We spent our last day in Albany at the Saratoga County Fair, where we were met with a variety of reactions to our presence there. I spoke with several people who were entirely behind civil unions but took issue with the word “marriage.” Others refused entirely to talk with me because they were religious, while a few were totally behind the fight for marriage equality. I think we got a pretty good idea of what we should expect in the next week and a half in the North Country, and I am very excited by the challenge of changing people’s hearts and minds about my right to marry.
We also had the privilege of talking to a very nice computer engineer in the U.S. Marines who was there at the recruitment booth. I was reading a brochure on enlisting, and when she asked if I was interested in joining, I told her about my attempt to enlist in the Army Reserve last summer with Soulforce’s Right to Serve campaign. She personally had no objection to serving alongside an otherwise able college graduate, but unfortunately, the military is not a democracy; despite the overwhelming willingness of a majority of service members to work with openly gay and lesbian soldiers, the federal government continues to jeopardize the safety of our troops by overworking them and perpetuates the myth that gays and lesbians are inferior in combat (N.B. an estimated 65,000 servicemembers live in silence but fight with the best of our country’s best, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network).
We’ve compiled a list of some of our experiences below, some very positive and validating of our trip, others more challenging. Regardless, our stop at the fair definitely got people talking, and we did manage to get out some information to an area generally uninformed on LGBT issues.
Where Soulforce Q goes, questions follow. Maybe we bring them on ourselves. It’s as if we wear shirts that read, “Do you believe in marriage? I do.” on purpose to draw attention to ourselves.
We wore these shirts to the Saratoga County Fair to see what kinds of conversations we could stir up amongst the oxen and tractors and found that not all are ready to shake our hands but many are willing to wink on the sly or send a thumbs-up from across the ferris wheel.
This is Soulforce Q’s first civil disobedience-free campaign. As a co-director of the 2007 Equality Ride, I became used to my phone ring as an alarm call for Riders in jail or distress; this is not what I expected to hear on our first day out and about in the North Country.
By the time Alexey and I arrived on the ’scene’ our Riders had been asked to stop handing out literature to people who ask for it. We were also told that we could not pursue conversation. Cat asked if we were allowed to wear our shirts and as the security chief contemplated his response, I provided a ‘yes’ and asked that we leave the station. Soon after, Rob said that he was going to stash his literature in his pocket and the security chief suggested that we throw it away. Rest assured that no literature was thrown away today! Like our rights, I try to keep educational resources OUT of the trash.
Today we met a woman who has been married for 43 years, and is a mother, grandmother and great grandmother. She told us a story about a family friend who is with her partner, and together they had raised an adopted child, as well as a biological child. She was unsure how their relationship was affected by New York not allowing them the right to marry. She was unaware of the costs of a second parent adoption and the long legal process through which a same-gender couple must go. She was also unaware of the inability to visit a sick partner in a time of crisis. After speaking with her, she wished us well on our journey and fight for marriage equality.
One of the most rewarding parts of today was the affirming people we met, especially the ones who took us by surprise. A woman running one of the games at the Saratoga County Fair told us about her gay brother and took a button. On our way out, the sheriffs at their booth asked us to take a survey, but instead ended up asking us about our t-shirts. We were asked to tell all of the sheriffs about the Right to Marry campaign.
On our way out after enlisting a young woman to take our picture outside of the fairgrounds, another young woman approached us to ask for a button for herself and her mother. Despite the rain and some frustration at the earlier attempts by the county fair officials to prevent us from talking to people, the fair was a rewarding experience for me because it showed me that people were really genuinely interested and that our visibility here is important.
A woman working at a concessions stand handed us our chips, winked and said, “By the way, I really appreciate your matching shirts”…
The high school students working as parking attendants at the fair came up to us and asked about our T-shirts. They were excited about our presence there and asked if there was anything they could do. It was great to see them directing traffic with Right to Marry buttons on their rain ponchos!
At the Saratoga County Fair, I was pleasantly surprised with the mostly positive response regarding marriage equality from people in attendance. I mostly talked to older people, parents and grandparents, with mixed results. As a person who works with children, however, my real interest is in the youth. So, as rewarding as those conversations were, it was at the end of the fair that I felt the most fulfilled, when a teenage girl approached me and wanted Soulforce Q Right to Marry pins for herself and her mother. Knowing that she and her family appreciated that we were there and the work we were doing gave me a sense of the impact of our presence at their country fair. Later in the evening I found out that other teenagers at the fair had noticed our presence and called a local LGBT youth leader to explain how excited they had been to see us and that they wanted to get involved with our campaign. As a result of our presence at the fair, a couple of 18 year-olds who saw us there will be accompanying us tomorrow to talk to their representatives!