Ending H8 in the Golden State

August 11, 2010

Equal marriage activists took to the streets in San Francisco to celebrate a judge's ruling against the Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage. MaLychi Casper describes the scene.

THOUSANDS OF activists and equality supporters gathered in the streets of San Francisco on August 4 to celebrate the ruling of federal judge Vaughn Walker, which struck down California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

The speak-out and march was built by local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizing groups, including One Struggle One Fight, Poz Activists Network, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Marriage Equality USA, and The Congregations of Welcoming Committees.

The party got started very appropriately at Harvey Milk Plaza at Castro and Market. Gathering quickly, the palpably jubilant crowd soon took over the side walk on both parts of the intersection. People cheered as speakers addressed the crowd, including a couple, Maria and Vanessa, who spoke of their action in the morning following the decision announcement: "We went down there and asked for marriage licenses." This action goes to show how much the decision affects people's lives in an immediate way.

The energy from the rally and attendance continued to build even before the march began around 6 p.m., as the crowd started pushing into the street. One longtime San Francisco organizer mentioned, "It was the first time I ever saw a march leave on time."

At the rally at City Hall, a long list of speakers, from Democratic Party politicians to LGBT activists, addressed the crowd with congratulations and victory. It was notable, however, that the main message was, with few exceptions, about California marriage and California marriage alone. There was little discussion from the front about building a broad-based network, and other LGBT-specific concerns were mostly mentioned with the vague sentence, "There is still so much work to be done."

MISSING FROM the platform was the essential point that without the grassroots activism of marches, protests, speak-outs and sit-ins, with strong demands for full federal equality for LGBT people and LGBT rights being civil rights, we would not have seen this victory. Judge Walker did not rule in a vacuum, and the protest in the streets over the last year also resonated in the judge's chambers.

As One Struggle, One Fight organizer Derron Thweatt noted, "Even to win a single issue we have to make more connections. We have to make the politicians scared. You can write politicians letters and whatever but you're going get the same thing you get every time you go to [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi's office: A bored receptionist who tells you she isn't in. This victory happened because of our activism in the streets."

Also missing from the conversation was any mention of Pelosi's promise to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the House floor for a vote. It looks as though she will be coming home to campaign for her own job when the LGBT community, who helped put her there, is not secure in theirs.

Or the fact that Mayor Gavin Newsom, who gained mass media attention in 2004 by instructing San Francisco officials to issue same-sex marriage licenses, has explicitly forced the anti-worker, homophobic law commonly known as sit/lie, onto the November ballot. This law would make it a criminal act for a person to sit or lie on the sidewalk, or any object on the sidewalk such as a stool or chair.

The law attacks not just the homeless population, 33 percent of whom are LGBT, but day laborers looking for work, civil disobedience activists taking the streets and potentially diners at sidewalk cafes. It leaves one to wonder how Newsom can call for the courts to, "Legalize Gay," when he actively seeks to criminalize the most underserved sectors of our community.

The hope going forward lies in a long-term view of the road ahead of us. This is a small but desperately needed victory for the LGBT community. We must now to turn our focus to broad-based bridge building and connecting the struggle to every other aspect of LGBT equality. Finally, it is necessary to include the vastly diverse transgender communities, which means no longer turning to them as an afterthought, but actively seeking leadership and direction from the wealth of experience that is so erroneously ignored.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. But the momentum carried forward from this win may very well be the galvanizing element the movement needs to resist if the decision is appealed.

And when the next battle comes to our door, we will be there, poster boards and bullhorns in hand, shouting at the top of our lungs: "Hey, Obama, we can't wait! Nationwide, not state to state!"

Christine Darosa, Ragina Johnson and Robert Moore contributed to this article.

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