Nov 172008

Maybe, finally gay people have decided that enough is enough when it comes to having second-class citizenship foisted upon us by krazy kristian kooks. Across the country Saturday were a series of rallies decrying the enactment of three marriage amendments on election day which enshrine discrimination in the Constitutions of Florida, Arizona and California. As angry as we may all be, we should not be surprised at the outcome. There is no leadership within the gay community, and practically no community left anyways. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has become a parody, and while I respect the work done by Equality Florida, they too have been totally ineffective.

Let’s take a look at some of what happened on election day. There are a number of factors that lead to the passage of these amendments. None of it should have come as a surprise, and some of it ain’t pretty.

The Mormon Church
The Mormon Church has become very much a focal point for the anger of the gay community, and they don’t like it. It’s been estimated that nearly $20m in funding for the Yes on 8 campaign in California came from people affiliated with the Mormon Church. It also appears the Church itself, in violation of a number of election laws, may have provided in-kind services such as phone banks and material support. Make no mistake, the LDS Church was a big part of the campaign to pass Proposition 8.

They have previously been active in campaigns to institutionalize the same kind of hate in Hawaii. I find it intriguing that a Church which used to (and to some extent still does) condone Polygamy, used to exclude African-Americans from membership, and were themselves persecuted, have now taken it on themselves to support bigotry and hatred around marriage rites.

“Everyone in the United States has a legal right to protest, which we support fully,” said Waterford Clayton, president of the Newport Beach stake LDS. “This is not about sexual preference. This is about the moral standing of marriage.” (Get it, the Mormons, of all people, are lecturing the rest of us on the “moral standing of marriage.”)

Something went wrong this time though. In an internal church document ([download#1]), the church made it clear they were pleased that the leaders of the Hawaii initiative were not being associated with the Church. This time though, the word of their unprecedented sponsorship did not go unnoticed, and now the LDS has the gall to whine and complain about being called out for it. Sorry guys, but that’s how that messy old thing called Free Speech works. I may not like your message, but I defend your right to say it, but it also means you have to make room for my speech as well, even if you don’t like the content. The Mormon Church has every right to take a stand against Gay Marriage, but Gay people then have a right to take a stand against any institution that supports hatred.

When people are angry, they need a focal point for their anger. There are lots of reasons and people and groups responsible for the outcomes on election day, but the Mormon Church is serving as a good focal point for the anger, and I’m OK with that for now, but at some point we will need to move beyond blame. 

The Voters
A great deal is being made of a surge of black and Latino voters in this election having an impact on the outcome of the Amendment in California, and I would expect to find similar numbers here in Florida and Arizona. According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, “70 percent of African Americans also voted for Proposition 8, as did 53 percent of Latino voters.” According to the report:

Last week, however, 10 percent of voters were African American while 18 percent were Latino, and applying exit poll data to that extra turnout reveals that the pro-Obama surge among those two groups gave Proposition 8 an extra 500,000-plus votes, slightly more than the measure’s margin of victory.

To put it another way, had Obama not been so popular and had voter turnout been more traditional – meaning the proportion of white voters had been higher – chances are fairly strong that Proposition 8 would have failed.

However, it was also helped along by older voters. Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight writes:

Exit polls suggest that first-time voters — the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama (he won 83 percent [!] of their votes) — voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin. More experienced voters voted for the measure 56-44, however, providing for its passage.

I can’t quite get my mind around Nate’s math. However I do agree that this can’t be blamed just on Black and Latino voters. If all white voters had voted against these initiatives, they would have failed. So it is clearly a combination of Black, Latino and Older voters.

In Florida, I think the ads and rhetoric put out by the Yes On 2 campaign was able to frighten easily confused older voters. I think that combined with a large evangelical community throughout the state, and, let’s be real, a good smattering of red necks (especially in northern parts of the state), gave the bigots the votes they needed.

The Professional Activist Organizations
There is no doubt that the professional activists organizations, the HRC nationally, and Equality Florida in my state, did not do an adequate job. Clearly the outreach to Blacks and Latinos came up short.

Here in Florida, I saw almost no TV ads, no rallies, no outreach beyond a bunch of debates at Tiger Bay clubs, and my yard sign was the only No On 2 sign in the whole neighborhood, and I know of a number of other gay households around here. Another problem was two competing organizations, and I visited both websites and could find little in the way of on-going information, just a lot of requests for money. They had blogs which hadn’t been updated since July. They were attempting to arrange for volunteers at polling places, but I’m just now sure that wasn’t too little too late.

