Commentary By John Doe
I am not a professional journalist, nor am I a professional activist. I am just an average gay guy in San Francisco: middle aged, go to the gym, and watch Top Chef every Wednesday. Although not an activist, gay rights have been an issue for me since I came out in 1980 at the age of 18. I have boycotted Coors, supported politicians who were gay friendly, and have done volunteer work for gay organizations. When the courts gave us marriage in 2008, I was ecstatic. When we lost it in the same year, I was surprised, angry, and despondent. As much as I detest those christian nazis who stole our marriage rights, I was far angrier at the No on 8 leadership. Like many of you, I supported the No on 8 campaign with both my money and labor.
And, again, like many of you, I wrote email after email to Geoff Kors of Equality California pleading that the campaign change its tactics from vague human rights messages to a much more forthright campaign that would have openly gay people visible in the advertising and to challenge the accusations from the christian right directly. I got no response to my emails, although I got plenty more emails asking for more money. And I gave more money only to see it squandered. What really angered me was No on 8â€™s response after our defeat, which amounted to a, â€śSorry, we did our best.â€ť The main excuse I read was that the No on 8 leadership had no past examples of how to do a successful campaign, so they relied on the advice of professional pollsters and consultants.
That response sent me through the roof, because the gay community has faced these christian nazis many times, and our community ran a successful campaign against them in 1978, winning our battle against Prop 6, the Briggs initiative. I have a masterâ€™s degree in history, so I decided to do some research to see if there was any information out there that might have guided our community for Prop 8.
I went to the GLBT Historical Society archives in downtown San Francisco to see what they had from the Prop 6 campaign. The research was fruitful. I looked through the campaign literature donated by Paula Lichtenberg, which has documents from the Bay Area Coalition Against the Briggs Initiative (BACABI) and the Coalition for Human Rights (CHR). Surprisingly, in just two and half hours of research, I found enough material to construct a basic strategy for a successful campaign. All the material was interesting, but the brochures were perhaps the most useful and thought provoking. What surprised me the most was that a number of the brochures were published by an organization called Lesbian Schoolworkers. I had no idea that in 1978 gay school teachers were so honest and open about who they were.
An excerpt of this material would be instructive:
HOMOSEXUALS ARE NOT CHILD MOLESTERS.
Even Briggs admits this. Studies show that heterosexual men are responsible for at least 95% of all child molestation.
GAY SCHOOLWORKERS ARE NOT OUT TO RECRUIT THEIR STUDENTS.
We DO want to be honest about our lives. It is very strange that John Briggs and Anita Bryant are so worried about our recruiting children. If they think our lifestyle is so disgusting, how can they think itâ€™s so enticing?
HOMOSEXUALS ARE NOT SICK AND UNHAPPY.
The latest Kinsey report concluded that most of the lesbians and gay men surveyed were as well adjusted as the heterosexual control group.
HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT UNNATURAL OR ABNORMAL.
Homosexuality has existed in every society and among most animal species. The unknown is always considered unnatural and abnormal; many sexual habits common today were considered abnormal a few years ago.
HOMOSEXUALS ARE NOT PROMISUCUOUS AND PREOCCUPIED BY SEX.
At least not any more so than heterosexuals.
MANY LESBIANS AND GAY MEN ARE INVISIBLE.
One out of every 10 people is gay, so youâ€™ve probably met many more than you think. The media likes to push one particular stereotype but in actuality most of us donâ€™t fit any one stereotype.
The capital letters are as they appeared in the brochure. Please notice that this brochure let everyone know that it was produced by lesbians. It also answered all the accusations that the Briggs literature used to defame gay people. This was not an isolated brochure. These points were made time and again. This was a campaign that did not shy away from the fact that gay people were fighting for their rights. This was also a campaign that honestly and directly answered all the lies and accusations made by the right wing.
Beside the brochures and campaign literature, I came across a pamphlet that examined why gays failed in the Dade County election in 1977. The pamphlet, Gay Liberation TODAY, had a number of essays, but the one that caught my attention was No More Miamis! Winning Allies for Gay Rights by Diane Wang. The essay had a number of underlined passages and notes in the margins. Clearly someone at BACABI had read the essay and taken its suggestions to heart. Here is an excerpt:
. . . [L]eaders of the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights deliberately put the brakes on attempts to organize a mass-action campaign which could have posed the issues clearly and mobilized supporters of the gay rights ordinance. . . . Instead, the coalition hired several Democratic Party â€śpros.â€ť And these engineers of defeat told gay men and lesbians to leave the work to them. The politicos . . . hit Miami with an expensive media blitz designed by professionals. . . . But human rights cannot be â€śsoldâ€ť in an ad campaign . . . There were no massive actions to give all supporters of human rights the chance to publicly answer the slanders against gay men and lesbians.
The essay also examined how Dade County gay politicos did not make the effort to enlist help from both labor and the black community. Essentially, the mistakes made in Dade County were the same mistakes made in the Prop 8 campaign: an elite group of gays financed a tepid, uncontroversial campaign that did not address the issues of gay rights and bigotry directly. Furthermore, the campaign did not get other groups involved. No wonder that we lost Dade County. When I left the archives I was furious. It took me a mere two and a half hours to find the information necessary to mount a successful campaign dealing with fundamentalist christians. More infuriating was that the information about what not to do was there also.
