Protesters gather for marriage rights at S.C. Capitol

Originally posted: Nov. 14, 2008, 10:51 a.m.
Updated: Nov. 15, 2008, 9 p.m.

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COLUMBIA — Working quickly on short notice, local activists organized a protest to join the nationwide demonstration for gay marriage rights Nov. 15, attracting about 150 people to the sidewalk in front of the Capitol.

Signs reading “No H8” and “Fight H8” referred to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which ended legally recognized same-sex marriages in that state.

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“Nobody expected Proposition 8 to pass,” said Beth Sherouse, volunteer coordinator for SC Equality and board member of Sean’s Last Wish. “We look to California as a liberal, progressive state,” added Santi Thompson, vice president of the SC Pride Movement.

The 2008 election results were even more jarring to the activists than South Carolina’s own ban of same-sex marriage in 2006. “We elected the first black president and took people’s rights away at the same time,” said Laura Schneider, president of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Alliance at the University of South Carolina.

“If slavery had been put up for a popular vote, we would still be living in a slave society,” said John Dawkins, Midlands regional coordinator of the SC Progressive Movement. “Our view is that we work for all social justice issues. Social justice is a fist. You can’t have environmental protection or worker protection unless you have protection of the people.”

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Elke Kennedy, chairperson of the board of directors of Sean’s Last Wish, said the election has implications for the entire community. “We have so many different areas where we lost during this election,” she said. “Now we have a great president and Democratic Senate and House, but that is not enough. Just voting and going back into your home is not enough.”

Thompson agreed. “We need grassroots organizing. It’s incredibly important to be visible,” he said. “We need to step back and re-prioritize what we are doing. We need to change hearts and minds.”

“When did equal rights become special privileges?” asked Pamela Jones, founder of the Charlotte Gender Alliance, who attended the Columbia event. “We need to come together as a totally united LGBT community. We all have the same fears of ostracism, fears of coming out at work or walking into a restaurant or even a Wal-Mart. It’s about anyone who is stereotyped and marginalized. Everyone has the right to be who they are.”

Surveying the cheerful and predominantly white crowd, African-American blogger Alvin McEwen commented on reports that black Californians who turned out heavily to vote for Barack Obama also tended to vote against gay marriage rights. “I didn’t feel comfortable with the black community getting the brunt of the blame when Proposition 8 passed,” he said. “People lost their minds for a brief second. Now we’re optimistic and people are engaged in the political process.”

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