Now, here’s a story I feel deeply connected with. My fellow colleague, Jasmine Loy, and I worked on this story and produced a compelling piece of work.
Let There Be Change
by Jasmine Loy and Chris Huqueriza
April 17, 2009 12:15 PM
The on-and-off showers of the past few weeks have halted for now, and the clouds are gradually disappearing. Good news for those who have gathered this evening at Harvey Milk Plaza on the corner of Market and Castro Streets for the “Eve of Justice” march and candlelight vigil, aimed at “lighting the way for the Supreme Court.” On the eve of the Prop 8 hearing, scheduled for nine o’clock tomorrow morning, voices ring out over the PA system and serve to pump up the crowd for the tepid, nearly one-and-a-half mile walk.
The votes are in, the arguments have been heard, and if you’re in the market for a marriage certificate, you may be out of luck. The California Supreme Court heard arguments March 5 as to the constitutionality of Prop 8, the controversial legislation that passed last November with 52 percent of Californians voting to remove the right to marry from the LGBT community. While people across the nation were partying down in honor of Obama’s victory, same-sex couples in California were heartbroken.
Call-and-response chants ripple through the blocks of people who are marching down Market Street proudly holding up banners or screaming through megaphones. One man plays an acoustic guitar and engages other brave singers with a recurring chorus of “We Shall Not Be Moved.” As dusk falls quickly on downtown San Francisco, the hundreds of candles, lit at the onset of the march, begin to cast their faint glow onto the myriad of faces. Among the southwest-facing traffic, some cars honk, and other drivers flash the thumbs-up sign or pump their fists energetically to show their support despite the traffic disaster marchers have caused. A few motorcycle cops charge through cars like aggressive, brightly lit trout swimming upstream to get ahead of the crowd and block off cross traffic.
This rally is just one action among many that have erupted since the November elections. Despite Prop 8’s passage, opponents have done anything but accept the majority’s decision and fade quietly into the night. Through good old fashioned rallies, boycotts, lawsuits, and open dialogue, same-sex marriage supporters have responded with passionate intensity.
Californians Against Hate
Fred Karger sits down to breakfast and unfolds the local paper. Today, March 15, 2008, that paper is the San Diego Union Tribune. Karger’s in town from Los Angeles for a conference, and the front-page story is especially intriguing, as it illuminates exactly what he’s made the trip down to discuss. It exposes the donations made by local businessmen to get what will eventually be Proposition 8 onto the November ballot. As Karger reads through, one line is particularly troublesome to him “Without solid marriage, you are going to have a sick society,” it reads, a quote from Terry Caster, the owner of A-1 Self Storage. There is another word that catches his attention: boycott. “What a practical and common-sense thing to do,” he thinks to himself, and immediately begins to get in touch with LGBT leaders in the area to discuss this idea further.
Since its inception in July 2008, just after Prop 8 qualified for California’s November ballot, Karger and the all-volunteer staff of Californians Against Hate have declared boycotts on four California companies responsible for substantial contributions in support of the proposition. One of those singled out was Bolthouse Farms, the second largest carrot producer globally. The company’s previous owner, William Bolthouse, founder of The Bolthouse Foundation, gave $100,000 in early April 2008. The boycott lasted eighteen days before Bolthouse’s daughter, Lisa, and her husband Andre Radandt reached an agreement that satisfied Karger. The company now offers medical benefits for its LGBT couples, and is aiming for the elusive 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.
Californians Against Hate also maintains the “Dishonor Roll” on their website, listing over eight hundred donors that supported the proposition’s rise to the ballot as well as its eventual passage. Karger has also raised allegations against the Mormon church, claiming that they have given over $180,000 to the cause without proper reportage, and has dubbed the scandal “Mormongate.” He asks anyone with information on mismanagement of funds to contact his organization.
The Courage Campaign
Rick Jacobs, founder of the Courage Campaign, was in Los Angeles celebrating Barack Obama’s victory when he heard about Prop 8. His hopes plummeted as he learned of the decision, which he views with “profound disappointment.” “I really hoped for [the state of] California to move forward,” he says.
Rick Jacobs started the progressive political organization known as Courage Campaign nearly four years ago, and since then, he has aimed to “make California more progressive and governable.” The organization’s efforts have gained several victories in the short time span. For example, the organization has launched the “Please Don’t Divorce Us” campaign. The campaign asks same-sex couples to send pictures of their families, who now face the possibility of being forcibly “divorced” due to the legal invalidation of same-sex marriages. The Courage Campaign also created the “Repeal Prop 8” online petition and has gained over 300,000 signatures of support. And as the campaign has expanded, it has created a Camp Obama-inspired training retreat called Camp Courage to recruit over a hundred community organizers to restore marriage equality for everyone. “We’ve gained around 250,000 recruiters,” says Jacobs.
“Our goal is to build grassroots and change attitudes to repeal [Prop 8],” he says. “People need to know the issues. They cannot take the rights of the minorities.” And with a network of over 600,000, the cause has only grown. The Courage Campaign has become “a labor of love” for Jacobs.
