Renewing activism by gay
Opposition to Prop 8 may have the ironic effect of revitalizing the movement.
Kate Krauss director of the AIDS Policy Project in Philadelphia
The unexpectedly large and boisterous crowd that rallied against California's Proposition 8 at Philadelphia City Hall on a recent Saturday marked a turning point for the gay community. It has been a long time since the community gathered in such numbers for a political cause.
Five thousand people braved rain and wind to come to the rally last month. Some were alerted by e-mail; others read about it in the news and just showed up. Many were first-time protesters; some were straight people who support gay marriage.
The crowd was spurred into action by anger over Proposition 8, which amended California's constitution to outlaw gay marriage. Opponents saw it as a hate-mongering attempt to deny the gay community its basic rights. The Mormon Church accounted for much of the $40 million spent in support of the measure, deploying missionaries to promote the idea that gay people don't deserve equal rights under the law.
With some of the gay community increasingly assimilating into mainstream American life, and with Internet-mediated communication on the rise, there are few moments where one gets to see thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people gathered in one place. But the day of the protest was just such a moment.
The participants carried mostly homemade signs. "I'm not married yet," read one, "but some day I'll make a wonderful wife." A man of about 60 held a small, hand-lettered sign saying "No more Mr. Nice Guy." A family with a stroller had made their own T-shirts based on Robert Indiana's "LOVE" logo.
Scores of protesters stood along the traffic circle around City Hall, chanting and waving at the cars - and getting friendly honks and waves in return. Every time the traffic stopped for pedestrians, some Penn students took turns running up and down the crosswalk while waving a huge rainbow flag.
The protesters filled up the space around City Hall and then spilled into the street. Hundreds of them staged a spontaneous march around the building.
Many believe that the gay-pride movement has been engulfed by consumerism, with parades sponsored by credit-card companies and liquor manufacturers. AIDS activism, once a powerful offshoot of gay activism, has also dwindled within the community, although it has strengthened in many other groups. Lately, some of the most important victories for gay rights have taken place in the courts, not the streets.
But scenes like the one in Philadelphia were duplicated in dozens of cities and towns across the United States last month. A movement is building.
It will be ironic if supporters of Proposition 8, including the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church, inadvertently helped launch a renaissance of gay activism. President-elect Barack Obama, who does not support same-sex marriage, will have to reckon with it, too.
The most popular chant on Saturday went: "What do we want? Equal rights. When do we want them? Now." The gay mainstream has finally come out of its living rooms and into the streets.
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