-the wonderful Eva Paterson, Keynote Speaker at the Equality Summit
A day or two after Prop. 8 passed, a huge protest congregated in front of the Mormon Church on Santa Monica. Afterwards, they streamed past my Century City building on their parade back to the safety and comfort of West Hollywood. I watched this great scene with one of the senior partners at the firm, a 60 year old gay man. He said what I was thinking: “What should we do? Do we run down there?” Then he said, “I’m too old for this. I’m going to give money. You march. I marched 30 years ago, I helped get you here. Now, it’s your turn to do something for us.”
I took part of my turn this past Saturday. While Matt was on the other side of the Convention Center, I attended the statewide Equality Summit in the same locale, organized by Equality California. Essentially the activists’ version of a corporate retreat, complete with crap continental breakfast-type food, the Equality Summit was billed as “a gathering of community leaders committed to winning back marriage equality in California, to network, share information and resources, and plan next steps.” Personally, I hoped for discussion on how to unite the plethora of post-Prop. 8 groups that currently are engaging in a variety of pissing contests over strategy and territory. I also hoped that there would be discussion about uprooting the seeds of the marriage equality problem – homophobia. But, as you’ll see, hope springs eternal.
In a positive step away from what was often a classist, top-down No on 8 campaign, the event was free to all. Over 400 old-school and new-school activists showed up. As an activist powwow to air weaknesses and failures, it was intended to be off-limits to the media. After a huge outcry and a resignation or two, the decision was reversed and the media received access.
The event began with members of the formerly hidden No on 8 Executive Committee explaining their strategy decisions and giving us various after-the-fact poll numbers. Molly McKay kept calling everyone “love warriors” which drove me nuts. This has to be the top priority on our Gay Agenda: Stop with the morally superior (and horrifically eye-roll-inducing) terminology.
There are a lot of white people in this room trying to figure out their non-white problem. Is the problem that we as a whole: (a) don’t know enough minority activists who would like to attend free events like these; (b) don’t know how to advertise our activities outside of Facebook, thereby leaving out those on the wrong side of the technology divide; (c) are too busy catering to our own white bases, so we don’t have the time to look outside of our comfort zone; or (d) all of the above? Ah, my Scantron has D bubbled.
At one point, someone suggested that before the next ground war, we must “Teach white people about non-white issues.” Amen to that. Amen to that with regards to almost every social or political issue there is.
After holding the official leadership accountable, it came time for the gay community to hold itself accountable for its complacency and for, once friggin again, being co-opted by the other side’s use of children as proxies for its homophobia. Confessionals were completed through a series of professional break-out sessions, including how to better engage those cloaked in their faiths; how to utilize the labor movement; and, in a tiny room in the corner, the (non) role of transgendered and transsexuals.
I went to the tranny session and out of all the minorities struggling to find their voice in the LGBTI movement, none is between a bigger rock and a harder place than trannies. Generally considered a liability – as in, “You Buffalo Bills and walking Thai surgery centers represent that slippery slope argument they keep talking about” – trannies are the black sheep of the LGBTI family. My group was stymied as to how to make their social and political challenges relevant to the movement without alienating the public and indirectly hurting the gay community as a whole. What I took away from this was: that’s how non-white gays and lesbians used to, and still do, feel!
After the breakout session, the panelists reconvened to talk yet again about how they did their best to win. Thank Gods they were interrupted by an unscheduled appearance by our hometown mayor. Mayor Tony gave a brief, rally-the-troops speech. Apparently, he had no idea until that morning that there was an event of this magnitude in his hometown. Once told, I guess he hauled ass to come show his support. This is symbolic of the problem, people: insular visibility and poor utilization of our allies. If our own mayor doesn’t know that GayCon 2009 (full credit for this term goes to the girlfriend) is happening in his own backyard, just a mile or two from City Hall, how is anyone outside WeHo, Silverlake, Long Beach, or Laguna Hills supposed to find out about us?
After Tony the Tiger, I attended two region-specific break-out sessions. Both were supposed to focus on how to outreach and strategize in a specific region. The LA-based folks disappointingly came up with the same, tired, non-LA-specific solutions. The Orange County/Inland Empire session was similarly generic. Sample “regional” solutions: Protect the judges in case they overturn Prop. 8 (um, ok). Have multi-language literature (if the gay community truly is serious about this one, it must go beyond the mantra that our literature should be “in the Asian language.” Lesson 1 on the Teach White People About Non-White Issues syllabus: ASIAN IS NOT A LANGUAGE.) Must have clergy. Must reach out to straight allies. There was very little productive talk about confronting, and getting over, our fear of the valley lands yellowed by Yes on 8 signs.
At the end of the day, what was accomplished? The energy and dedication towards participating in our revolution was powerful. There was a much needed vent session. Without the need to defend ourselves in front of straight people asking, “Why didn’t you care more?”, there was space to honestly evaluate ourselves and our shortcomings.
Nonetheless, my impression was that the event didn’t unite everyone as much as it solidified our current Balkan state: different groups competing to do different things in the same safe places. We have a problem with insular visibility. We have a racial and religious schism between what we want to do and what we must do. We have little direction as to what we, as a whole, are going to do about these problems.
The event didn’t erase my fear that, much like over-exaggerated declarations that the election of Barack Obama is synonymous to the End of Racism, we’re treating this marriage equality debate as if its resolution will eradicate homophobia. It won’t. There were only mere whispers that though marriage equality is a significant step, what we’re ultimately fighting against is people’s fear, often violent, of our very existence in this world.
With the dawn of Stonewall 2.0, I hope this circular firing squad avoids shooting itself in the foot. Because, as one panelist said, the only thing that would be worse than losing Prop. 8 would be to lose again.