Thursday, June 27, 2013

Over 2,000 Celebrate Supreme Court Victories in Hillcrest

SAME Alliance’s Event Draws Exuberant Crowd, but “We’re Not Done Yet”


Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

March 1

March 2

Party at Adam and Steve’s

Congratulations, Angel & Kim

Mom, no more excuses

Crowd at rally 1

Crowd at rally 2

Cecile Veillard

Kelly Hutton

Eric Isaacson

Alfie Padilla

Kathy Carmack

Rev. Gerald Green

Karen Guzmán

Christina Griffin

Rally co-sponsor Activist San Diego promotes their new radio station, KNSJ 89.1 FM — check out their “Queer Hour” Thurs., July 4, 3 to 4 p.m.

“Win or lose, we’re not done yet!” That was the theme SAME Alliance chose for its rally and march through Hillcrest Wednesday, June 26 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA). Faced with the awkward task of organizing an event without knowing either the day it would take place or the outcome of the cases in advance — many people who received leaflets for the event asked, “What day is it?” — SAME Alliance and its coalition partners nonetheless drew over 2,000 people to a spirited celebration of the Court’s ruling that DoMA’s ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages is unconstitutional and its invalidation of Prop. 8 on procedural grounds.
SAME Alliance was originally called the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality and was formed immediately after California voters passed Prop. 8 in November 2008, bringing California’s 4 ½-month recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages to a skidding halt. Since then it’s organized events around the days of decision in the cases challenging Prop. 8 in both state and federal court. On August 19, 2010 nine of its members and supporters were arrested at the San Diego county clerk’s office for demanding that the officials honor federal Judge Vaughan Walker’s decision declaring Prop. 8 unconstitutional and grant same-sex couples marriage licenses immediately. The case dragged on for over two years before the San Diego city attorney’s office dropped all charges against the so-called “Equality Nine.”
Cecile Veillard, former president of SAME Alliance and one of the Equality Nine, spoke at the June 26 rally and once again called on county clerks to ignore the so-called “stays” — delays — on the anti-Prop. 8 decisions. “I challenge the county clerks to start marrying people by noon tomorrow!” she said. She also boasted that the decision throwing out DoMA’s definition of marriage, for federal purposes, as only between one man and one woman was already having positive effects. “Today, this morning, a New York City immigration judge immediately stopped deportation proceedings against a Gay Colombian man who is legally married to a U.S. citizen,” she said. “Before this, Sean’s and Steven’s marriage did not exist [for the federal government]. Now it does. This is why our struggle matters. For undocumented Queer immigrants, this is a big step.”
“This is more than just about rights,” said Kelly Hutton, SAME Alliance member who MC’d the rally. “Rights have been ours from the beginning, and we are taking them back. It’s about families, health care, jobs, immigration and being safe on our way home. It’s about a healthy and safe environment. It’s sending a message to youth that they don’t have to wait until it gets better. It’s better now!” Hutton also boasted about the wide variety of issues SAME Alliance is involved in besides marriage equality for Queer couples, including immigration, labor and protecting government whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. “At SAME we don’t tokenize,” she said. “All these issues are our issues. An injury to one is an injury to all!”
Attorney Eric Isaacson, who has been involved in marriage equality litigation in California since 2004 — first representing the First Unitarian-Universalist Church and now the California Council of Churches and other religious organizations supporting marriage for same-sex couples — explained the Supreme Court’s two rulings. “One said DoMA violates equal protection under law, and the other said the proponents [sponsors] of Prop. 8 don’t have the right to appeal because they aren’t personally hurt,” he said. “The decisions are narrow. The DoMA case focused on Section 3 [the federal definition of marriage]. It did not address Section 2, which says states don’t have to recognize [same-sex] marriages from other states. The Court says DoMA was motivated only by a desire to ‘express moral disapproval’ of [Queer] American citizens. The Court says the Fifth Amendment withdraws from government the power to defame a group. Justice [Anthony] Kennedy says the differentiation demeans the couples, and humiliates and financially harms the tens of thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples.”
Isaacson acknowledged that “these decisions leave open the right to marry itself. They don’t address the constitutions or the laws of Hawai’i, Nevada and the other 35 states [that still don’t allow same-sex couples to marry]. But I think it points the way to the right decision in those cases. And you know who made the difference? You did! It’s the dramatic shift in public opinion that has headed us in this direction. You need to talk about the injustice. We’re going to get there and it’s going to be because of you.”
Alfie Padilla, a male-to-female Transgender person who moved to San Diego from her native Houston, Texas in 2011, thanked groups like SAME Alliance and rally co-sponsors Canvass for a Cause (CFAC), for which she works, for their example. “I heard about it in Texas because when Prop. 8 passed, you made a ruckus about it. You talked to people you knew and said Prop. 8 was unconstitutional and just wrong. Taking people’s rights away is wrong, and you knew that and did something about it. When I got here from Houston in 2011, I had never seen so much energy. We’ve accomplished a lot, but there’s still a lot to be done. Transgender people don’t have a lot of rights. In some states people can still be fired for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. But keep putting that energy into the struggle, because we are winning.”
