Saturday, August 21, 2010

Marriage Victory Celebration Draws 3,000 to Hillcrest Streets

Mayor Sanders, Supervisor Candidate Whitburn Speak to Overflow Crowd


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: line of march, Stephen Whitburn, Mayor Jerry Sanders, Bryan Holiday. Photos by Charles Nelson.

Within hours of the August 4 announcement of Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger ruling that California’s ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, violates the U.S. Constitutional guarantee of equal protection, up to 3,000 happy Queers and non-Queer allies flooded the streets of Hillcrest. The event had been pre-planned by marriage equality activists for whatever day the decision came down, but the good news attracted a much larger crowd than the organizers predicted. Thousands of people converged on the corner of Sixth and University and packed the sidewalks for two or three blocks, and their march to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center on Centre Street delayed traffic for up to 20 minutes as police, who’d originally planned to keep the marchers on the sidewalks, let them onto the street.

The march was supposed to end with an event inside the Center’s main auditorium at which Mayor Jerry Sanders and other supporters of marriage equality would brief the community about Judge Walker’s decision and the likely next steps, legally and politically. But with over five times the number of people the Center’s auditorium can legally hold, the rally spilled outside and a separate event took place at which Mayor Sanders, San Diego County Board of Supervisors candidate Stephen Whitburn, San Diego/Imperial Counties American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) president Kevin Keenan and others spoke. So did a number of other people taking advantage of an open mike the organizers set up, including Bryan Holiday.

“I’m 95 years old, and my partner, whom I have married, is somewhere out there on his scooter, is 86,” Holiday said. “Victor and I met in 1947. We’ve been together for almost 65 years. We met at a kind of a party on V-J Day, which was the end of World War II, and I was a young guy living in Los Angeles, in Hollywood. It was a very important day in American history and there was a very big party, and I don’t know. We didn’t get together right away, but we got a second chance. We never dreamed there would be a time like this. For the first part of our lives, we were considered to be sick or crazy or something terrible. Since Stonewall happened in 1969, things have been changing wonderfully, and you guys are really lucky.”

“As some of you may know, I’m a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said Whitburn. “As a County Supervisor, I could get married in the County Clerk’s office. I want to make it it so that everybody can get married in the County Clerk’s office. We need to continue this fight. We need to celebrate today. We can celebrate today. We should enjoy this moment and revel in the fact that one federal judge has found that we are constitutionally equal. But there are going to be other battles to fight. There are going to be other battles to fight. You know that this is going to be appealed, and we’re going to have to stand strong, and stand up for ourselves, and contribute to the organizations and help the people who are fighting for our rights, so that this decision is upheld on appeal, whether it is to the 9th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court. We have a lot of work to do.”

Whitburn expressed confidence “that here in California, at the end of the day, this ruling is going to stand, and that in California marriage will be viewed as perfectly equal whether you’re straight or Gay.” But he said he’s also concerned about people in other states that haven’t even won basic protections against discrimination, let alone marriage equality. There are people in other states around this country who don’t even have the right to hold a job because they’re Gay; who don’t even have the right to rent an apartment because they’re Gay,” he said. “All things considered, California is one heck of a place, a great place for us to live in. Let’s keep fighting the battle in California, and then we’ll take what we’ve accomplished here and, state by state, across this wonderful country of ours, we’re going to make things equal for our brothers and sisters across America.”

“I want to congratulate each of you and thank you for your courage,” Mayor Sanders told the crowd outside after he’d finished speaking to the people who’d made it into the auditorium. “I know it’s not easy to come out. I know it’s not easy to talk to your families. I know many of your families have turned their backs on you, but it’s been your courage that has gotten us to this point. And it has been your courage that had led me to this point.” Sanders, who testified during the Perry v. Schwarznegger trial on behalf of marriage equality after his dramatic turnaround on the issue in 2009, recalled that when he spoke at the Center earlier during his first campaign for Mayor, “I know I irritated a lot of people with my position. As a young politician — even though I’m in an old body — I was trying to learn how to do the dance, and for that I apologize. I want to thank all of you for helping me make the right decision.”

