On Monday, Roland Palencia was named the new executive director of Equality California, the statewide gay rights group. He is replacing Geoff Kors, who built the organization into a political powerhouse while also playing a major role in the unsuccessful campaign to defeat Proposition 8 in 2008.
Palencia, though, is already off to a controversial start, repeating old excuses for the Proposition 8 loss in a recent interview.
“Look, it's easy to find a single culprit and I think people were very disappointed, obviously, that we lost,” Palencia tells journalist Karen Ocamb of LGBT POV. “I also think that we, the community as a whole, could have been a lot more involved, could have done a lot more things.”
Palencia continues, “It was an issue that was not getting us much traction for the community. It's hard to believe that now – but that was the reality. I think a lot of us were really focused on the Obama election because that was historical and people really felt that was – in the hierarchy of what was coming down the pipe – that's where we made a lot of efforts.”
Palencia speaks as if he has an insider's knowledge of the “No on 8” operation and the problems within it. That's not the case.
Later in the interview, Palencia says he was “not very involved in the mechanics of the [No on Prop 8] campaign, so I did not know in an intimate way how the campaign was run.”
Palenci's comments about the disastrous “No on 8” campaign, which was widely reported to be disorganized and dysfunctional, echo nearly identical excuses often mentioned by “No on 8” leaders, which angered many people in the gay community.
There have been numerous reports about the “No on 8” leaders not reaching out to college students, people of color, and grassroots activists, for leaving gay rights activists to fend for themselves in places like the Central Valley, and for running an isolated campaign without much outreach to the larger gay community and their straight allies.
In addition, “No on 8” leaders Geoff Kors and Lorri Jean took long vacations during the summer of 2008 rather than help run a coordinated, hard-fought political campaign against such well-organized opponents as the Mormon and Catholic churches.
Could those be reasons for a lack of “traction” — if that was truly the case — in the gay community? Probably so.
By the time it was over, Proposition 8 became a costly and stinging defeat for the gay rights movement and ordinary gays and lesbians.
Proposition 8 cost over $40 million for gay marriage supporters, took away the existing right for gays and lesbians around the world to legally marry in California, was a nasty punch in the gut for many gays and lesbians in California and around the United States, and is now the focus of an ongoing federal law suit that needs many more millions of dollars as it works its way through the federal appeals system.
Knowing how and why all of those things took place so they don't happen again would seem to be something Palencia would want to look into before saying Proposition 8 was essentially ignored by the gay community.
It's anyone's guess if Palencia is interested in deeply understanding the lessons that could be learned from the Proposition 8 fiasco.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.