical of Obama's 
commitment, Honicker is willing to take the president at his word, 
even though he understands that older activists rue the lost 
opportunities of the Clinton years. "Maybe an older 
generation--anybody over 25--might be feeling like it's just going 
to be a repeat of the Clinton administration," Honicker says, 
fully cognizant that he has no political memory of those setbacks.

"I don't think it's right that he's not just ending 'don't ask, 
don't tell' or not ending DOMA. But at the same time, that's not 
what I'm going to be complaining about," he adds. "I'm complaining 
about the policies and not him. We have to work to change how the 
system operates and how we function within the system."

Christopher Lisotta is a writer and television producer in 
California. In 2005 he won a GLAAD Media Award for an article he 
wrote for The Nation. more...




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