Saturday, November 08, 2008

San Diego Joins Rest of State in No on 8 Rallies

Nighttime Rally in Balboa Park Nov. 7, Hillcrest-North Park March Nov. 8


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

San Diego’s Queer community joined the rest of the state November 7 and 8 in staging mass public actions reflecting the anger after California voters passed Proposition 8 on November 4. This initiative, sponsored by the Colorado-based radical-Right group Focus on the Family and largely funded by the Mormon church and the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic organization invalidated their state supreme court’s landmark May 15 decision allowing same-sex couples to marry and said that only marriages between one man and one woman would be “recognized” under California law.

Despite some initial confusion as to what each action would consist of and when and where it would take place, both days’ events quickly fell into place. The November 7 event was a rally at 9 p.m. at the corner of Sixth and Laurel in Balboa Park, two blocks from the site of the annual San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Festival. Privately organized by a tall, rangy blond named Nick Meade and his partner, the event was originally scheduled to end in a march on San Diego City Hall. But the march was called off, partly to save participants’ energies for the big march scheduled for the next day and partly to acknowledge that the San Diego city government had been strongly supportive of the campaign against Proposition 8.

“This has been a painful week for our community,” Meade said at the rally. “It’s a shame to think there are people who think we should be second-class citizens. I see in us love: love for our partners, each other, our community, ourselves, This struggle is all about love and our freedom to love. We do not need a piece of paper to validate our love. We need it to prove we’re equal to and as good as everyone else. In this crowd, there’s one thing that’s absent, and that is hate. I see a lot of anger, but no hate. We must keep things positive and peaceful.”

Like many of the people attending the rally, Meade drew a dramatic contrast between the other big news from November 4 — the election of Barack Obama as president and his promise to heal the divisions within America and bring the country back together — and the passage of Proposition 8. “Even though we lost on Tuesday,” Meade said, “we will prevail because we are right and America is changing. But change doesn’t come easily. We all have to work for change. We can change California and America, and ultimately make marriage free and equal for everyone.”

“We have been through so much, and I’m glad we can still come together,” said Cara Dessert, public policy director for the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center and the only other speaker on November 7. “On May 15 we were elated after the Supreme Court said separate was not equal. When we faced the threat of constitutional discrimination we fought back like never before. We raised $1 million in San Diego alone and recruited 3,000 volunteers. We built the largest grass-roots organization in San Diego and expanded and redefined our community forever. Instead of hiding in fear, we reunited in courage and invited many new friends into our community to stand up against discrimination.”

Dessert said that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a petition on November 5 to ask the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8 on the grounds that it represent a “revision” of the state constitution rather than a simple amendment, and therefore requires a constitutional convention rather than an initiative. (A similar suit was filed after Proposition 8 qualified to keep it off the ballot, but lost.) She said that another suit has been filed to declare that even if Proposition 8 stands, the estimated 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place in California between June 15 (when the May 15 court decision took effect) and November 5 should remain valid.

Though the November 7 event was advertised as lasting an hour, the program only took about 20 minutes. It was punctuated by loud dance music from a D.J.-style CD player worked by Meade’s partner, who inadvertently turned it on just in time to drown out a few members of the crowd who had spontaneously started singing “We Shall Overcome.” About 500 people came to the rally despite the late hour and the uncertainty about just what would take place.

The big march November 8 drew about 2,000 people, and at its height stretched across University Avenue all the way from Oregon Street to Park Boulevard. The idea was to march down University Avenue from Fifth Street in the heart of Hillcrest to 30th Street in North Park. Due to concerns about parking, the organizers then decided to move the assembly point two blocks back, to the parking lot of the former No on 8 headquarters at Third and University. Though it wasn’t clear from the announcements who the organizers were, officials from the San Diego Democratic Club — president Andrea Villa and volunteer coordinator Lisa Kove — appeared to be in charge.

Kove and a male volunteer, Charlie Pratt, were staffing a table at the entrance to the parking lot, giving people who showed up without signs “No on 8” signs to carry and attempting to censor the messages of people who had brought their own signs. Kove demanded that people not carry signs with sticks (always a tetchy subject with the San Diego Police Department, since city law gives them the right to confiscate signs with sticks that could conceivably be removed and used as weapons) or anything with what she considered an overly negative message. “We’re communicating a message that we are a peaceful, loving people,” Kove told people showing up for the march.

Kove was particularly determined to suppress any signs with the word “HATE,” the punning emblem “H8,” or anything attacking religion in general or the Mormon church in particular, saying that she didn’t want the media filming people with such signs instead of people projecting the peaceful, loving image she wanted for the march. Pratt actually went up to a would-be marcher whose sign read, “Who Else Does Your God Teach You to Hate,” and asked him to leave it behind or not march. Two other individuals in the crowd, including a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who wasn’t wearing nun drag but did have on a T-shirt with their “San Diego Sisters” emblem, defended the man’s right to march with the sign he had brought, and eventually he did.

Despite the organizers’ efforts, some signs with the word “Hate” and others specifically targeting the Mormon church ended up in the march. So did at least two signs reading, “No more Mr. Nice Gay.” One participant in the march brought his own bullhorn and led his own chants, including “Equal Rights” and “No on Hate.” At least one North Park couple briefly chanted the old Queer Nation slogan, “Ten percent is not enough! Recruit, recruit, recruit!”

The march itself went on a straight line down University Avenue from Fourth to 28th, and the mood was largely upbeat. Rather than mourning over a lost election and a popular vote to prevent same-sex couples from getting married in California, they were surprisingly hopeful that Proposition 8 would not stand; if the legal actions didn’t throw it out, most thought, it would soon be repealed at the ballot box. The fact that the community came within 4.5 percentage points of defeating it made a lot of the marchers optimistic for the future.

Indeed, the energy level was so strong that one veteran community journalist surveying the scene at the assembly point said he wished there had been this kind of enthusiasm from the Queer community about Proposition 8 before the election. Asked about that remark, Jeri Dilno, a community activist for nearly four decades, said she thought that younger Queers have been insulated from the worst effects of discrimination — “They don’t have to worry about being fired from work, and they’ve come out to their parents with no problem” — and for them the passage of Proposition 8 was a wake-up call that anti-Queer discrimination and hatred are alive and well.

Though most of the march was well organized, its ending confused participants and police alike. Apparently at the suggestion of the police, the march organizers diverted the line onto 28th Street and moved the crowd inside a school playground two blocks south of University. There they scheduled a rally and planned to have at least two speakers using a bullhorn — but then they abruptly marched everyone out of the playground again and onto the street. Some of the marchers seized the opportunity to return to University and make it to the announced stopping point at 30th Street — and the police on the scene, at first inclined to block the marchers’ way, relented and let them through.

The line of march split at this point, with the larger crowd heading to Morley Field — where the scheduled rally had been moved — while a breakaway group marched north on 30th to Lincoln. They had no idea the main body had headed for Morley Field until a police officer used his car’s sound system to tell them. Upon hearing that, they turned off Lincoln at Utah and headed south again.