Friday, October 9, 2009

Rev. Troy Perry: Why I Support a Return to the Ballot in 2012

UPDATE: Rev. Troy Perry writes another piece in support for 2012.

Guest blogger Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), guided MCC’s growth over 37 years to over 43,000 members. In 2005, he retired as moderator of MCC and now maintains an active speaking schedule addressing the history of the gay rights movement, HIV issues, and marriage equality.

I’ve been fighting publicly for the right of same-sex couples to marry since 1969, when I performed the same-sex wedding ceremony of a wonderful lesbian couple (the first one in the United States). The next year, we sued the state of California and got laughed out of court. We didn’t have the money to appeal, and so we had to end our legal fight then. But I’ve been involved with the moral fight ever since.

In 2003, I married my beloved partner Philip in Canada, and we filed another lawsuit against the State of California seeking the state's recognition of our marriage. This time, they weren’t laughing. As you all know, we—and all of us—won the court decision and the freedom to marry. And then tragically, last November, a small majority of Californians voted at the ballot box to take away our right to marry the person we love.

I have never been someone to stand by and wait. I believe in what Frederick Douglass so wisely said so many years ago, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” That’s why, when Anita Bryant launched her ugly campaign to take away anti-discrimination laws in 1977, I joined in the fight to stop her in Miami (sadly, we lost that one). And when State Senator John Briggs launched his campaign in 1978 to prevent gay people from working in California’s public schools, I launched a 16-day hunger strike to raise $100,000 to make sure we could fight. I would not, could not sit by while our rights were being taken from us.

With the Anita Bryant campaign and the Briggs Initiative, all the way to last year’s Prop 8 battle, we had no chance to decide when that fight would take place. Our opponents chose the date and our only choice was to sit back and lose, or to fight. This time it is different. We get to choose when we’re ready and then take it back to our opponents on our time frame.

Now I understand impatience. I am impatient to win our rights. I’ve been impatient for each of the 40-plus years I’ve been part of this battle. And I don’t want to have to wait one more day than we have to. But I do feel strongly that, since we get to choose when we go back to the ballot, we pick a time when we are ready, when our community is ready, and when we’ve convinced enough Californians to vote our way. That’s why I strongly support going back to the ballot in 2012.

Right now, we have lots of hard work in front of us. Three years of work, in my view. We need to tell our stories, all of us. We need to engage people who are not yet with us, and do so in a manner where they can hear our cry for our dignity. We must engage people’s hearts, call upon them to find their better selves, help them realize that we truly are all in this together. We need to engage the African-American and Latino communities in respectful, persuasive ways. This work takes time.

I can also tell you that, in these difficult economic times, many in our community are suffering mightily. Our state government has decimated HIV/AIDS programs, and our service providers are struggling to stay afloat and provide critical services. In these times, I think we must respect our large LGBT donors who are supporting that work and then all get behind a ballot fight once we have done the work we need to do.

Most importantly, we need to remember that we are all in this fight together. Too often, we turn our anger at one another instead of at those at whom we are truly upset. If we can treat one another with grace and respect, and do the hard work we must, I know that we will win our rights back, once and for all. After 40 years, this battle is coming to an end. It is within our grasp. Now let’s go out and seize it.

With great respect,

Rev. Troy Perry


  1. I am disappointed we are still wasting energy on this fight our fight should never be "benched" for the future. We need to demand full equality now!

  2. I wish this guy would spend more time coming out to the canvasses that we are doing (i.e., the hard work he is talking about us all needing to do) than spending his time arguing we should wait forever to get back our rights.

    I want to go back to the ballot in 2010 and I'm doing the hard work now. Where is this guy? I haven't seen him at any of the canvasses. I'm sure he's done a lot in the past as he did a lot of bragging in his post, but where is he now? (other than hiding and criticizing)

  3. He's right, and wise from past fights. Do we deserve our rights immediately. Of course. That doesn't mean it would be smart or effective to put this on the very next ballot. There are practical considerations. Which would you rather do lose soon or win later? Idealism must always be tempered with pragmatism. That's no fun, but it's effective.

  4. Doesn't anyone have any guts? Isn't it time we stood up and fought?

  5. With our unlimited resources of the GLBT community we can do this in 2010 and again every election that follows... Along with the federal court challenge, fight for equality on all fronts!!!

  6. I'm sorry, "unlimited resources"? Can you please back this statement up?

    Going back election year after election year will only create voter resentment against the issue, similar to how right wingers keep losing on the abortion question because they keep going back time and time again, losing more and more voters each time.

    Not only will the 2010 campaign face stiff competition for donor funds, they also face little time to organize, hire an effective campaign manager and staff. I applaud the efforts for 2010 and plan to help in every way I can, but we have to be smart. We also have to put aside the notion that we can go back over and over. If we rely on that strategy, we will lose and wipe out our coffers. There are plenty of examples that indicate this.

    I think 2012 is a better year, but I support all efforts for equality and will help the 2010 campaign if we make it on the ballot. But let's be aware that we do take greater risk for 2010 and that many of us will have to take tons of time off of our day jobs and volunteer for free to make this work.

  7. With much due respect to Rev. Perry, it is LGBT public, not the establishment of political, religious and other organizations that determine when we go to the ballot. Period. We can reason any scenario, and I'm just not interested in speculative talk that limits our potential as LGBT people.

  8. I continue to post this on articles that advocate waiting until 2012 or later - and never has anyone addressed this concern.

