By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Everyone at the PTA knew I was gay,” says McGehee, “and I never hid it from them. No one had a problem with it until after I made the speech.”
The mother was crushed, especially when she felt compelled to take her son out of that school and away from his friends. What made matters worse, she says, is that she felt “abandoned” by the “No on 8” campaign, which had no field operation in Fresno. When Proposition 8 was passed in November, and talk started up about a pro–gay marriage ballot measure for the 2010 or 2012 elections if the California Supreme Court upheld the same sex–marriage ban, McGehee decided a strong grass-roots effort where no one is left behind was the only way to go.
“I don’t want myself, or anyone else, to be fighting alone on the frontlines again,” she says.
McGehee also thinks the grass-roots work of knocking on doors and engaging in “individual conversations,” which was something the “No on 8” campaign failed to do in places like Fresno, is the best way to win over California voters who live far from San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“We have to look at the past so we can do things differently,” the college professor says, “or else we’ll just repeat history.”
To make sure the grass-roots movement has a voice in the next campaign, and to bring the message of full marriage equality to the often-ignored Central Valley, which strongly backed Prop. 8, McGehee became the lead organizer for last weekend’s “Meet in the Middle,” where gay-rights supporters networked, marched and canvassed Fresno neighborhoods on Saturday. In the true spirit of the grass-roots effort, McGehee charged $15,000 of the day’s expenses on her personal credit card.
“We should be organizing no matter what,” says McGehee, “not just for gay marriage. If we don’t, then that’s just being careless as a movement.”
McGehee, like a lot of other gay-rights activists, has strong opinions about where the new campaign, which has yet to become official, should head. “I hope we go back to the ballot box in 2010,” she says, “and it’s also my hope that it will be a community-based campaign.”
With a major push from grass-roots activists like McGehee in Fresno, Lowe of Yes on Equality in Sacramento, and others, 2010 is the favored year of nearly every power player in the gay-rights movement.
“We have momentum right now,” says Torie Osborn, who recently decided that 2010 is the best year to go back to voters, “and I don’t think you can sneeze at that. This is the social-justice issue of the moment.”
Osborn, who worked as a volunteer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign last fall, says the gay-rights movement doesn’t really have any other choice. With Obama almost certainly running for re-election in 2012, a pro–gay marriage initiative that same year would be competing for the very same political contributors and volunteers to man the phones and walk the precincts. Osborn says: “The Obama folks [are] with us,” but they will only be truly free to hit the streets in 2010, not in 2012, when much of their effort will focus on presidential politics.
For these reasons and others, Equality California, a well-funded heavyweight in the gay-rights movement, and Courage Campaign, an increasingly powerful gay-rights/politically progressive organization with grass-roots origins that saw its membership rise dramatically after the Proposition 8 loss, are also pushing for 2010. “I’ve never seen in my years in marriage equality the energy and willingness to do the work,” says Marc Solomon, recently hired director of the same-sex marriage project at Equality California, who believes those impulses may fizzle out by 2012.
Rick Jacobs, L.A.-based founder of Courage Campaign, points to the buzz surrounding same-sex marriage and other gay-rights issues, like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which outlaws openly gay men and women from serving in the military. “LGBT equality has become fashionable,” Jacobs says. “Equality is in, and discrimination is out.” Jacobs, who works with Osborn on the Camp Courage training seminars, believes that young people — gay and straight — want to hit the streets now. While Jacobs had been concerned about being able to put a solid grass-roots movement in place in time for 2010, he now thinks the building momentum should be capitalized upon immediately.
But while major players agree that 2010 is the year, there is lingering tension, even some distrust, between Equality California and other groups. Much of that stems from Equality California’s widely criticized role in the failed “No on 8” campaign, as well as recent behind-the-scenes moves.
Those who criticize Equality California and the other mainstream groups that led the “No on 8” effort (including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center) say these organizations ran an arrogant, “nontransparent,” “top-down” campaign. That campaign, many believe, failed to utilize the passions and talents of a diverse gay community eager to defeat Proposition 8, and utterly missed the need, for example, to address the brewing unease among Latinos and blacks, many of whom voted against gay marriage.