“In two weeks, I am moving to New York and I would like to move to a state where I will one day be able to get married,” I confided in Republican New York State Representative Janet Duprey.
“I hope that we’ll be able to give that to you,” she confided to me.
When Representative Duprey ran for office in 2006, she opposed marriage equality for same-gender couples. Our visit in 2007 was one of many meetings she was having with clergy, community leaders, and constituents. We brought her flowers representative of the flowers we each would like to have at our wedding. She told us that she was likely changing her position, that our visit was one of the visits that was helping her to feel confident in that decision.
Representative Janet Duprey is now a supporter of marriage equality.
Over the course of two weeks, young adults scoured the state of New York in four vans, starting conversations with politicians and community members about the importance of marriage equality. I left my shoes with then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno asking him to “walk a mile” in my shoes and support marriage equality. He later reversed his position; I like to think he took my battered Converses to heart.
Folks sometimes call us activists, we certainly advocated. Many of us were students, some of us were recent graduates, some of us took time off from work, some of us didn’t work. We came from New York, California, and elsewhere around the country. We educated ourselves, educated others, and changed hearts and minds.
There are so many forces at work in world and in New York. So many organizations and individuals dedicated to justice for LGBTQ people. It would be irresponsible to say that Soulforce caused marriage equality in New York all by ourselves. And it would be just as remiss to fail to notice that Soulforce serves a particular need within the LGBTQ conversation: we are unafraid of hard conversations, we are convinced that there is hope for redemption in everyone, we go directly to the source of homophobia and transphobia: religious rhetoric. The work of Soulforce is crucial for ushering in justice for LGBTQ people.
Today, I conspire with Soulforce and other visionary individuals and organizations to change the world through web & media. I know that the training and experience I received from Soulforce was crucial in my development as a person, community leader, and activist.
I hope you will join with me in supporting Soulforce so that another crop of young adult leaders can be lifted up and offer the world hope, healing, and transformation.
Editor’s note: This update was composed on Thursday August 5th.
Today we began the 3rd Annual Right to Marry: Arizona Campaign. We gathered at Dolce Espresso with joy in our hearts and a sense of renewed hope after the ruling on Wednesday that Prop 8 is unconstitutional!
As we hit the road to our first destination, Lake Havasu City, we take the energy and love from this decision with us on the road.
For the next week we will walk across 98 miles across Northern Arizona seeking earnest discussion and cordial fellowship. The 98 miles is a representation of the number of years that Arizona has been a state without full equality for all citizens.
What an amazing couple of days this journey for marriage equality has been. We’ve gone from the bustling lights of New York City to being greeted by a small town with churches standing on each corner of the intersection. We have met with senators, assembly members, clergy members, and their congregations. Conversations have ranged from “we are so glad you are here” to “not in my town faggots”. The beautiful thing is that in every town, truth and love reigned pure.
Sunday marked the midpoint of our journey. A week ago we were just beginning to grasp the importance of the next two weeks and now here we are living and fighting for our dream to finally have the right to marry. At this point in our journey, morning alarms awaken me physically but also spirituality with a song in my heart. “Our minds are stayed on Equality.”
Fellow Northern Router Matt Comer captured this compelling testimony and posted it online. Many, many props go out to him and to a heartfelt thank-you to Milfred, who we had the pleasure of staying with in Utica, NY.
Hostility toward marriage equality is certainly not exclusive to one political party, although unceremonious bigotry against the bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender (BGLT) community is most often found with social conservatives in the Republican party. While the South Bus has encountered fierce opposition against marriage equality from these Republican senators and assemblypersons on The Right to Marry Campaign (as well as relative support), the last couple of days we have met with strident homophobia from some Democrats in racially diverse districts, which is usually fueled by fundamentalist religious influence. The link between the conservative religious influence of many people of color and their opposition to BGLT civil rights has been well-documented, and persists in spite of stalwart advocates like the late Coretta Scott King, Senator John Lewis, and the NAACP. And it is important to mention that hostility toward marriage equality is not exclusive to any one race, socio-economic status, and creed. However, what is still disturbing is the instance of the lack of leadership on the part of the representatives of these communities, especially concerning this issue of marriage equality. That Democratic leaders in communities that have known and still know discrimination and prejudice do not take a stand for marriage equality is baffling, hypocritical, and scandalous. Perhaps it is unfashionable to highlight the rampant homophobia that still exists in these racially diverse, religiously fundamental, and economically depressed areas, but some recent examples from our Campaign deserve a hearing.
For weeks leading up to the Campaign, the co-directors called all of the assemblypersons and senators with whom we wanted to have a conversation. While some offices were disorganized and in others personnel was lacking, which made it difficult to schedule a meeting with the legislator or the chief-of-staff, other offices were clear in their unwillingness to have a conversation with us about marriage equality. Two such representatives in NYC, representing districts where most oppose marriage equality, refused a conference with us.
