West Hollywood, California (Thursday, December 11, 2008) – Reacting to the exclusive cyber town hall run by the No On 8 campaign a fortnight ago, to which access was limited to non-Apple platform users and those with high speed Internet connections, grassroots activists gathered at West Hollywood Auditorium on Sunday for a traditional town hall meeting on the loss of the No On 8 campaign.
Most of the voices heard expressed frustration and/or anger at what they called the insular and inept leadership of the campaign.
Organized by Robin Tyler, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that won Californians the right to marry, and the organization Marriage Equality, on whose board she sits, a panel of long time activists listened to speakers and then opined themselves on the No On 8 campaign’s shortcomings.
As the meeting wore on, it became apparent that a consensus developed that the grassroots part of the movement had been used poorly, at best, and ignored completely at worst.
Prominent gay movement icon Ivy Bottini, a West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board member and veteran of anti-gay initiative politics, having led the successful fight against 1976’s Proposition 6, the Briggs Amendment, noted immediately that she had not even been called by the small No On 8 executive campaign committee.
That committee, Dr. Delores A. Jacobs, CEO, Center Advocacy Project, Lorri L. Jean, CEO, L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Kate Kendell, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Geoff Kors, Executive Director, Equality California, came under fire for not reaching out to broad swaths of the gay community to enlist the necessary volunteer support, instead relying on fundraising and television commercials.
Orange County gay rights organization member Harvey Liss spoke about the lack of outreach made in Orange County by the No On 8 campaign.
“They just wrote the entire county off as going Yes On 8,” he said. “The good thing that came out of it is that there were a number of new organizations that formed [to fill the void].”
Win Craft, a Wehoan whose awareness was awakened by the loss of a fundamental right after what he said was a lifetime of indifference to his civil rights.
“It’s easy to blame others for the campaign,” he said, “but I will be the first to admit today that I didn’t do enough. I have only myself to blame, because I did not do enough.”
He promised that would come to an end.
Another Los Angeles man, Jerry Johnson, criticized the television commercials the No On 8 campaign ran as not representing the reality of being gay couples or parents.
“I know that my friend’s lives are a succession of getting up and showering, feeding the kids, eating breakfast getting to work and getting them to school,” he said, “all of the mundane stuff that straight married people go through every day.”
He said that the ads he saw looked as though the gay leadership was trying to hide gay faces rather than showing them, missing a chance to humanize the community.
WeHo pastor Scott Imler, who preaches at Crescent Heights United Methodist Church as well as at Hollywood United Methodist, said that the faith community, in particular, felt shut out of the campaign.
“We really needed to answer the faith questions straight people have with progressive spiritual voices” he said, “and that idea was anathema to the leaders of No On 8.”
The activists present who had experience on the 1976 attempt to discriminate against gays and lesbians, Ivy Bottini, Torie Osborne to name only two, decried the imbalances in the campaign, saying that lessons learned over 30 years ago failed to be applied.
“We had a real grassroots effort across the state when we beat the Briggs Amendment,” Ms. Osborne said, “It was important to have the fundraising side and the media side working along with the grassroots then; in the Prop 22 and Prop 8 fights the media and fundraising side went it alone and lost.”
Wishing not to be seen as merely navel gazing, the town hall also sought ideas and suggestions on how grassroots groups like Marriage Equality can bridge the fissure between factions in time for future actions.
Other than inserting themselves more forcefully into deliberations, however, no substantive ideas came out.
The panel appearing included,
Jehan F. Agrama, Commissioner City Human Relations Commission
Ari Gutierrez – HONOR PAC Vice-President
Rick Jacobs- Chair and Founder, Courage Campaign.
Stefan Johnson -Jordan/Rustin Coalition
Terry Leftgoff-formerly the highest ranking openly gay officer of the California Democratic Party
Torie Osborn- Senior advisor to Mayor Villaraigosa and longtime lesbian activist.
Sylvia Rhue, Ph.D. -Director of Religious Affairs, National Black Justice Coalition
Robin Tyler, ED The Equality Campaign & plaintiff in CA Supreme Court Marriage Equality Lawsuit
Michael Weinstein, ED -Aids Healthcare Foundation
Peter Wolf – Los Angeles Chapter Leader, Marriage Equality, USA
and was facilitated by:
Ivy Bottini-40 years of LGBT activism, 10 years WEHO city co-chair of Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board and
Geoff Scowcroft – Los Angeles Chapter Leader, Marriage Equality, USA