Monday, December 8, 2008

Two Town Halls Held in LA This Past Weekend

Two town halls were held in West Hollywood, CA this past weekend, hosted by Equal Roots and Marriage Equality California consecutively.

The first, held at Plummer Park, featured speakers Robin Tyler, a pioneer in the gay civil rights, grassroots movement and is currently Executive Director of The Equality Campaign; Richard Zalvidar, President and Founder of The Wall Las Memorias Project; and Marshall Wong of API Equality.

Robin was one-half of one of the same-sex couples to sue the State of California for the right to marry, which brought about the May victory in the state. She spoke about her history in the gay rights movement, starting out when she was 16 in Canada holding up signs on streets corners that said, "Gay is good" to Manhattan, where she was beaten and accidentally arrested for being a "female impersonator." Along the way, she worked with Harvey Milk, helped organize several historical marches on Washington, and took on Anita Bryant. She called for the LGBT to flood the streets in March when the Supreme Court ruling on Prop 8 is given - either to say thank you for the repeal, or to protest Prop 8 being upheld. She spoke about handing off the torch to the younger generation, saying, "The Milk Generation and the new generation are now in sync. Welcome to the streets."


Marshall Wong, a native of Silver Lake, CA, a subdivision of Los Angeles, spoke about how his father wanted to buy a plot of land there in the 50s, and was told the realtor company's policy forbid the selling to non-whites. His father fought back and won, and the family moved in despite the locals filing a petition for them to leave. Marshall asked his father why he would still want to live there, and he responded, "Overtime, as they get to know us, they will see past their fears."

Marshall related this story to the LGBT community, saying now is a critical time where marching in West Hollywood won't change anything, but one-on-one contact and conversations will. Forming API to educate the Asian community, he said history was on our side, and that the LGBT community needs to focus on building bridges, even with those who do not appear to be our allies. He ended saying, "Victory will be ours."

Richard Zalvidar spoke next, focusing his message on mobilizing the LGBT community to build coalitions with other minority and straight groups. He said, "It's a give and take." The No on 8 campaign failed to reach out to the African American and Latino communities, and as a result, they've been branded homophobic, when in fact, they are not - they were just not asked to help. He said that we will never have enough votes unless we build a coalition, and to build coalitions, we must support others. He called on LGBT leaders to march with immigrant rights groups, to support other minority initiatives, so that when we need their support, they will be there for us. He called on the community to talk, to reach out and go beyond LGBT neighborhoods.

After the speakers finished, the attendees of the town hall split up into different committees of choice, including media, outreach, and leadership. (To find out how you can be involved, visit Equal Roots website.)

The Marriage Equality town hall, held the next day at West Hollywood Auditorium, was conducted in classic town hall fashion, with many from the community given a chance to speak up from the beginning. The meeting was split into two sessions: the first half was a venting session about what went wrong with Prop 8, the second half focused on actions and the future.

Many vented in the first half, one in particular saying, "Fancy ads aren't going to convince anyone [to change their minds]. It's going to be one-on-one. They need to see us," a reference to the No on 8 campaign ads that featured no gay people.

A Log Cabin Republican faced an irate audience when he stood up before them saying that gay Republicans are essential to victory, saying that in spite of the fact that they may not vote for the candidate of choice in the gay community, many still voted No, and that future campaigns shouldn't lean so far to the left.

A quick rebuttal was given that the No on 8 campaign was too conservative, tailoring itself to make conservatives happy by not fighting back, not getting in the face of our opponents, and keeping gays out of sight.

In the second half of the session, the focus was on the future and actions that should be taken. Many spoke about the groups they were forming, actions, and how to counteract what our opponents are working on now. Issues such as No Mob Veto ad, gay adoption, boycotts, sit-ins, LGBT community indifference or complacency, volunteering and manpower, and strategy were raised.

After the meeting ended, the energy did not die. And though a Christmas play was to be performed at the auditorium after the town hall, it was difficult to get the attendees to leave, many staying behind to network, discuss issues and even broke out into smaller meetings, going to coffeeshops or standing in circles, exchanging info, forming groups and planning actual actions. Many felt this was the birth of real strategy and action, and not just marching and rallying.

A panel of grassroots leaders were in attendance, including Robin Tyler again, Terry Leftgoff, Richard D. Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, Tori Osbourne, and Dr. Sylvia Rhue of the National Black Justice Coalition.

For information on more town halls, please see the calendar at the bottom of this blog.

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