Senator Huntley, an African American female, dodged our many attempts to schedule a conference. Consequently, we arrived at her office ready to have the discussion anyway. Her third in command decided to meet with us to stave off any controversy that would ensue had she continued to refuse us. We sat down at a conference table in the back of her office. After exchanging the necessary pleasantries, we began to talk about marriage for the BGLT community. Huntley’s representative informed us that the Senator did not support marriage equality, civil unions, or any approximations thereof.
First, Savannah and I contested that equal protection under the law promised under the Fourteenth Amendment compelled the Senator to vote in favor of marriage equality. Second, we tried to make analogies between the civil rights’ struggle for African Americans and the BGLT community’s struggle for marriage rights. Both of these attempts failed, and the reasoning that was given by the Huntley office as to why same-sex couples should not yet have the freedom to marry was utterly appalling. Huntley’s representative spoke of the substantial sacrifice that women and African Americans gave for equality and their freedoms: hundreds of years, deaths of leaders and activists, deaths of bystanders, and the deaths of children. Surely, as Savannah and I remembered these sacrifices, we felt sorrow that freedom had to be secured at such a high cost. And even though women and racial minorities are still fiercely contending for their rights to this very day, this redemptive suffering and death has delivered them countless victories for freedom and equality. Likewise, Soulforce Q is continuing the struggle for civil rights in American by advocating for marriage equality for same-sex couples. This is where Huntley’s representative took a caustic, insulting, hateful, and absurd turn. She claimed that the BGLT community had not suffered enough, and that we could not expect to have marriage rights so soon. We had to put in our dues. She claimed that more time must elapse, and that more BGLT people and their children must suffer and die. I could not believe that I was listening to such inflammatory messages out of this woman’s mouth. That people have to die for their freedom is deplorable, but that we have come to expect that there is a certain threshold of pain, suffering, and death that a certain minority must exceed – as if “earning their stripes” – in order to garner their freedom is downright ghastly. We could not stomach any more of the conversation, and politely excused ourselves.
The next day the South Bus traveled to the Bronx to meet with yet another Senator who refused us a hearing. Senator Reverend Ruben Diaz, an African American minister in the Pentecostal Christian tradition, vehemently denied us any opportunity to sit with him or his staff for a conversation about marriage equality. Therefore, because Soulforce believes in the inherent value of civic engagement and peaceful discourse, we traveled to Diaz’s office to give him an opportunity to rectify his undemocratic approach to this conversation. Upon our arrival we were met by hostility, and were refused a meeting. Upon hearing this, we staged a sit-in on the floor of Diaz’s office (for press coverage see: www.nypress.com/blogx/display_blog.cfm?bid=23356038). By force of police intervention, we were removed from the Diaz’s office, and with police support we protested and passed out literature outside.
Should we expect this attitude from our elected officials? Not only do some refuse to meet with us but are thoroughly dedicated to our persecution. How can women and racial minorities who know the scourge of discrimination and inequality contribute to the barbarism and brutality perpetuated on gays and lesbians? Why do Dr. King’s words that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” not apply? Can we not see that the civil rights advancement of one group, in this case the BGLT community, means the civil rights advancement of all groups? Certainly, African Americans and women have a long way to go in achieving full equality in our society, but do they honestly think that by impeding the civil rights progression of BGLT folk will give way to the acceleration of their own?
As I reflect on these experiences, I believe that what is at work in these racially mixed areas has very little to do with race. Such an attribution of blame would be too reductionistic. Rather, these legislators represent racially diverse districts that are economically disadvantaged and are very religiously conservative. Perhaps, as Soulforce has maintained since it was founded, that oppression of the BGLT community stems largely from conservative/fundamentalist religion than any other one determinant.
Nevertheless, there are always counter-examples that thwart stereotypes and broad brushstrokes of mischaracterization of any one ‘type’ of social grouping. For instance, among the many reassurances I had of democracy on the Right to Marry Campaign came on our last meeting – Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell, IV. Powell, from a Puerto Rican family who represents a Latino/a community was in full support of marriage equality. He informed me that he feels as if the issue is a matter of conscience; and must support equal rights for BGLT people. I was heartened by the fact that Powell and others in his community can make a distinction between religious views and civil rights in a democracy. In fact, Powell takes such a strong stance on the issue not in spite of religion but because of his Christian faith.
I concluded that while race, religion, socio-economic status, and other known and unknown characteristics may tend to lead a certain demographic to vote for or against marriage equality, America must see that extending rights and privileges to this particular minority group can only strengthen democracy, prosper community, strengthen marriage, and protect children.
We encourage productive dialogue which we believe to be a path to healing & reconciliation. We also intend to cultivate a safe space for LGBTQ people, as well as women, people of color, non-Americans, and all other groups & individuals experiencing oppression.