Dear Courageous Reader!
To those of you who have not read me before, Welcome. Please read here to orient yourself to the task before us.
On Thursday, a rally of thousands gathered at the corners of Wilshire Boulevard and Westwood Avenue in Los Angeles, just blocks from my sparkling glass office. I watched from my computer screen as they gathered, and could hear the helicopters hovering outside my window. It was electric. As they began to move west down Wilshire toward Beverly Hills, I gathered my things and dashed downstairs.
In the grand marble lobby, I raced to the main doors. My friends! Just beyond the glass I could see them marching in the streets!
"The doors are locked," said the secruity guard. I looked at him in haste and irritation: "Which ones aren't?" I said. He pointed, and I moved to go: "Where are you going?" he asked.
"To join my friends!" I called, as the brass door swung out and I dashed into Wilshire Boulevard--across police lines!--and joined my second civil protest this week.
The march was long. We marvelled at the organization and graciousness of the police, who blocked streets ahead of us, and protected us from oncoming traffic. So many people I marched with THANKED them! We thanked the drivers we inconvenienced. Many honked in support, some waved, and some looked sheepishly from their cars--seeking eye contact and a little acknowledgment. I gave it, and so did others. We put the "civil" in civil rights. We are passionate and undeterred, but we are not monsters.
I marched with the growing group down Wilshire, and sat in the center of Wilshire and Santa Monica surrounded by strangers. How many times have you passed by that great crooked crossroads, Reader? A dozen? A hundred? A thousand? Have you looked at the pavement beneath you? Have you touched it? I have, and it was incredible. Imagine the power of sitting in that great intersection, one of the busiest in California, during rush hour, in peaceful protest. Our feet ached, our throats were hoarse, but we were unbowed. We marched on to the so-called Temple, where we enshrined ourselves before its lonely ceremonial gate.
When I returned to my office, it was very late. I had walked miles in my work shoes, and the arches of my feet were like violin strings, taut and whiny. I was tired and hungry.
The same security guard was on duty. "Well," he said. "How was it?"
For the first time in the many times I had seen him, I took full acount of him:, a short, muscular Latino man, a baby face, the suggestion of stubborness in his brow and lips.
"Amazing," I said. "I've never been in anything like that. I never believed I'd need to."
"So," he said, as he squared his feet and took firmer ground. "What is it that's so important?"
So began our conversation, and it lasted the better part of an hour. I listened to him: he is ex-military, a soon-to-be father, a proud Latino. His baby is stubborn, like him. He has tattoos that show when he drives wearing the muscle shirts he favors, and he gets racially profiled by the cops he hopes someday to be. He admitted he was firmly in the "yes" camp, and supported traditional marriage.
He asked many questions: What's the difference between marriage and civil unions or domestic partnerships?
I answered as best I could. I told him that civil unions and domestic partnerships are Frankenstein monsters, with rights missing and things not quite in place. They are subject to contest, and are often questioned. They are complex, confusing, and misunderstood. Marriage, by contrast, anyone can get with a few dollars and a trip to City Hall.
"Well," he said, "let me be honest, there's an ick factor. I don't want to see two guys kissing."
I laughed at this. "Yes," I said with a smile. "I suppose there is. But that's not what this is about, and there are 'ick factors' to a lot of things that regular folks do."
At one point he leaned back a little and said, "Everything I heard was Yes on 8 in my community."
I nodded. "I'm sorry," I said. "That's too bad. It only takes 30 seconds to remind someone of their fear and to raise doubt. It takes a lot longer to have conversations like this."
He agreed, and asked about his child. "I don't want them learning about gay sex in sex ed."
To this I said: "Don't you think it's amazing that we can't teach our kids basic math and sentence structure, but we're worried about what they're going to learn in sex ed? How much did you learn in sex ed that you hadn't already known from other kids, anyway?" He laughed at this, "Not much."
"And is this the right way to legislate that concern? Deny me 1,138 legal rights that are afforded by marriage?"
I went on: "I could marry any woman off the street, and she would have more rights in that partnership than if I 'unioned' my partner of 15 years. Does that seem fair to you?"
"No," he admitted.
The conversation turned to cars, and football. I told him about how I started to become a football fan, and how surprised I was at the first stirrings of team loyalty. It makes for strange bedfellows, as they say.
Then, he said that he had once been asked what he'd do if his kid came out to him as gay or lesbian. "I think I'd kick them out," he said. Then he reconsidered. "Naw, but I'd want to."
My eyebrows raised, I nodded and asked, "And where would they go? Would they find a loving community somewhere else? What kind of rights would that community have? Let me tell you about the Trevor Project, which is the nation's only 24 hour suicide and crisis prevention hotline for gay and lesbian youth. 14,000 calls a year we field from kids who are lost, whose parents have kicked them out, and who only want to die. Is THAT the world you want for your little baby? Or her best friend? Or his soccer buddy?"
"No," he said. Then he paused, "You know, this stuff comes up a lot in my house, and we talk about it all the time. But I've never had this kind of perspective before. I think you've kinda changed my perspective a little. I was firmly "yes" before this, and now..."
He trailed off, and his hands rested on the marble desk that separated us. He had made the gesture of two hands far apart, coming closer, meeting in the middle. Our conversation was near its close. "But do you think that protest had any effect?"
A chill went up my spine at this question. Of course, I thought. The answer is so clear.
"Yes," I said. "Look at this conversation we've had. Maybe you'll have one that opens up somebody's mind near you, too."
This battle we face will be long and hard and cannot be waged without the support of our many allies. They are legion: Google, Apple, PG&E, teachers, mayors, religious leaders, businessmen, you, your friends, your relatives.
But our allies are in unexpected places! Our allies are in the people who voted yes on this terrible proposition because no one had talked to them with candor and respect. We need to demonstrate the compassion and patience that our detractors have so sadly lost in their zeal for righteousness.
I saw that same security guard this morning; he'd had an 8 hour turn-around on his shifts, for those astute Readers who are wondering about time-lines.
I told him I appreciated our conversation last night.
He smiled: "Me too. I talked to my fiancee when I got home, and she was like, 'Now you're No on 8?' I told her I guess so."
My Reader, My Revolutionary, when the day comes that you are asked by your children and your grandchildren about this time ("Grandma, why would they treat people like that?"), will you say with grace and pride, "I was not silent"?
We must speak. People are discussing this already, and they are looking for a new perspective. The old perspectives--the ones the TV and some old guy gave them--don't fit quite right. We know why they don't fit. Share this blog. Share any blog. We do not speak alone when we are united in purpose and fairness.
Speak up, and speak out, though you and I may never meet and though you may never face what I face now.
For know this, and hold it in your heart:
My dear Reader, when the time comes, I'll do the same for you.