Sunday, November 16, 2008

New Yorkers Protest Prop 8 - pigeons were in attendance, so was I

Yesterday, Saturday November 15th, New Yorkers came out in the thousands to standup against the passing of Proposition 8 in California. Just a week and a half before, much of the country enthusiastically celebrated President elect Barack Obama's victory, bringing hope to minorities, civil rights activists, people of color, the LGBT community, and people of all types. It seemed that the election of a black, mixed race president signified that we had taken a great step forward, putting difference and race aside. On the day after the election, the roar of excitement still fresh, many woke up devastated to discover that Proposition 8 had passed. "Prop 8", for short, was a proposition presented on the California ballot this election that amended the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage solely as union between a man and a woman. It overrode a recent California Supreme Court decision that had recognized same-sex marriage in California as a fundamental right.

I attended this protest rally yesterday in City Hall having felt a strong duty to be there. I witnessed thousands gathered in attendance including a diverse cross section of New York residents and visitors alike. Many identified as gay, lesbian, queer and/or transgendered, while countless others were straight allies protesting for their friends, family, and fellow citizens to have the same basic civil rights that they do. The rally could be described as peaceful yet heated with emotion. Picket signs could be counted in the thousands thrusting high into the air coinciding with the booming chants from seas of people. Signs read"Love not H8," "Separation of Church and St8," "Please Let My Son Marry," "Should We Ban Divorce too?," "What's So Scary About Equality?," and "I Will NOT be Tolerated," alluding to a statement from Sarah Palin in the Vice Presidential debate.

Attached to the devastation that was felt upon learning the news of prop 8 passing, many felt intense anger and started to place blame. Campaigns for the passing of Prop 8 raised tens of millions of dollars directed at churches and minorities, specifically African Americans and Latinos. Communities with strong religious values were targeted with the message that same-sex marriage is wrong in the eyes of God and puts traditional marriage at risk. Results of exit polls showed that 70 percent of African American voters and 53 percent of Latinos supported Prop 8 and the ban against gay marriage. Anger and shock arose from the notion that blacks, who have fought against exclusion and discrimination and for their equal civil rights for decades, voted to oppress another group in the same way.

The rally yesterday, included several speakers standing proudly atop soap box shouting from their heart for equal rights. Amongst those to speak were City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, Congressman Anthony Weiner, former Miss America Kate Shindle, actress Daniela Sea, and former America's Next Top Model, current MTV VJ and activist, Kim Stolz.

I found myself particularly impressed with what Kim Stolz had to say. While it is true that the larger majority of African Americans and Latinos chose to vote for the proposition to ban same-sex marriage, Stolz presented captivating statistics: "if nobody over the age of 65 had voted, prop 8 would have addition, Latino and African American voters under the age of 30 voted against prop 8 in a large majority." She continues, "all of us, that's the future of gay rights, right there."

Embracing gay rights, it could be said, is just a generation away. Of course, no one wants to or should have to wait that long. It is interesting though to point out the difference in voting between age groups amongst people of color in California. The African American youth who did not have to endure the struggle for civil rights that their parents and grandparents so strongly fought for, ironically, better understand equality for all rather than "separate not equal." Maybe it could be said that those oppressed learn to oppress others or that even those who fight so hard for change find it difficult to accept change later in life.

Civil Rights have come a long way in America: an African American has been elected our President. On election night and the days since we've heard countless journalists beside themselves with emotion, saying they "never thought they'd see the day" or as Steve Osunsami, ABC correspondent choked up saying, "my father used to tell us that there's no way this country would elect a black president. Well this evening, the country has proved my old man wrong, and we're the better for it." We can rejoice our progress to look past race, one even said that election night marked the end of the civil war. Yet the LGBT community does not share the same civil rights as the straight majority. We may have elected a black president, but will my generation live to see the day that a gay couple moves into the White House?