My next research project was even easier. I read Randy Shiltsâ€™s The Mayor of Castro Street, and I watched the documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk. Both the book and the film made one thing very clear: Harvey Milk did not trust the moderates, led by Advocate owner David Goodstein. Goodstein and company wanted to run a Dade County style campaign against the Briggs Initiative in 1978. Harvey disagreed, and he was very direct about it, referring to one of the moderate brochures as â€śshit and masturbation.â€ť
Harvey and those of his mind knew that the only way for gay people to defeat Prop 6 was to be open about who we are and to honestly address all the accusations made by our opponents. He also knew it would take a grass roots campaign to defeat Briggs. Both the book and the film make it clear that Harvey and groups like BACABI learned from the mistakes made in Dade County. Thus, the anti-Briggs campaign included many openly gay people, large rallies, brochures that directly countered the accusations made by Briggs, and public debates. Alliances with minority groups and labor were made. The campaign included setting up tables in malls, door to door canvassing, and candidly talking to people about what Prop 6 would do to gay men and women. It was a successful campaign and Prop 6 was defeated with 59% of the voters voting against it.
What struck me in doing my research was that the No on 8 campaign led by Geoff Kors was not only run by a bunch of moderates of the temperament Harvey Milk detested, but that they are also very lazy and very arrogant. It took me very little research time to find out what did work and what didnâ€™t. What clearly didnâ€™t work were vague arguments about human rights that did not address gay rights and anti-gay arguments. What clearly didnâ€™t work was keeping openly gay people out of the public eye. Openly gay people working hard in the public eye and directly countering all those offensive, dishonest accusations made by the religious right is what worked. So for those who say that there was no model out there to organize a successful anti-eight campaign, I say this: what a bunch of bullshit. The information was out there and had No on 8 leadership spent even the briefest time looking for it they would have found it.
However, the point of this article is not to pick the No on 8 campaign apart. Rather, it is to demonstrate that we can challenge christian nazis and win.
Further, I want to emphasize that no matter what moderates like Geoff Kors say, they cannot be trusted. Moderates will always want moderate campaigns. Giving money to moderates and to moderate campaigns is pointless; you may as well just throw your money away. Thus, my quest has been to find an organization that will provide good leadership and to which I can give my money with the confidence that it will not be squandered. I made a number of inquiries, and I heard good things about Marriage Equality USA. I called Marriage Equality and spoke to Molly McKay, whom I have met. I asked her why I should give my money to her organization, and she gave me a number of impressive reasons. These are four points that convinced me to support Marriage Equality USA:
1. Marriage Equality USA has no overhead; it is a volunteer organization.
2. Marriage Equality USA has established outreach programs to get our message to a host of communities: African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Christian to name a few.
3. Marriage Equality uses gay images. In one of their brochures, there are three pictures of gay couples. All pictures have a brief statement about the coupleâ€™s history and how proposition 8 has hurt them.
4. Marriage Equality honestly addresses the dishonest claims made by our opponents. For example, their material states clearly that legal gay marriage will not force any church to do gay marriage ceremonies.
What impressed me the most about McKay is that it was easy to get hold of her. I got her phone number from Marriage Equality USAâ€™s web site, called her, spoke with her about the research I was doing, and set a date to have coffee. She met with me, was charming, and answered all of my questions. She understood that I wanted to ensure that my donation money would be spent well and had no problem with me questioning her. I was very impressed with her and her organization, and I shall definitely support Marriage Equality USA with my contributions.
I also asked McKay what organization she contributed to for media advertising. She told me that Get to Know Us First has a number of commercials ready to be aired. They just need the money to pay for the air time. This is the group that had gay couple commercials during the inauguration. Their commercials have gay couples from different communities and have both English and Spanish language advertisements. I had heard good things about this group and was heartened to hear her endorse them. Ms McKay also endorsed Courage Campaign, which I have heard good things about too. When I left the coffee house, I had what I wanted: a group of organizations that are on the right track. All of these groups reach out to other communities, have gay people visible in their material, and directly counter the lies of our opponents. It is a pity I didnâ€™t know more about them last year.
I began this article stating that I am not a professional journalist or activist. I only began this research because I was angry that $45 million of our communityâ€™s money was squandered on a poorly done campaign. As I began speaking to friends, acquaintances, and strangers about the Prop 8 catastrophe, I realized that I was not the only person who was angry about the No on 8 performance. More important, though, was that all the people I spoke to didnâ€™t know what organizations to trust and whether or not Equality California was to blame for losing this campaign. Thatâ€™s when I decided to do my own research. My conclusion is that had the No on 8 leadership done even a dayâ€™s worth of research, they would have had all the information they needed to run a successful campaign. We have faced christian bigots before and prevailed. I have realized that Harvey Milk was right: gay moderate leadership, whether it be in 1978 Dade County or in 2008 San Francisco, will deliver only shit and masturbation. That is when I decided to look for organizations based on the winning strategy of Harvey Milk. I have found them in Marriage Equality USA, Get to Know Us First, and Courage Campaign. The web addresses are below. For those who want to succeed in our quest for marriage equality, I strongly urge you to support them.
Marriage Equality USA:
Get to Know Us First: