Keeping this movement moving

December 10, 2008

EQUAL MARRIAGE rights activists have set December 10 to be a "Day without a Gay." Supporters of same-sex marriage are encouraged to "call in gay" and donate their work time to service. The call is an echo of the immigrant rights struggle that produced the recent May Day mega-marches.

Today's actions are the latest in the outpouring of protest that began the night of the election over the victory of the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban in California, along with other antigay ballot measures. Hundreds and then thousands of people joined quickly organized demonstrations that surged into the streets in cities in California, and then spread around the country.

A new Web site,, set November 15 as a nationwide day of protests, and people--many of them taking part in political action for the first time--set to work.

Cat Kim and Ryan Rudnick were leading organizers for the demonstration in San Francisco, where tens of thousands of people answered the call for a rally. They sat down for a roundtable interview with Ragina Johnson and Siddharth Patel to talk about how the November 15 demonstration took shape and what they see ahead.

WHAT MOTIVATED you to organize the protest in San Francisco on November 15?

Cat: Because no one else was organizing it. I've never organized anything before, but I figured I couldn't do any worse than something not being organized at all.

Ryan: This was my thought, too. I just wanted to help out in anyway I could. No one knew who was going to figure out speakers for the day of the protest, so I figured I'd do it.

DID YOU know each other before organizing the protest?

Cat: No. Amy [Balliett] started, and a couple of us got in touch through the Web site. Then we started a Google group listserve, Kristin started a Facebook page, and we connected all that to a blog. When I put out a call for organizing on the Google group, I found a lot of great people who were very competent and willing to help.

WHAT OTHER activism have you been involved in?

Cat: I volunteered with the No on Proposition 4 [to impose a mandatory waiting period parental notification for abortion] and the Yes on Proposition K [to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco] campaigns. And in school, I was part of the Latin club. But I never organized a protest before.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in San Francisco November 15 against the Prop 8 same-sex marriage ban
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in San Francisco November 15 against the Prop 8 same-sex marriage ban (Josh On | SW)

Ryan: I had done publicity for events before, but I had never even been to a protest until I went to the vigil at Civic Center the Wednesday after the election. After that night, I went right on to organizing a protest.

WERE YOU surprised by the turnout on November 15?

Cat: I wasn't that surprised. I was hoping for at least that many. The big reason I wasn't surprised was because of the huge turnout at the march on the Friday before.

Ryan: I was hoping for a big turnout, but was surprised at how big it actually got. It was annoying that the media reported such a low number. I thought the protest was closer to 50,000, and the media reported only 15,000.

WHAT DO think it will take to repeal Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

Cat: To repeal DOMA, it will take a lot of courage and principle from Democratic legislators. Frankly, I don't think they have it in them. They've been disappointing since winning the majority in the 2006 elections.

It will take a lot of organizing and protesting on our part, and a lot of people constantly raising their voices to pressure them. Typically, a president will spend the first four-year term focusing on a domestic agenda, so this is our chance now.

Ryan: Obama has said that he's for repealing DOMA, for federal civil unions (though not marriage), and for a better Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). But he's also indicated that he isn't going to make it a priority. He's said he'd repeal DOMA if he thought it was "reasonable" to do so.

As horrible as it was, I think it's important that Prop 8 passed, because it propelled people into doing something.

Cat: Yes, I agree. Obama has even said he'd put repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell on the back burner in order to "build consensus." That means that we have to keep the pressure up. You know, it's fun to call our representatives' staffers and harass them, and it may be more effective now, so that's another way to apply pressure.

HOW DO you think the election of Obama fits into the struggle for same-sex marriage and the fight for equal rights in general?

Ryan: Electing Obama is a step in the right direction.

Cat: Obama's campaign used homophobia to get elected. He campaigned with "ex-gays" who said they were turned gay by being molested or raped by family members. He used to campaign at Salem Baptist Church, which talked about using aversion therapy to "cure" gayness. Obama has been trying to build bridges with social conservatives on this issue.

At the same time, Obama made some promises, and we need to make him follow through on these promises.

Ryan: This is sort of what Bill Clinton did. He made promises, and then didn't follow through on them. Clinton used a lot of gay folks when campaigning, but then put forward the Defense of Marriage Act.

YOU TALKED about what to expect from Obama and the politicians. What can we expect from us at the bottom?

