Editors' Note: Guest blogger Matthew Palazzolo is the co-founder of Equal Roots Coalition, a new group formed in response to the passage of Prop 8 in California. A new LGBT activist, Palazzolo is also a video artist and an actor.
I came out to my parents at 13.
At 16, my father tried to heal the many wounds that we had inflicted upon each other since then by giving me a rainbow flag. I rejected it. I threw it in my closet - why he wasn't giving my brother a straight flag?
I didn't know it at that moment, but those words I said were representative of the gap between both my father and I and the gap between the present-day LGBT community and equality.
At 17, I was leaving home to head off to Los Angeles. I felt like I had lost my father. But the night before I left I decided that I couldn't leave home without knowing that he loved me. I started a fight - that was my teenage profession - and screamed, "Everything I do...every problem I have...it's because I'm gay! You have no idea what it's like going through life wondering if every single person you meet hates you."
For the first time in my life I could admit to myself and to my father that I needed him to love me not as his son, but as his gay son.
Like my father could not learn to understand and love me until I was brave enough to admit that I needed him to love me as his gay son, the LGBT community must - in order to win its rights, respect, and dignity from the rest of the population - be brave enough to admit that we deserve equality - not because we are the same - but because we are different. We our fighting for our civil rights and our human rights - but most importantly we are fighting for our gay rights.
That's how I bean what became an afternoon of moving speeches and conversation in West Hollywood's Plummer Park on Dec. 6. Some 150 members of the community met for the LGBT Movement Conference, sponsored by the Equal Roots Coalition.
The LGBT Conference was conceived, organized, and put on in under two weeks by the Equal Roots Coalition, an activist group that was conceived, organized and put together in just that same time.
Equal Rootswas born out of a spontaneous speech that I gave on a trashcan during a protest of the passing of Proposition 8. There has been a lot of passion in the wake of Election Day, but there has been even more anger and more confusion. Everyone has ideas and drive, but nowhere to put it.
I'm 23 years old and I suffer from early twenties syndrome (the kind that debilitates any sort of confidence in career choices), yet as I stood on that trash can looking out over hundreds of people as hurt as I was and as frustrated as I was I told myself, "This has to happen! We need to come up with a way to organize!"
I collected a small group of organizers comprised of college friends and a girl that I "picked up" at a protest. Up until two weeks ago, I had no community organizing experience and neither did any of my other 20-something co-organizers, yet we somehow managed to make a distant imagining of the LGBT Conference, a day in which all of the activist facets of our community could begin to coalesce for a better future, a successful reality.
The event kicked off with long-time lesbian troublemaker Robin Tyler, who, in her good humor, powerfully walked attendees through decades of the LGBT rights movement--from her days organizing the first marches on Washington to her most recent actions as one of the plaintiffs in the California same-sex marriage lawsuit. She got a standing ovation.
Gay Asian community organizer Marshall Wong of API Equality/L.A. talked about the parallels between Asian struggles in the U.S. and the rights the LGBT community is fighting for and the coalition building and progress that's been made between the two groups.
Latino and AIDS activist Richard Zaldivar of The Wall-Las Memorias Project in East L.A. spoke with a mixture of emotion and frustration about the immediate need to reach out to different groups for support.
"We can not live in isolation or our isolated ghettos. We are everywhere. We have to reach out--we can't expect the support."
The true focus of the conference was a series of breakout sessions in which attendees were given the opportunity to share their opinions.
Journalists Karen Ocamb and Jeff Katz of IN Los Angeles magazine moderated a group of about 30 people, discussing media messages and the most effective way to get across the need for marriage equality, often in just a 30 second sound bite.
Arturo Sernas, of the International Socialist Organization, moderated a panel on infrastructure, looking both at what existed during the campaign, and more importantly, how to refurbish the educational, political and organizational standards of the gay and lesbian community itself.
Meanwhile 30 leaders of the various LGBT organizations in attendance held their own meeting. After spending the majority of the allotted hour introducing themselves, these activists - some whom have been organizing for decades and others only for days - talked about the movement's future.
Though at times filled with tension over disagreements, there was overwhelming consensus that the LGBT community must move forward united, sharing resources, unafraid to reach out and educate the general public about what we stand for.
Jorge Valencia, director of the Point Foundation, closed the conference with thoughts on self-empowerment, on the need for each individual to be unflinching in the face of their passions and their dreams.
Equal Roots is not the only group of young activists putting their two cents in the LGBT movement, though. These groups have been springing up all over the country every single day since November 4th. The community is taking chances again like it once did in darker and more desperate times. We are learning to trust our gut. And most importantly, youth has been activated.
(As a result of the Equal Roots Conference, IN Los Angeles magazinewill launch an LGBT Activism column to be managed by Jeff Katz.)