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
These days, Mark Kliem, known in the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as Sister Zsa Zsa Glamour, describes himself as a “retired general.” The Sisters are a diverse order who attempt to “promulgate universal joy, expiate stigmatic guilt and serve the community, our fellow Sisters and the Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.” Kliem joined the Order in 1991. He wanted a means to get involved as well as to plug into a secure social scene, and the Sisters “seemed to be it.” He doesn’t manifest much anymore; that is, he rarely presents as Sister Zsa Zsa. Instead, he chooses to operate behind the scenes and behind the lens, taking photos for many of the Sisters’ events. Of his “retired general” status, he says, “I don’t feel the calling to be the foot solder out on the front lines. Those soldiers need leadership. Even if you’re not the commander…there’s still advisors back there that keep the ship going in the right direction.”
In 1996, Kliem hosted the first gay wedding chapel in San Francisco in a storefront on Folsom Street. Even then, talk had begun regarding the possibility of gay marriage. While others were performing civil ceremonies, Kliem wanted to offer people a place to have a real ceremony. Thanks to the credibility of being a Sister in the Order and thus, he says, oftentimes the queer community’s only spiritual guidance, and to advertising in local gay publications, he was able to perform two weddings in the space. He says he figured that he would start it to see what happened; that perhaps by the time he had gained some notoriety from it, the laws would have changed.
Even though Sister Zsa Zsa rarely makes appearances, the passage of Prop 8 inspired Kliem to take action. “[It was] the only thing that got me motivated to manifest…[it] got my political hackles up. I don’t know what possessed me,” he admits. After attending two rallies, wimples and all, he was moved once again by the press release issued in December by San Francisco Catholic Archbishop George Niederauer. In the press release, Niederaurer justifies his role in the passage of Prop 8, saying, “Religious leaders in America have the constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy,” and further urges a peaceful move forward on both sides. Kliem spent eight to nine hours writing his response, which was over 1,200 words long. He spent another half a day videotaping a reading of the letter as Sister Zsa Zsa. In closing, he includes an open invitation to discuss the matter non-secularly. Although the letter was sent via certified mail and the video has one hundred views on YouTube, Kliem has yet to receive a response.
On March 5, the California Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the validity of Proposition 8 and promised to reach a decision within ninety days. Opponents made two major claims. The first was that Prop 8 denies a fundamental right to a suspect class–in other words, that it attempts to strip away a right guaranteed by the California constitution, from a group determined by the California Supreme Court to have been historically discriminated against. Secondly, they argue, Prop 8 is a revision, not an amendment to the constitution, and therefore should have required a two-thirds vote by both houses of the state legislature before going to popular vote.
Marriage equality supporters rally from all over the state to hear the Supreme Court’s arguments on the legality of Prop 8. The gusts of wind, the bleak, foggy sky, and the chance of rain are an ominous sign for the day ahead. Still optimistic, they hold their signs high. But as gays, lesbians, and allies assemble, their adversaries stand alongside them with their own signs.
Within the crowd, a man with shaggy brown hair and a sheepskin jacket holds a pro-Prop 8 sign containing a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “In God’s plan, every child should have a father and a mother.” Ironically, just feet away a group of children from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley are pushing and shoving another man, causing him to drop his sign reading “Honk! Thank God for Prop 8.” The kids know that he knows that he can’t hit them. One of the girls, Bette Hohcfrohman, was raised with two gay fathers; there goes the argument for “protecting the children.” “Gay people should be able to marry,” says Hohcfrohman’s best friend, eighth-grader Emma Moricooni. “When Prop 8 passed, I was mad. It’s wrong.”
Like these children, many others would not rest until their voices were heard. “After Prop 8 passed, I became more visible,” says Alameda P.E. teacher Anne Faria-Poynter, instructing her son, Joseph, to take pictures of the rally. “It’s not about comfort anymore. It’s about spreading the message of equal rights. We’re not alone.” As a sign of stepping out, her school district designed a program called Community for Safe Schools. It’s currently a work in progress, but the program hopes to create a family diversity curriculum that stops gay bullying at an early age.
Theresa Sookne-Mizell from Marriage Equality USA has rallied relentlessly since Prop 8 passed. “Our lives are at stake. It’s a matter of life and death,” says Sookne-Mizell as she passes out red, heart-shaped “Marriage Equality” stickers. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying in California. I’m staying in the U.S. Marriage equality is for everyone.”
A group of college students from the Stanford University LGBT alliance, all wearing purple, promote marriage equality by passing out “No on Prop 8” posters. “A ruling for equality is the right side of history,” says twenty-one-year-old Laura Wadden as she thinks of what she would say to the judges deciding the fate of gay marriages. “We’ll be planning until everyone can marry.”
The hearings end before one o’clock in the afternoon, but the crowd marches to the steps of the courthouse. They want their voices heard and their faces seen; that way, the decision-makers will know who they are really affecting. The fates of 18,000 same-sex couples are now in the hands of seven judges. All they, and we, can do is wait.
As of this printing, no decision has been made.