Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Special Comment on the Proposition 8 Protest Movement: “Now is Our Time”

by Stephen V. Sprinkle

One step too far: that is the step opponents of civil rights for LGBT people, the LDS Church and the Knights of Columbus, took in their all-out effort to repeal same-sex marriage in California. I do not contest the freedom of church organizations to voice their opinions about court decisions in America. But the desperate over-reach of Mormons and Roman Catholics to strip same-sex couples of the right of civil marriage the California Supreme Court had vouchsafed to them has awakened millions of LGBT people and allies to the power of a movement whose time has come. Pouring millions of church dollars and thousands of radio/TV advertisements into the struggle over Prop 8 has rebounded upon those who briefly celebrated beating back the high court’s decision on same-sex marriage. The agents of heterosexist theocracy may have won a single battle at the ballot box, but in doing so they have set in motion a war for public opinion they cannot win.

“Gay is the New Black”: Protesters at Austin Town Hall Plaza

Our opponents managed one thing by their desperation and arrogance: they have galvanized the grassroots power of the millions of LGBT folk and allies who surged to the polls on November 4 to elect Barack Obama president. With the internet as the vehicle for equality, 300 protest events sprang up in less than twelve days. No other civil rights movement in American history has been launched in cyberspace before, and as the presidential campaign of 2008 demonstrated, the internet has vast potential to rally millions and to fund a national movement. As a witness to the No On 8 Protest at the Austin, Texas Town Hall, I can report the zeal and determination of 3,000 mostly first-time protesters to seize this time as our time, the long-deferred time for a true LGBT Civil Rights moment. As a marcher myself, I can testify to the thrill of taking it to the streets as a 50-something gay man in a new way. I was too closeted and too far removed from the Stonewall Uprising of 1969 to take to the streets then. But this is today, and Prop 8, no matter what LGBT people may privately think of marriage for ourselves, is a thumb in our eye. Myriads of young Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Transgender people built up their electoral muscle in Obama Pride, and now are ready to infuse new life, energy and possibility into the struggle for sexual and gender expression equality. The rally organizers did a fine job at the Austin Town Hall Plaza for the thousands who came out. All the usual advocacy groups were there, lending leadership and direction to the surging crowds of neophytes straining at the bit to do their part for justice. But closing the proceedings and urging protesters to sign up on contact lists or to buy tee shirts could not shut off the electricity generated by restless youth. When a movement goes viral, it cannot be shut down with the flip of a switch.

“Marriage is a Fundamental Right”: Protesters at Austin Town Hall Plaza

Perhaps the organizers of the Austin No On 8 Protest tried to get a march permit, but couldn’t. Whatever the story, hundreds of fired up queers and allies took their signs and passion into the streets, and marched up to the Texas State Capital, where we demonstrated outside the gates in the shadow of the tallest governmental dome in America. “What do we want?” “Equality!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” ricocheted up and down Austin streets as dozens of cars and pickups sped by blaring horns and shouting encouragement. The citizens of Austin stepped back, some smiling, some scowling at the surging rainbow line marching up Congress Avenue. Two descriptors came to my mind as I marched along chanting with the others: Power and Peace. This was no flash-in-the pan afternoon protest, no lark by first-timers seeking to get their pictures in the paper. Others have seized their moments: the anti-war movement, African Americans, the Moral Majority, women. But this has the feel of our time, the time when the issue of same-sex wedlock changed from a political hot potato into a viral movement elevating marriage to the status of a civil right for all Americans.

“Hate is Not a Christian Value”: Protesters at the Texas State Capitol

There are serious problems to work out. Before the rift with people of color tears any further, African Americans and Latinas/Latinos must be appealed to directly. LGBT people and straight people of color have a stake in the fight for justice together, not apart, and LGBT people of color must lead white queer folk to avoid driving a wedge between natural allies and us. That is where LGBT people of faith and progressive religious leaders have a major role to play by giving a faith rationale for the marriage equality movement. One of the lessons of the defeat in California is that when church bigotry waves crosses and distorts the issues for the voting public, the most potent antidote is the public witness of queer and progressive faith leaders wearing all their ecclesiastical regalia. God must not be hijacked any longer by the radical right in the fight for equality. Further, from what I saw and heard, LGBT rallies need media savvy and speakers need coaching on how to call out the passion and motivation that will translate into effective action for change. It was clear that we haven’t learned how to do this ‘thing,’ yet. But we must learn how, and quickly, if we are to ride the tide of commitment building in our queer communities.

Protesters line Congress Avenue in front of the Texas State Capitol

My work on LGBT hate crimes murder victims teaches me that our movement already has its martyrs. I cannot help thinking of Harvey Milk, wondering if after 30 years since his assassination in San Francisco we have finally become ready to realize his vision and to vindicate his death and the deaths of so many hundreds of others. As we march and protest, their stories can give us the drive to confront a society yet unwilling to see us as equals. Never again must LGBT people stay silent when some of us are killed for simply being who we are. And never again may we sit idle on the sidelines while others struggle to win our freedom and equality. I saw and felt a justice movement building in the capital of the Lone Star State this past Saturday. As one sign in the Austin No on 8 Protest proclaimed, “Our Love Will Outlast Their H8!” We who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes!

Stephen V. Sprinkle
The Unfinished Lives Project

November 20, 2008 - Posted by | California, Heterosexism and homophobia, Legislation, Marriage Equality, Politics, Protests and Demonstrations, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, Texas

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