    If the LGBT community decides to wait to go back to the ballot (and the vast majority of LGBT people in California do NOT want to wait) then the straight community will be convinced that you don't really care about marriage equality enough to fight for it.

    If a right is really important, you can not afford to sit back until the win is 'easier' - you must fight at every opportunity until the right is won.

    Not to mention, the ops will be going after taking away more of your rights unless you stand up and say NO!

  9. I have enormous respect for Troy Perry, who is a genuine hero, but I agree with Jane Wishon. In addition, I think the strategy about waiting is flawed. It assumes that our hope is somehow convincing religious minorities to support marriage equality. I do not think that is possible, and with Obama on the ballon in 2012 there will be record turnouts of religious minorities to vote for him and against us. The demographic that is movable is libertarian Republicans. I think they can be moved, and they will vote in 2010. And with a pro-equality Democratic candidate for governor leading the Democratic ticket, I think we can win more easily in 2010 than in 2012. Of course, we should also continue to woo the minority voters, but I think conservative religious people are a lost cause.

  10. Hi Jane Wishon,

    You said that no one has ever addressed your comment before so I am going to try my best to address your point.

    You stated that, "if a right is really important, you can not afford to sit back until the win is 'easier' - you must fight at every opportunity until the right is won."

    I could not agree more. What I think people who are advocating for 2010 are really failing to realize is that those who support a ballot initiative in 2012 DO NOT think we should sit back until the win is easier. We feel that this struggle is such an uphill battle that it will take more time to win, but we will (and already are) doing work on the ground to change the hearts and minds of voters who previously voted Yes on 8.

    I live in Orange County where there is NOT a big support for gay marriage and there are NOT a lot of local activists rallying for this cause. I have noticed however, that even with minimal support, we are making great strides towards persuading voters, but it is still a very slow process. I think people living in gay friendly places like SF or LA fail to see how much work truely needs to be done. TV commercials alone are not going to cut it. Sure, they help, but we need to have face to face conversations with people to really effectively change their views about marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

    So for those of you who are set on 2010 that is your perogative and I cannot stop anyone from doing something they passionately believe in. However I will leave you with this... If you are for 2010, you better plan on canvassing every weekend, you better plan on phone banking at least once a week, and you better plan on dedicating the rest of your free time from now until the election towards recruiting more volunteers because right now, we do not have the support to do the truely hard work of persuading voters by 2010. If you want 2010 you need to prove it!

    That last part was not directed at you Jane because I do not know your involvement, but the majority of people advocating for 2010 have never once attended a canvass here in OC. Those who argue for 2010 but do nothing to help persuade voters need to stop telling those who are already doing the work that we are just sitting back and waiting for things to get easier. They will only be easier in 2012 because we are working to make it so right now.

  11. With all due respect to Troy Perry, I have to disagree with him and his intent in posting this opinion. The debate about 2012 versus 2010 is over. The campaign for 2010 is going forward and any arguments against the campaign help to feed the opposition and pour cold water over the activists and organizers who are doing the hard work fighting for our rights. If you disagree with the 2010 campaign, at least please refrain from speaking out against it. It does nobody any good.

    If you do disagree, then at least contribute to the fight for LGBTQ rights in a positive way.

    Best regards,
    David Comfort
    Equality Network

  12. David, this discussion among many others is proof that the debate is not over. Currently, both 2010 and 2012 work is being done simultaneously. Just because you're underway for 2010 doesn't mean the discussion is over.

    As for contributing in a positive way, stating your opinion, as Rev. Perry has done, is not a disservice. It is wrong to imply just because someone disagrees with you, they're being negative and not helping the LGBT community.

    You need to realize people will disagree with you. It's offensive to state that by disagreeing with you they're somehow feeding the opposition. Such talk is the negative contribution you fear. Rev. Perry simply stated his position - he didn't align you with the opposition just as you did by grouping anyone who isn't for 2010.

    This kind of divisive talk seems to have characterized the 2010 group. If you're not with them, you're against the LGBT community as a whole and are just lazy. I'm on the fence, but from what I've seen, the 2012 group is dedicated to three years of hard work. Are you willing to work that long and hard? Or is 2010 just the fast and easy way out?

  13. It is disappointing that people such as Troy Perry are continuing to debate the timing issue, as I said.

    Unfortunately, there are people who are doing more than lobbying for 2012. There are LGBTQ "activists" who are telling people not to support the 2010 campaign. They are actively meeting with people to tell them not to support the campaign. To me, this is a divisive action, which needs to be condemned.

    If we wait until 2012, then the grassroots groups will fade away and there won't be much an LGBTQ movement anymore. That is why it is so important to go forward now.

  14. I understand Troy's concerns. My concern is the way the politcal field is going 2012 may be too late. We have momentum, we have financing, and we have young people engaged and ready to fight. MY partner and I are one of the 18000 couples whose gay marriage is recognized. It is not fair that I am seperate but not equal too mny other brothers and sisters in this state and across the country who wish to be free to love as they choose. I believe we must keep the issue upfront, and on the ballot at all times until it is equality for all in California and the Nation.

    Rev. Joseph Shore-Goss
    Clergy in residence
    MCC in the Valley

  15. The financial claims are a useless canard. The major donors are ready to play, they just want proof that the LGBT grassroots is strong enough to get the measure on the ballot. This WILL happen. Don't let the EQCA spin machine dictate the timetable for your rights!