for equality in SF
by James Patterson
Joy at the prospect of marriage equality and sorrow for countless LGBT families that never were due to AIDS and bigotry rested in the hearts and minds of an estimated 3,000 people who gathered in the chill at Harvey Milk and Jane Warner plazas Monday, March 25 ahead of historic arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage.
In what was described as one of the largest gay rights demonstrations in San Francisco in recent years, activists, LGBT leaders, and allies marched to City Hall with some saying that they were inspired by civil rights leaders the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and slain city supervisor Harvey Milk.
From a mobile stage on Castro Street, a succession of speakers vigorously called for an end to Proposition 8 – California's same-sex marriage ban – and the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. A poor sound system muted their message for many. The Reverend Victor H. Floyd, pastor of San Francisco's Metropolitan Community Church, who wore a black leather stole with crosses made of chrome studs, later confirmed he told the crowd, "We are marching for marriage equality for those present and for those lost to AIDS and those who are afraid and live in fear."
The Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 26 heard arguments in the Prop 8 case, with many observers saying the justices seemed reluctant to offer a sweeping "marriage for all" opinion. The justices heard the DOMA case Wednesday, March 27, which hinges on whether a part of the law that denies same-sex married couples federal benefits is constitutional. Opinions in both cases aren't expected until June.
Due to the sound problem, Grace Cathedral provided an e-mail of comments by California Episcopal Bishop Rt. Reverend Marc Handley Andrus. "When one group of people, holding power, makes decisions about who a person can love, what is at stake is the question of who is a human being and who is not," Andrus, a straight ally, said. He said he was "committed to solidarity with LGBT people for the recognition of their full human rights."
Neil Giuliano, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said he brought about 20 staffers to march for equality.
"Public sentiment is on our side and we are on the threshold of full legal equality," he said, adding, "[Memories of] Harvey and many, many others are with us tonight."
Gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos said the Supreme Court should "do the right thing" and overturn Prop 8 and DOMA. "I am for full legal equality for LGBT people," he said.
The crowd began marching down Market street at 7 p.m. with popular local lesbian DJ Page Hodel spinning 2009's "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eye Peas. Change was in the air commingled with a healthy aroma of medical marijuana as marchers carried rainbow flags and equality signs. One sign read: "Saving sex until marriage sucks if you can't marry."
Some enthusiastic marchers held hands with partners and children. Some had their arms around others. Some temporarily left the march to kiss on the sidewalk. Some marched with assistance of caregivers and friends. Chants included "Si, se puede!" (Yes, it is possible") and "Equal Rights Now!" From apartment windows, people shouted support. Bystanders and onlookers were few. San Francisco Deputy Sheriff Brian Stahely said no altercations, arrests, or counterdemonstrations occurred.
Longtime LGBT and civil rights activist Gary Virginia, a 16-year Castro resident, said the march is historic and he reflected on pioneers like late leather enthusiast and tireless HIV fundraiser Alan Selby. "My heart is full," Virginia said, "for those who got us here tonight."
San Francisco singer-songwriter Gypsy Love, a 30-something who identifies as a "passionate ally of the LGBT movement," said she was "inspired to promote love."
"For people to oppose love with laws is wrong," she said.
San Rafael resident Nancy Mancias, 43 and a Code Pink activist, said she attended to "support my sisters and brothers working for marriage equality."
"Struggling student" Erin Lavery, 48 and who identifies as lesbian, had a message for opponents of marriage equality: "If you don't believe in the right to same-sex marriage, then don't marry someone of the same sex."
Mark King, an East Bay banker and for 15 years a board member at the Rainbow Community Center in Contra Costa County, road a four-wheel scooter because he "couldn't walk all that much." King, gay and 56, said he did not want to miss the march because he strongly believed in marriage equality.
South of Market sex worker Somsri Yuan, 25 and who identifies as transgender and pansexual, said she believed in freedom for people to marry the gender of their choice.
Others were excited that the march drew such a large crowd.
Hilary Burdge, a 36-year-old San Franciscan who identifies as queer and works as a research project manager at the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, said she was "thrilled at the turnout" for the march and she was "excited at support for marriage equality" but she had concerns. She urged LGBT leaders to "not forget those left behind such as queer and transgender youth and their issues of discrimination and bullying."
Gay retired finance director Troy Burnet, 48, president of Castro Lions Club, said he "wanted the opportunity to marry his partner if I so desire." He marched for "all those who didn't live to see this come to fruition."
Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club President Tom Temprano, 27 and a self-employed San Francisco DJ, promoter, and event planner, expressed thanks to the organizers for the grassroots effort in making the event successful.
"The event was as celebratory as I recall anger being when Prop 8 passed," he said, referring to the angry demonstrations that took place after the ballot measure passed in 2008.
It took marchers about an hour to trek the two-mile route to City Hall, where gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener stood on the steps and enthusiastically welcomed them. He said nine years ago City Hall stood for marriage equality, when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Wiener called on the Supreme Court to do the same and to "put Prop 8 and DOMA on the garbage heap of history." Crowd reaction to Wiener was loud, proud, and long. District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim and District 3 Supervisor David Chiu attended but did not speak.
Organizer Gregg Cassin, 50, also welcomed marchers and thanked co-planners for what he called a "wonderful success." Speakers included bi-national same-sex couples separated by unjust immigration laws as a result of DOMA. Glide Memorial Church pastor Karen Oliveto said, "The country is more than ready to embrace marriage equality."
Cassin reminded the crowd March 25 was the 48th anniversary of the historic Selma-Montgomery march for voting rights in Alabama. "With Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, future political leaders will include San Francisco," he said, borrowing from President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address where he referenced three key moments in the fight for equality.
YouTube sensation Daniel Leffew, 12, read his letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts asking him to legalize marriage for his two dads. Wildly enthusiastic cheers followed his reading.
Following the Prop 8 hearing Tuesday, marriage equality supporters gathered for the first night of a planned two-night vigil at the California Supreme Court Building. According to planner Billy Bradford, the vigils will "show the diverse support for marriage equality."
The Reverend Janie Spahr, 70, who was tried by the Presbyterian Church for marrying same-sex couples, was ready to respond to Justice Samuel Alito's comment during court that "same-sex marriage is very new." She said it dated back to the 13th century.
Castro resident Brandon Brock, 31 and a PFLAG-SF board member, said he is "optimistic same-sex marriage will be recognized again." He and his husband Alexis Caloza, 31 and a trust attorney in San Francisco, were married in New York in 2011.
Cassin reflected on Monday's march. "Harvey Milk always said 'You've gotta give them hope,'" Cassin said. "Hope was evident in the spirit of the march. It was incredibly hope-filled."
Two events tonight (Thursday, March 28) will recap the Supreme Court arguments.
Out in the Bay Area, a radio show broadcast on KALW 91.7 FM at 7 p.m., expands to an hour call-in format with guests Kate Kendell, executive director National Center for Lesbian Rights who attended the oral arguments, and Oakland attorney Fred Hertz, author of Essential Advice for Same-sex Couples.
Horizons Foundation and other LGBT groups will host a community discussion on Prop 8 and DOMA from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Rainbow Room at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street. Guests include Matt Coles of the American Civil Liberties Union and Chris Stoll, senior staff attorney at NCLR.