On a more grand scale, the HRC has become a joke in my opinion. I called them to get information on implementing domestic partner benefits in my company about a year ago. It took me two phone calls and three emails to finally get a response three weeks after the final contact, and the information provided was virtually useless. They have experienced legislative failure after failure, and the outcome of this election shows their inability to have influence.

I grew up in the South in the 1960s where there were still plenty of vestiges of discrimination. I remember hearing comments about “good blacks” who “knew their place.” I now realize that both phrases were code for African-Americans who said “yes sir” and “no sir” to while folks, and didn’t make trouble demanding equal treatment. Well, I think the problem with the HRC is that they place too much emphasis on being “good gays,” and showing we “know our place.” Well, that strategy hasn’t worked so well, and the HRC’s response to the defeats?…they are going to hold a “Spa Night.” That’s right…after the hard work of losing rights already won, they need a nice evening of being pampered.

What’s Next?
The whole set of hastily organized nationwide rallies held Saturday was not organized by HRC or any of the other major activist organizations. It is truly grass-roots and came about as a result of a single person and a blog post. Some of the major organizations are upset they aren’t included, and I’m sure they will be inserting themselves, but while HRC was out having their spa night, other people were just out making stuff happen.

There were several hundred rallies across the country, and both Tampa and St. Petersburg held events. Lay and I attended the one here in Tampa. The crowd was disappointingly small, but I keep telling myself there was also one in St. Pete, and they were all being organized on very short notice.

Click to see more photos from the Tampa Event My prayer is that the crowds will grow, but it seems hard anymore to get gay people out and into the streets. I think we have a false sense of security and a smugness we need to get over. Many gay people have domestic partner benefits or don’t care because both partners work and have insurance. Many younger gay people don’t have the experiences we older folks have with blatant discrimination, and people seem to get in their mind that if they’re doing OK, don’t rock the boat. That’s being a “good gay,” and it’s not getting you anywhere honey. Come on out.

The Mormon Church and others keep saying that they’re not opposed to equal rights for gays (civil unions, benefits, hospital visitation, etc.), but don’t want us to have marriage. Step one is the call their bluff on civil unions. I agree completely with those who say that separate is not equal, but that will have to come from the courts. The legislative bodies don’t have the wherewithal, but it will come if all the other benefits are implemented.

We need to call out the people who claim they don’t hate gay people, but support these initiatives. The Mormon Church is a start. There’s a big story about a restaurant in LA called El Coyote that has/had a large gay clientel. Apparently the owner is a Mormon, and pulled out her checkbook and made a large donation to the Yes on 8 campaign. Apparently there’s now been a tearful where she didn’t understand why everyone was so upset. How can anyone be so stupid as to not understand. For the first time in the history of this country a Constitution was amended to TAKE AWAY rights from a group of people, and this lady doesn’t understand why members of that group would be mad at her for supporting that effort.

Another person being trotted out now by the fundies was the director California Musical Theater. He made a contribution to the Yes on 8 campaign. When people started learning about his support, they began to withdraw their support of his organization, so he resigned. Funny how this whole free speech thing works. Now Eckern, along with Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind the ballot measure, are defending their bigotry as a constitutional right and complaining that those who protest their actions are being intolerant. Per Schubert: “No matter your opinion on Prop. 8, we should all agree that it is wrong to intimidate or harass anyone for exercising their constitutional rights.” This coming from the group that sent a letter to contributors to the No on 8 campaign threatening them with boycotts and other actions. Oh, I get an email almost everyday with a missive from the American Family Association launching a boycott on someone. Pepsi is their latest target. This is what I was talking about earlier, they just don’t understand how that whole free speech thing cuts both ways. Man-up and face the consequences of what you did.

Next up seems to be a No Gay Day on December 10. Gay people are asked to not cosume (no shopping) and to skip work for the day. I think that is a great idea.

The Sign that Sums it All UpWhat am I Going to Do?
I’m not completely sure just yet what part I’ll play in this, but I am fed up. I’m tired of my life being a proposition. As I noted previously, this is new low for America as a Constitution was amended to take away rights from a group of people. I don’t expect to be leading any parades, but I’ll certainly be in a few. I can carry a sign with the best of them, and I can certainly write letters to the editors, to the hateful activists on the religious right, and to my representatives. No more being a good gay and knowing my place.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I plan to put a little weight behind to help with the bending.

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