Gay activism grows in wake of proposition 8 passage

Gay men and women from throughout the state plan to converge on Sacramento today. They're lobbying state lawmakers' support for same-sex marriage. The state Senate and Assembly are considering resolutions that would call on the California Supreme Court to reject Proposition 8, the November ballot initiative that outlawed gay marriage. KPCC's Frank Stoltze says political activism in the gay community is resurgent as the court prepares to hear arguments in the case next month.

Frank Stoltze: At a recent political workshop, 28-year-old Max MacMillan of North Hollywood joined hundreds of gay men and lesbians at the Los Angeles Convention Center. She says that on the subject of her sexuality, she maintained a "don't ask don't tell" policy with her very religious parents. That was before California voters approved Proposition 8, the measure that bans same-sex marriage.

Max MacMillan: I realized as Prop 8 came up that it needed to be talked about, that it needs to be brought up, because they are my civil rights and if I don't say anything, they will be taken away.

Stoltze: MacMillan – a music student at Valley Community College – says the election results turned her into an activist.

Stoltze: How long has it been since you've seen anything like this in the gay community – organizing like this?
Torie Osborn: Thirty years.

Stoltze: Torie Osborn is a longtime activist and a senior advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. She says that since Prop 8 won a majority, at least 40 new gay activist groups have formed online and on the streets. Osborn helped organize one of two all-day workshops at the L.A. Convention Center to harness that energy.

Osborn: Because that's where you start. You start with the people who are most new and the most hungry for skills and tools and leadership, ready to learn.

Stoltze: Some men and women still resent gay leaders whom they believe ran an inept campaign against the superior organization and financial backing of the pro-Proposition 8 effort. At one political meeting, the activists' anger erupted.

Woman (shouting): There are people who made mistakes – they should answer.

Stoltze: Laurie McBride has helped fight every major gay rights battle for four decades. She's frustrated that the anti-Prop 8 media campaign didn't feature more gay and lesbian faces.

Laurie McBride: You can't have a movement which consistently tells people, "come out, come out wherever you are, because that's the only way we win," and then run political campaigns that totally ignore that advice.

Stoltze: But political strategist Chad Griffin – who was not involved in the Prop 8 campaign – notes that U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and state public education chief Jack O'Connell appeared in the most effective ads against the measure.

Chad Griffin: We need to acknowledge as a movement that we need to move forward with smart strategy and a tested strategy, and use the best message and the best messengers that allow us to win regardless of our own personal preferences.

Stoltze: The political loss exposed other fault lines within the gay community. At one L.A. workshop focused on African-Americans, San Francisco-based activist Lawrence Ellis said he wanted people from other ethnic backgrounds to leave the room.

Lawrence Ellis: There's a dynamic that's different when I'm talking with other black folks when there are just other black folks in the room versus when I'm talking with black folks when non-black folks are observing. My proposal.

Stoltze: Viktor Kerney of South Los Angeles disagreed.

Viktor Keney: I feel like that's where some of the problems have started because we haven't had these conversations together. We need to talk together. You need to hear us. You need to hear the rawness.

Stoltze: As the debate grew tense, two whites, then two blacks left the room. A mixed-race group remained. African-Americans described how they fight homophobia in their own community and discriminatory behavior and attitudes from other gays – and how angry they were that many activists blamed blacks for the passage of Prop 8.

Workshop leader: We understand that as a community, we've been beaten up lately.

Stoltze: Organizers of one daylong workshop modeled it on Camp Obama – the successful organizing seminars that helped elect the first black president. At Camp Courage, they discussed using online social networking sites alongside more traditional political tools.

Organizers also urged this new generation of activists to tell two kinds of personal stories – of coming out of the closet, and of becoming politically active. The message resonated with Max MacMillan, who says she's ready to try and win over people who oppose gay marriage.

MacMillan: That's the only way to fight it. We can't yell at them. We can't shake our fists at them 'cause that's not going to get us anywhere and they're going to continue their misconceptions that we're just less than they are – that we are amoral people, that we are godless, but that's not who we are.

Stoltze: MacMillan says that to start, she's talking more to her parents. But she still doesn't expect them to show up this summer when she marries the woman she's loved for five years.