It’s a national turning point. A figurative call to arms for the queer community. The cross-country response to the passage of California’s Proposition 8 and other anti-gay ballot initiatives is among the greatest and loudest rallying cries for equality ever heard from the LGBT community.
Journalist Rex Wockner is calling it “Stonewall 2.0” Others are talking about a new wave of inspiration and the death of a “passive era” of LGBT lobbying and advocacy. Writer Andrew Sullivan says groups like the Human Rights Campaign are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the face of the need to adapt to new realities and challenges.
On Nov. 15, untold hundreds of thousands of citizens in more than 300 cities across the nation took to the streets to proclaim a new movement for equality. Twenty-six-year-old, Seattle resident Amy Balliett’s JoinTheImpact.com — the informal “organization” behind the call for a national day of protest — created a powerful, national coalition of young and relatively inexperienced activists the likes of which the LGBT movement has not seen in decades.
With just a few clicks of the mouse and the dedication of local, self-appointed organizers across the country, Balliett tapped into the growing frustration and stirred more passion than the national LGBT movement has been able to muster since the days of ACT-UP and Queer Nation. The visibility and level of public debate created in the firestorm of Nov. 15’s public outcry over California’s, Florida’s, Arizona’s and Arkansas’ patently offensive violations of civil equality is priceless.
If only we’d seen such a movement before the election. Or perhaps before the other 27 states in the union defined me as a second-class citizen. I guess now was the appointed time for the bubble to burst.
The Carolinas’ almost 3,000 protesters pale in comparison to the thousands-strong protests in cities as far flung as New York and L.A. But for a region of our size and political climate, our local participation in this national moment of anger, frustration, hope and Pride — joining the protests in other rural, conservative regions — was nothing short of a revolutionary moment in LGBT activism.
As I sat and watched NBC National News more than three weeks ago, witnessing thousands take to the streets in West Hollywood and San Francisco, I knew we were in for something big. I just couldn’t imagine how big it might be.
In Raleigh, 1,400 braved the rain and wind to hear politician Jim Neal and activist Jimmy Creech speak out for queer equality. They marched to the Capitol. They marched to the Governor’s Mansion.
In Wilmington, more than 100 people gathered with only days notice and listened to “One Tree Hill” star Sophia Bush condemn the passage of Proposition 8.
In Asheville, 300 crowded into downtown Pritchard Park. Hundreds attended a rally and march in Charleston. With only 24 hours worth of planning, 150 attended a one-hour vigil outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia and 60 marched through the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone.
In Greensboro — the city where the internationally historic Woolworth sit-ins were spawned almost a half century ago — more than 300 attended a rally and made their call for equality heard across the Western Piedmont.
Why didn’t we see this action and passion before the election? Why now? Why here? Why did it take almost 40 years since our first brave stand at Stonewall?
For the first time in the history of our nation, a state left the already-present civil rights of a minority up to the whims of public opinion. Our rights were left out to dry, without a hope, as they were slaughtered by a simple majority vote. In the words of columnist and gay activist Wayne Besen, we were left victim to mob rule.
The courts — the institution charged with protecting the minority from a tyranny of the majority — surely have their plates full. (As of my deadline, the California Supreme Court had yet to rule on the legality of Proposition 8 and its passage at the polls.)
This is America. The majority doesn’t have the right to vote out of existence the civil rights of the minority. In other words, your so-called “right” to “majority rule” ends where my nose begins. We’re a Republic — with constitutionally-guaranteed equality and protections for those who always need it the most.
The sense of utter disappointment and anger is no doubt fueling this new wave of round-the-clock online and on-the-street activism. It’s the sense of the unfairness of it all — situations and events completely antithetical to the principles laid out in our founding documents — that’s pushing formerly complacent queers and their allies to lift their collective voices together in national strains of “We shall overcome.”
Now, activists are calling for a “day without a gay.” Just one day, on Dec. 10, when LGBT people and their friends and family stay away from work and society, driving home the fact that we are, indeed, an integral and much-needed part of this nation and world. Too bad I work for a gay company, or else I’d stay home, too.
In 1969, gay and transgender citizens had to fight against the overbearing police abuse in a seedy Greenwich Village bar. Now, our movement makes another dramatic move from our once dark and shadowy existences onto America’s Main Streets — and quite literally so.
“Out of the closets and into the streets!” That was the refrain heard from activists in years past. It’s reality now…