[Marxism] Rejecting the marriage equality agenda
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Nov 5 12:14:00 MST 2009
This article appeared in the November 23, 2009 edition of The Nation.
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
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
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
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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