Proposition 8 Gives Rise to New Generation of Gay Leaders

After state voters passed Proposition 8 on November 4, gays, lesbians and their straight allies took to the streets in Los Angeles and West Hollywood, demanding the repeal of the ballot measure that bans same-sex marriage in California. The outrage over the vote also brought about several boycotts that forced “Yes on 8” contributors like L.A. Film Festival director Richard Raddon out of a job.

But one of the more interesting and sometimes overlooked post–Prop. 8 developments has been a shakeup within the gay establishment and the rise of younger activists looking for a seat at the power table. Dave Valk, a 21-year-old senior at UCLA, and Joe Townley, a 30-year-old Internet entrepreneur, founded, with others, an activist group called Demonstrate Change. Vincent Jones, a 32-year-old staffer at Common Cause, expected to do more outreach in the African-American community, which mostly voted for Proposition 8.

In the meantime, the California State Supreme Court will hear arguments from gay-rights lawyers probably in March, asking the court to overturn Prop. 8 and legalize same-sex marriage in this state once again. To keep the “No on 8” cause alive, Valk, Townley and people like them have been gearing up for protests in January and February, as well as a possible March on Washington in April. Other gay activists in Los Angeles — young and old, rookies and veterans — are also organizing a more grassroots-oriented gay-rights movement, with Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign providing support.

In our article published shortly before the election, polls showed voters who opposed same-sex marriage gaining ground on voters who backed same-sex marriage. The article, “Riding the Cultural Divide with Proposition 8,” explained the national consequences of either outcome, as well as the mounting turmoil and trouble unfolding inside the campaign to defeat the measure.

Leaders of the “No on 8” campaign, like L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri Jean and Equality California executive director Geoff Kors, have yet to take ownership of the failings of their effort — such as little outreach to blacks or Latinos who voted for Prop. 8, which won by 599,602 votes statewide and passed in Los Angeles County. The gay establishment still wants control over the direction of the repeal movement, much to the chagrin of the newer, younger crowd.

The coming year will be unlike anything the gay-rights movement has gone through in decades. In a surprise move, state Attorney General Jerry Brown, who had publicly vowed to represent the will of voters, fighting to keep the new gay-marriage ban intact, jumped sides and is now pressing the Supreme Court to consider an untried legal argument for throwing out the vote. And controversy is simmering over President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Southern California evangelical Pastor Rick Warren (who opposes gay marriage but befriended Obama and played a key role in urging evangelicals to vote for him) to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. With so many shifting headlines, one thing remains clear: Young people are taking on the mantle of the gay-rights movement in a big way. “The moral authority of the movement has shifted,” says Valk. “It’s no longer with the people running the big organizations.”

“Riding the Cultural Divide with Proposition 8” by Patrick Range McDonald

“No on 8” was underfunded and outmatched. During an October 7 conference call with the press, [Equality California executive director Geoff] Kors conceded that the lack of funds had left the movement unable to buy enough crucial TV ads, the best way to reach millions of voters in a very pricey California media market. The “Yes on 8” advertisement, which Kors blamed for an ugly shift in the polls, ran unchallenged by “No on 8” for at least a week — often a disastrous strategy for ballot measures.

The steady stream of bad news ultimately shook things up inside the “No on 8” campaign. By mid-October, campaign manager Dale Kelly Bankhead was quietly pushed aside, and former Log Cabin Republicans president Patrick Guerriero was installed as “campaign director” — a rich irony, since gay Republicans are often vilified by the leftist majority that dominates California gay politics. To take on the job, Guerriero took a temporary leave of absence from the Gill Action Fund, a highly influential and effective gay political fund-raising group, where he was executive director.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >