A Brief Introduction

Endeavoring to define myself outside of a "job title." I'm a nomad of sorts who fell in love with technology, activism, and helping others. I run a web & media consulting firm, have a blog specifically for activists & non-profits, and travel often. I love talking about theology, politics, and social change. I love doing something about it even more. I also like to be a well-rounded and fully present person. That's why I write here. Connect with me on twitter

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

An Open Letter to California Queers

We didn't think it could really happen. The court handed down a compelling decision, the weddings had begun, photos were spreading, presents were streaming in, joy was contagious. This is California, we are safe. A few Facebook notes and status updates, along with perhaps a donation or two, would suffice in maintaining our civil rights. Nevermind only our like-minded friends read our Facebook and our blogs. Nevermind the polls. Nevermind the Mormon Church. There were rallies in West Hollywood and San Fransisco. Gavin Newsom gave a speech. “It's here whether you like it or not,” we were promised. We could observe from a distance, from the comfort of our living rooms, safely removed by a computer monitor.

But it did happen, didn't it? Five million one hundred sixty three thousand nine hundred eight people voted in favor of Proposition 8. Five million! Can you even wrap your mind around that number? I cannot. And here's the rub: those five million people aren't bad people, some of them even have gay friends. Five million Californians decided that it was good conscience and a good use of government to remove my constitutional equality and deny me marriage. Many (most?) of them may have felt this position is in line with the way the world is or should be—heterosexual relationships only.

And so today I'm not angry—I'm not going to yell about the bigots—I am challenged. There are five million people in the state of California that I have not reached. They do not know me and know what I bring to our community. Worse, they felt compelled to vote against fundamental rights for other humans. That is an awful place to be.

As I begin to wrap my mind around what Proposition 8 means for myself, my future relationships, my friends, and my country, I pause. Facebook status updates and blog posts were not enough to stave off Proposition 8, I cannot allow myself to believe that they will undo it. If history has anything to teach us, it is that great change does not come without great sacrifice--time, comfort, money, energy. Reaching out to Latino Catholics, Republicans in Central CA, Mormon neighbors, anti-gay co-workers, our sweet but uninformed grandparents, our cousins, even our vaguely supportive friends, and on and on; not with posters, stickers, signs or chants but with relationships and over shared meals and experiences. Deep connections, real enrollment. This is my plea to queer folks and our friends: do not update your Facebook status anymore about Prop 8, do not write another blog post about how insulted, offended, hurt, betrayed or disappointed you are. Take those feelings and that time and channel them toward the five million Californians who failed to connect with your humanity.

This is what I am going to do:

  • Write a card to all of my queer married friends in California, expressing my love and support
  • Host a small group at my church to unpack the decision, convey its effects, and further the movement toward acceptance and advocacy within our denomination.
  • Visit my elected officials to enroll their support for marriage equality in my state and return to visit as often.
From here out, I will only update my status or write blog posts to speak about my actions. I realized today that five million Californians didn't fail me, I failed five million Californians, and I— we—can change that.


Casey said...

Gotta disagree with you slightly on this one - not that we need to connect with those 5 million people, that's certainly true, and I join you in that effort - but in your commentary about facebook letters and statuses. In important ways, those were a form of outreach to many of our friends and family who were neutral or fuzzy in their support, turning them into staunch advocates... and for many of us who live on those boundary lines (gay/conservative or gay/religious) with feet firmly placed in both worlds, it was a way to send a message to those in foreign territory in a less confrontational way. Many of those facebook messages and notes were also e-mails that went deep into our contacts lists. You're right, our community desperately needs to get beyond our own borders - I just don't want to overlook the small things that do just that, which are often the first timid steps for people who are finding their courage. Take care, my friend.

Brian said...

Your messages were spot on, Casey. They were personal, directed, and deep. Thank-you for them. I hope in the time to come, to see in addition to action, more conversations along the lines that you have already started and less hollow updates I've seen scattered across my Facebook (and I'm sure have been guilty of myself).

Thank you for your example!

James said...

First off, I'm a hetero male, and have all kinds of love for all gay humans. even though I voted no on Prop 8, I definitely feel that the gay community has overreated with the passing of 8. I don't believe CA voters were misinformed or deceived. I believe that the majority of people prefer marriage as an institution in this country to be between a man and a woman. If you are gay and want to be married, I completely believe that you should be able to do so. However, I believe that beyond government and politics, the idea of marriage is something that stems from the heart, and is created when people are deeply in love with each other. Prop 8 truly has nothing to do with taking rights away from homosexuals. If any 2 people in this country are in love and want to be married, there is nothing that can stop them from holding a ceremony with their friends, family, and marital representative. With that said, I believe there is no reason for the claim that gays' rights have been taken away. The majority has voted and want California to only 'legally' recognize marriage between a man and a woman. If you're gay and have a civil union with your partner, in California you have the same rights as a heterosexual 'married' couple. I just keep thinking how much more marriage is about the heart than what the government can 'official' declare you as. My parents were married in 1981 and definitely got married because they loved each other more than anything. Regardless of whatever the state of California thought of them, they would have been married in their church regardless. Marriage shouldn't be about what politics say it should be; marriage is about the condition of your heart and should be regarded in that way.

Peace, James

Anonymous said...