Cat: I think we can start seeing people engaged. There's the thrill of having Bush gone and having a candidate that says he will listen to us. A lot of people got interested in politics, and that's not just going to go away. They can't just tell people to go back home now as if they haven't changed.

Hopefully, they'll get involved to continue to fight for social justice issues as a whole.

Ryan: I agree. I wasn't involved in politics before election. But it wasn't just the election that got me thinking. It was also the type of friends I've been talking to, and the type of classes I've been taking. With the election, Obama won by such a large margin that people really feel like "I'm not a freak anymore." Especially living in San Francisco, we've felt like freaks--now, we're not alone anymore.

WHAT DO you think of Obama's position on gay marriage?

Cat: I think it sucks. It's homophobic. He's on the record saying marriage is between a man and a woman--that gay people should have hospital visitation rights, but don't talk about marriage.

Ryan: I think it's a shitty viewpoint, but I think if he had said he believed in gay marriage, he would've lost. I would rather have him be president than have him come out for gay marriage and not get elected.

Cat: But the job of a leader is to take positions that challenge people.

Ryan: Prop 8 passed by 52 percent in California, and even more people oppose gay marriage in other states, so I think Obama may have lost if he sided with gay rights.

Cat: Prop 8 passed because of the dynamics of the campaign. If Obama had said he was for gay marriage early in the primary season, then yeah, he may have been knocked out. But later, in the general election campaign, if he had voiced support for gay marriage while he was ahead and while the economy was crashing, then it wouldn't have mattered as much. It wouldn't have hurt him.

But our hope now is that Obama will listen to people protesting more so than McCain would have.

Ryan: Which is why we need to keep this movement going and win gay marriage throughout the U.S.

Cat: But it just sucks that the Republicans play to their base and the Democrats seem to try to play to the Republican base, too!

HOW DO you think winning gay marriage fits into a larger fight for LGBT liberation?

Ryan: Prop 8 was a necessity, as horrible as it was. Once it gets repealed here, we can start winning and go nationwide. Eventually, I think that could lead to total equality under the law.

Cat: Winning gay marriage would be a huge milestone. And it's more than symbolic. Having gay marriage starts to normalize things for kids.

One quote I recently read in a newspaper about a lesbian couple said they hoped their kids are young enough to see same-sex couples as normal. The image of a stable family with LGBT parents could do a lot to cut against homophobia.

Ryan: The right makes same-sex marriage so much about religion. I'm not one for marriage. I don't plan on getting married. I don't think it's a great institution. It's more about money, and all of the 1,000 rights that are afforded with legal marriage--taxes, the right to visit a loved one in a hospital, etc. But the right says it's about religion, which is just not true.

Cat: A friend of mine had a medical procedure and then had to worry about what would happen to her when she went under anesthesia. If something happened to her, she had to make sure her partner would be able to see her, and had all the right paperwork filled out. It's a horrible thing to have to worry about this stuff.

Ryan: Normalizing same-sex marriage will make gay couples more equal in society. It could lower hate crimes and could change the way people look at gay people.

Cat: It would be great if you could bring someone home and say, "This is my wife," to your family. Young kids could get used to seeing their married aunts. It shows you're normal, and that can't be measured in a quantifiable way. It could help with isolation and anxiety, lowering depression and suicide rights.

But we need to go beyond fighting for gay marriage. There's also ENDA and hate crimes protection. I'm afraid we'll fall back if we win gay marriage here, and not go forward with marriage nationwide and the other fights. That's why at rallies, we need speakers that go over the big picture.

WHAT DO you think the next steps are in the movement?

Ryan: We need to continue the protests that we've been doing and meetings like the town hall meeting that Marriage Equality put on. We're doing well so far. I mean, we forced the California Supreme Court to look at the lawsuits filed against Prop 8 within three weeks, instead of the three years it took last time.

We also need to meet in person to form a cohesive organization to lead the fight with defined goals. It needs to be tightly organized from the grassroots up, and from top to bottom.

Cat: It's a question of sustaining momentum. The guy who founded the AIDS Quilt is calling for seven weeks of protest up through the inauguration. I know it's possible. We've seen this type of organizing in the past. The question is how we're going to do it now. How are we going to keep people engaged on a day-to-day basis?

Further Reading

From the archives