“Today we have witnessed a great victory,” said Kathy Carmack, a CFAC staff member and a volunteer with the online video outlet Queer News Now. “I remember when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage [in 2003]. I was only a sophomore in high school and it’s the first positive memory I have of good news about the Queer community. I saved the newspaper that announced it, and every time another state voted against us I would take it out.” Like the other speakers, Carmack said that the victories in the struggle for marriage equality didn’t just happen, and weren’t granted by judges or legislators just because they thought it would be the cool thing to do. “It’s people like you,” she stated.
 Carmack noted how far the Queer community has advanced since the 1960’s and 1970’s, when “you could be arrested in the streets for wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes.” That changed, she said, because “people in the streets yelled louder, engaged together and changed the world we live in.” She said that in her work for CFAC, which reaches out to people on the streets and in public places to ask them for support and donations for marriage equality, “I have met so many individuals whose stories have touched my heart: parents, activists, people who share stories about partners no longer alive. … It should not sadden us that our struggle is not over. It should empower us to continue to fight.”
Rev. Gerald Green of Unity Fellowship Church, a Queer-friendly denomination founded by and appealing mostly to African-Americans, said the victory was what happens “when people stand up and don’t stand down. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said until all of us are free, none of us are free.” Richard Barrera, recently appointed chair of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council, had to cancel at the last minute but sent a statement acknowledging the solidarity between organized labor and the Queer community.
“I’d like to consider myself an activist,” said Karen Guzmán of the San Diego DREAM Team. “Dreamers” has become an umbrella term embraced by young people who were brought to the U.S. as children by undocumented immigrant parents, have grown up in the U.S. and know no culture but ours (and in many cases speak no language but English), but are in jeopardy of deportation because they are technically not U.S. citizens or documented residents. The term comes from the DREAM Act, a proposed bill in Congress that would allow them to apply for legal resident status if they go to college or join the U.S. military. The DREAM Act is stuck in legislative limbo, but President Obama used his executive authority last year to set up a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that was supposed to accomplish the same thing.
“We do a lot of social justice work,” said Guzmán of herself and fellow DREAM Team members. “We promote fairness, justice, equality and treating immigrants with dignity. I am a Queer woman of color. Both my parents are undocumented immigrants. I am also a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. I ‘out’ all these identities because I want them all to be safe and protected under the law. DoMA and Prop. 8 are gone and social justice won this battle. But we still have much to do for all these communities. … What is going to be the next step? Protecting women’s reproductive rights? Solidarity with our Trans brothers and sisters? Homeless youth? What is the next step we need to take? We are not going to reach peace until we have full justice.”
Christina Griffin of the United Domestic Workers and the San Diego chapter of the NAACP was the only speaker who mentioned that while the U.S. Supreme Court had given a major civil-rights victory to Queer people and their allies, the day before it had struck down the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that enabled African-Americans and other people of color in the U.S. to vote and eventually elect their own to office. “We must continue to fight for protection against voting discrimination,” she said. “We must continue to fight against retaliation against workers. We have to fight against the refusal of our county to recognize the rights of its greatest assets, its workers. We must continue to fight the bans on marriage equality in 37 states. A lot of you are allies in more than one cause. You’ve got to stand proud as an ally.”
Cecile Veillard, who closed out the rally and kicked off the march that followed, brought up another issue that usually doesn’t get discussed at Queer events: police brutality. (A year ago Veillard stepped down as president of SAME Alliance to concentrate her activist energies on fighting abusive conduct by police.) “We have to fight against police brutality because when police brutalize the most powerless members of our community, they target all of us,” she said. She also called for continued struggle against bans on same-sex marriage in the 37 states that still have them, and asked people to put pressure on the U.S. Senate to approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban job discrimination against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people nationwide.
The march stepped off onto University Avenue and moved west on University to Fifth Avenue, the site of the Hillcrest neighborhood sign. Then it did a U-turn and came back down University to end where it began, at the Pride flag at University and Normal Streets in Hillcrest. Participants looking to continue the energy had several options. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center at 3909 Centre Street had scheduled their own commemoration of the decision starting at 7 p.m., and various bars and restaurants along the march route had already attracted celebrating crowds who greeted the marchers with enthusiasm as they went by. Rich’s, which donated a stage and some equipment for the rally, announced they were changing the theme of a dance party this Saturday, June 29 from the movie Airplane! (the poster for it used the famous “twisted-plane” logo from the film) to marriage equality.