It's only because so many African-Americans were there to vote for Obama that pushed Prop 8 through (since 7 out of 10 African-Americans voted "yes" on it). It was close enough that, if not for the AA vote, it wouldn't have passed. The future looks brighter though. Whites under age 30 and Asians voted mostly against Prop 8, and Latinos were about 50/50.

Brian said...

James, Thanks for joining the conversation. There have been times in my life when others have acted in ways that I did not understand. It is tempting to assume I know the "proper" way to react. Many of my friends in California had their marriages invalidated on Tuesday, that is a deep personal loss. Others, unmarried, are struggling to make sense of the vote--suddenly strangers in a state they thought was their own. I am always an advocate of non-violence, not only of fist, but also of tongue and heart. I hope that Californians channel their energy--and even righteous anger--in a positive and productive manner.

There is a pain, a deep and abiding pain in the hearts of LGBT people in and connected to California. I feel it deeper than I thought I would and in ways that words cannot express. The rallies and marches that you see on TV are perhaps one way of making sense of that pain and alienation.

Over five million: 5,000,000+ Californians just voted to single out gay and lesbians and remove rights guaranteed under the Constitution. There is no "wrong" response to such an action, only human ones; perhaps some more or less effective, some more or less retaliatory, more or less hurtful to others.

Marriage is more than a religious institution. Were it only that, there would be not be a civic issue. Marriage is inextricably bound up with rights and responsibilities. It is impossible for gay relationships to have equality under the law without marriage. Furthermore, it is simply inaccurate to suggest that no rights were not taken away. The California Constitution, until Tuesday, provided couples the right to marriage regardless of their gender. On Tuesday, Proposition 8 removed that right by amending the Constitution. One can be pleased with the outcome, but that does not change what happen: rights previously granted were removed.

I appreciate hearing about your family. In the same way, many of my friends will be married in their families and communities despite Proposition 8. However, your parents did more than get married in a religious ceremony, they filled out paperwork with the civil government. Were it not for those papers, they would be legal strangers. Proposition 8 made strangers out of families under the law. I long for the day when the public supports all of our families.

Can it start with you? Can you get to know and love gay couples who are currently denied legal marriage? Can you assist them in their struggles?

Brian said...

Anonymous, As I work to make sense of the statistics you mention, I come to the realization that we have not made allies with black people. We, who understand what it means to be pre-judged, have failed to come alongside and support others who face injustice. We've failed to root out problems of race in our own lives and communities.

Those statistics are indictment to me: become an ally to the 70% of the black voters who do not currently see me as one. Change their hearts by changing myself.

Anonymous said...

brian : That sounds like more of a personal thing with you. Which is great. Me, I'm more interested in results. I certainly don't think every African American is a homophobe (or even that every homophobe is necessarily a bad person) but, obviously, any case of gay/lesbian legal issues will make me hope there are more young Caucasians and Asians voting on it than African-Americans. /////I'm not putting down your philosophy, but I want results in my own lifetime. Yours might bear results, but only in the long long long run.

Anonymous said...

Blaming the collective of African -American vote for the passing of Prop 8 is racist in itself and ignoring the problem. Less than 10% of California is African-American. It is white people, by a huge margin, who populate the Inland Empire and the most conservative areas of the state, who are "responsible" for the the passage of Prop 8. Blaming black people places the responsibility in the wrong place. I might also suggest that the racism in the LGBT community makes it very hard for people of color to find support, and thus less likely to come out and share stories in the same way that white people might. Thus, the African-American community is missing the stories and human connection with black LGBT people. It is not an accident that being LGBT is seen as a "white problem" or that gay white men are the face of the LGBT community. I think we can look at a very old ism, racism, for which white people are responsible, to help explain why Prop 8 passed.

Brian said...

Absolutely! People of faith, rural communities, and people of color often get maligned in the quest for "LGBT equality" but as you've pointed out, it's not equality if I trample over others to get there.

I'm challenged with the passing of Prop 8 to personally look inward to see what ways I'm withholding justice--and to invite others to do the same. It's not only a personal philosophical desire (which, it is) it's also pragmatic.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter that the African American vote was a small percentage in California. They are still the only group who voted 7 out of 10 for "yes" on Prop 8. If the African-American vote was even a higher percentage of the votes overall, Prop 8 would have passed by an even higher margin. Call it "racist" of me to think that way- I don't give a flip. It's mathematics.

Brian said...

There are many "groups" of people who supported Proposition 8 (Republicans, McCain supporters, people contacted by McCain campaign, voters who decided within a month--but not a week--of the election, residents of inland CA, etc etc).

However, "blacks" and "republicans" are not monolithic.

Blacks also voted no on 8.
Blacks are also in same-sex marriages.
Blacks are also queer.

On another blog (I can't remember where now) I saw a comment by a black lesbian in CA who felt from the discussion of "the blacks did this" that she didn't even exist in the eyes of many gay people.

Yes, you are correct that many individuals who happen to be of African descent voted Yes on Prop 8. If we'd like their vote in our favor on a future proposition, we'd better find some way to connect with them and enroll them as allies in our shared struggle for justice. If we write entire groups of people off as bigots who should understand oppression but can't even get it ... we'll continue to lose elections.

Call it a personal thing, but that's politics.

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