Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
In the past five years, I've become more familiar than I would have liked with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief. In that time, both of my parents and my baby brother died, all too young--and in the case of my 40-year-old brother, completely unexpectedly. I'm not actually sure I've ever really made it to acceptance; rather, I seem to be in a permanent state of resignation.
On the evening of November 4, right around the time it was becoming November 5, I felt the wash of grief all over again. It felt much like when my family members died: many others around my world are going on with their lives--in this case many of them ecstatic over the election of Barack Obama--yet I, and in this case my No on Prop 8 family, are shell-shocked at the passage of this unprecedented assault on the California constitution and the rights of the LGBT community in California.
Over the past two weeks since the passage of Prop 8, and similar constitutional amendments in Florida and Arizona, and an anti-adoption and foster care amendment in Arkansas, our community has gone through a modified version of the five stages: Shock, Anger, Blame, Action, Resolve.
As one who was deeply involved in the No on Prop 8 campaign, I have felt every wave of community reaction, and the reverberations are continuing. I have been asked very tough questions, accused of untold bad motives, and told I should resign. For my role in the campaign, I have been thanked by many and called incompetent by others. (I will admit the Anger-Blame stage has been brutal).
Just to be clear, every question should be asked and every key campaign decision must be evaluated. In my view, we had an incredible, committed, and highly talented campaign team--both paid campaign experts and veteran volunteers. We had a small army of dedicated field organizers and volunteers who made defeating Prop 8 their life's work; we moved the California electorate--and every demographic within that electorate--by at least 12% in favor of the right to marry for same-sex couples; we built the largest coalition of business, civil rights, union, and religious support of any ballot measure ever. But we lost, by a heartbreakingly narrow margin, and only a full and honest evaluation of every aspect of the campaign can assure that we learn from our mistakes and we build on our successes. I am deeply, painfully sorry we lost, and I will be for a long time.
The Anger-Blame stage, which led to some in our community to target people of color--particularly African-Americans, based on unreliable numbers from a single exit poll --for being responsible for the passage of Prop 8, as well as the defacing of churches by a handful of misguided folks, was the most desperate and difficult moment of the past two weeks. Targeting certain groups, fomenting an "us v. them" dynamic, threatens to do damage to cross-community work that many had spent years developing and nurturing. LGBT folks are in every community--every group has some of "us."
In addition, it now appears that the early exit poll numbers showing that African-Americans voted for Prop 8 by 70% were flawed, and the number is likely much closer to 57%, and even that number has much more to do with religious affiliation and age than with race. No one group is responsible for the passage of Prop 8--period.
The No On 8 campaign had support from not only the California NAACP, but from African-American pastors and elected officials all over the state. Many districts with strong African-American populations voted down Prop 8, and in our challenge to Prop 8 filed last week, we were joined by a coalition of organizations representing African-Americans and other communities of color. These communities are our natural allies--as Eva Jefferson Paterson noted on the filing of legal papers supporting the striking down of Prop 8: "a threat to one is a threat to all."
Now, two weeks later, it seems we have moved firmly into action. Not only were the incidents of scapegoating and blaming denounced by many in both the LGBT and allied communities, but over the past 14 days, hundreds of rallies, marches, protests, and community forums have been organically and spontaneously organized around the country. Tens of thousands of LGBT folks and our allies have come together in cities and towns in almost every state.
If there was ever any doubt that we are a movement, that has been put to rest. If there was ever any suspicion that we are too complacent to organize and show our outrage and our resolve, that suspicion has been obliterated. This has been a very dark time. But as I have traveled around the country in the past two weeks--first to Boston and then to North Carolina for the Equality North Carolina conference--it is becoming clear to me as I pull myself out of the pall that this community is not about to remain silent, we are not going to slip back, we are not going back into any closet, anywhere. We are resolved to never take our equality, anywhere, for granted.
With all due respect to Kubler-Ross, there will never be acceptance.