Mayor Sanders thanked Judge Walker for allowing him to testify during the trial after the San Francisco city attorney’s office called him as a witness. “I came to see it as an opportunity,” he recalled. “Each generation finds something that’s been wrong for a long time. Each generation finds discrimination in one form or another. All of us out here today, every single one of us, can say that we’ve been a part of helping to solve that discrimination in the United States, and I want to thank each of you for doing that. And finally, when I look out there, not one of you threatens the marriage of my wife and I. My daughter’s Gay companion doesn’t threaten our marriage. I don’t see that any of you are threatening anybody else in the world. Everybody in the United States, everybody in the United States, should have the same equal treatment that allows you to find somebody that you love, marry that person, grow old with them and create a family. And that’s what today’s about. Congratulations.”

Kevin Keenan of the ACLU thanked Judge Walker for devoting almost half of his decision to eighty “Findings of Fact” that refuted not only the lies and distortions put out by the Yes on 8 campaign but many common stereotypes and misconceptions about sexual orientation and the ability of Gay men and Lesbians to sustain long-term committed relationships with same-sex partners. Keenan called Walker’s opinion “a marshaling of facts in an orderly procession that obliterates the other side’s factual claims and looks to the process of appeals with very strong, well-supported facts that support every aspect you know to be true about being equal, about being Gay, about being great parents, and about making society better by virtue of having equal marriage rights.” That said, he added that this was only stage one in the legal battle for marriage equality in California and the U.S. in general, “and what happens from now until the end of that is absolutely critical.”

“When those of us who organized this event and put this coalition together talked about what the turnout might be, we said hopefully we’d get about 80 to 100 people, and if there were more than that we’d overflow into the parking lot,” San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME) president Cecile Veillard said. “Well, this is really good news. We’re not going away. A lot of people have talked about the legal ramifications of the stay” — the delay Judge Walker put on his decision to give Proposition 8 supporters a chance to appeal — “and we know we haven’t won until we win the ultimate challenge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But until then, every win for our side pushes public opinion to see that the sky is not falling when LGBT [Queer] people are guaranteed their rights, or their rights are recognized. We should see these wins not only as benchmarks on out way to the ultimate decision in the U.S. Supreme Court, but as an opportunity to build momentum and shape opinion on our way to that last fight in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Veillard criticized wealthy individuals like San Diego hotel owner Doug Manchester and large corporations like Target — both under boycott calls from many Queer activists — for having made contributions to Proposition 8 and other campaigns against marriage equality. (Actually Target gave money to a business political action committee in Minnesota that in turn donated money to anti-marriage equality campaigns, and later Target officials said they’d made the donation because the group supported their positions on economic issues and hadn’t meant to support their anti-Queer campaigns as well.) “Why is it that the well-funded employers always seem to be against us?” Veillard said. “I find it offensive that so many of the people against us are being funded by employers and large corporations.” She suggested the reason is they don’t want to have to pay benefits for legally married spouses of their Queer employees, and said “we have to cut off their blood supply at the source” by boycotting them.

“Our movement faces challenges right now because we are in a recession, and the ‘Hope/Change’ honeymoon of the Obama election in 2008 is over,” Veillard said. “Right now people are being forced to choose between the struggle for LGBT rights and the struggle to save their homes from foreclosure in the face of unemployment and pay cuts. I’m mentioning this because we need to see the big picture. LGBT people cannot continue to fight alone. We’re members of every community. We’re members of the communities of color. Some of us are immigrants, and we’re all workers. There are simply too many struggles now — for labor rights, against budget cuts, against war, against the targeting of immigrants. … We need to join with other forces on the Left, because without joining forces with others, we are going nowhere. We are too small alone, and so are they. They need us, and we need them. We are all one.”

Ironically, Veillard was the next-to-last speaker at the rally — and the last, San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, is an openly Gay Right-wing Republican whose list of allies the Queer community should be seeking for support is probably very different from hers. As he’d done in his brief speech at the San Diego LGBT Pride rally the month before, DeMaio finessed his ideological differences with the organizers and most of the audience. Instead he urged marriage equality activists “to go out even into conservative areas. You have to reach out, take the example of our Mayor, and change their minds by touching their hearts.” While acknowledging the work of the “odd couple” of attorneys who initiated the challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court — Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies — DeMaio said, “It’s going to take more than lawyers to win true equality. It’s going to take every single one of you being changemakers.”

NOTE: Although Cecile Veillard was introduced as the president of SAME by the MC at the rally, SAME membership coordinator Joshua Napier informs Zenger’s that, “As a democratically run organization, our titles are only for the paperwork, as we invite all to be the leaders in our movement.”