Guest Blogger

Equal Roots Coalition: Organizing in the aftermath of Prop 8

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 08, 2008 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: API Equality, Equal Roots Coalition, gay marriage, Jorge Valencia, Karen Ocamb, LGBT politics, marriage equality, Marshall Wong, Point Foundation, Prop 8, Richard Zaldavar, Robin Tyler

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.

jeffandmattI 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.

logoEqual 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!"

leadership circleI 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.

robintylerThe 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.

marshallwongGay 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.

richard zalvadarZaldivar said:

"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.

jeff katz and karen ocambJournalists 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 valenciaJorge 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.)


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The true focus of the conference was a series of breakout sessions in which attendees were given the opportunity to share their opinions [...] Meanwhile 30 leaders of the various LGBT organizations in attendance held their own meeting.

This is just the same hierarchical pattern that repeats over and over again. Conference attendees are separated – by definition and physical space – from movement leaders, and then invited to share their opinions...

...with whom? Clearly not with the 30 LGBT organizational "leaders" who were having their own meeting at the time - i.e. the very people who should be listening to radical, fresh, community-based ideas in the first place.

Actually, just to clarify:

There were representatives from each organization in a leadership session, but there were also representatives in each of the breakout sessions.

Also, the leadership session was mostly about streamlining communication, goals, and idea between the existing organizations. The other sessions, which mostly consisted of and which were run by the general LGBT public, were group which actually plotted out the next steps of the movement. It was, in fact, the people who made the decisions in this conference and the people who brought their ideas to the table, not the leadership as we have seen in the past. Another point of this conference was to help people understand that they don't need to be a leader of an organization to plan an event or make change. We can all take large action on our own.

Everyone came away from this conference feeling empowered, connected, and mobilized because they were able to speak their mind and actually put a hand in the future of our community. That was the intent of this conference and, judging on the reactions we had, it was a success.

Nick, we invite you to take part as well. This is a new beginning for us all, especially those who have felt excluded from the process. Nick and to anyone else reading this -- please shoot me an email if you have questions, would like to know when we will be meeting next, or if you have any ideas that you need help making a reality.

We all, at least I can say myself and those who I am familiar with, are very excited to see our movement grow and be moved forwards by anyone and everyone who wants to get involved. We look forward to all working together and we look forward to the new future that we all will be forging for ourselves.

All the best,
Matt Palazzolo
matt@equalroots.com
www.equalroots.com

At nearly a half century old I thought I had seen the greatest gay rights movement with the advent of Stonewall. Wow. Clearly I was mistaken.

What transpired Saturday was a long overdue, most exciting reinvigorations of the Equal / Civil / Gay rights movement I have ever seen or experienced since Stonewall.

However in keeping with the times and in contrast to Stonewall, instead of stones and bottle throwing (although not to discount or minimize that either) I saw an amazingly positive think tank type convergence of average Gay Joes (and Gay Marys) sitting within a group talking, discussing and defining -- putting voice to solutions, rather than violence to problems.

As importantly those voices had some very sharp, concise and discerning understanding(s) insofar as defining what the problems were in getting our word and issues heard (and rights recognized) -- then followed by a remarkable and often brilliant array of ideas for possible solutions.

Putting voice to idea, after nearly every person in the (Media) group spoke I often found myself thinking -- "hmmm, now why didn't we think of that?" And perhaps we had -- but back then didn't have the organizational tool of the Internet to form such an interactive grassroots conference that could bring the many concerned and dedicated people together in such short order.

What struck me as even more unusual about this conference was the the complete lack of any negativity or finger pointing (unless unsed to frame the problem) nor platform used for complaining diatribe. Refreshing in that alone!

While we had several notable people speak AND participate in the break-out sessions there was no hierarchy or "leaders": -- WE were the leaders -- Every voice was equal and every voice was encouraged to share.

For the first time in a very long time I walked away with some real hope for our collective future and our rights therein and a renewed fondness for the next generation that's taking the baton from us to carry forward. Thanks Matt, Chris, Sara and Mike! YOU. ROOOOCK!

I keep saying, grass roots organizing is what will save our movement and eventually bring homophobia to it's knees.

Kudos for putting on the conference, Matthew.

I want to add my voice to Marc's comments. This was a great afternoon for me and, I thought, very productive. I am not a leader in anyone's heirarchy, just another queer that wants to be involved in this newly emerging grassroots movement. The speakers at the conference gave me plenty of inspiration (and information) - Matt, you were absolutely wonderful! I joined the Outreach breakout session, made some new connections and was incredibly stimulated by the discussion. I will continue to move forward with my involvement and add my own particular perspective and agenda - there is room for all of our activities. I loved Robin's statement that this is not about "passing the torch", but rather about "lighting your tourches and joining those that came before." I love all the new young queers getting active and taking on leadership. Thanks for this conference - it was exactly what I needed. I posted additional comments and pictures on my own blog on MySpace.com/JohnWaiblinger for anyone that's interested.

I WAS SUPRISED BY THE REACTION TO THE PASSAGE OF PROP 8. IT WAS THE FRIST TIME IN MY LIFE, I AM 64, THAT I HAD CONTRIBUTED TO THE DEFEAT OF ANY PROPOSITON. I HAVE ALSO BEEN IN THE "CLOSET" AND LIVED AROUND LA FOR MOST OF MY LIFE AS WELL. I AM SO PLEASED THAT MANY YOUNGER PEOPLE WILL BE WILLING TO JOIN IN THIS EFFORT TO OBTAIN EQUAL RIGHTS FOR EVERY CITIZEN IN THE THIS STATE AND EVENTUALLY THE NATION. I WAS AWOL IN THE LAST CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT BUT WANT TO JOIN YOU ALL IN THIS ONE! I THINK WITH A DIFFERENT MESSAGE, WE CAN OVER-COME THE PREJUDICE AND MISINFORMATION SPREAD TO WIN THIS UNAMERICAN BALLOT PROPOSITION.

I too came out at 13, but I'm 78 now, not 23.

I go back a long ways in the gay movement. I was media director for the Gay Activists Alliance starting in l97l. I co-founded the Natianal Gay and Lesbian Task Force in l973, and in the same year was successful in spearheading tha American Psychiatric Assn.'s removal of homosexuality from its sicklist. I coordinated national gay efforts to get anti-gay stuff out of the media and wrote the first gay media handbook. In the 80's I quit the movement, but have continued to fire off my views, chiefly that we need to engage in a debate about morality with the bigots, and to summon up some of the righteous anger we had in the old days.

For the past 10 years I've been spending half my time in Bangladesh because my mate can't even get a tourist visa, and stewing about the fact that all these years later I'm still subject to official discrimination. I haven't been happy about the establishment ways of current gay organization, including the one I helped to found, so was delighted to read that Prop. 8 has stimulated a new post-Stonewall activism. I googled Equal Roots Coaltion, and here I am. I'm hoping for suggestions on how I can participate these days.

Herewith something I unsuccessfully tried to peddle as an op-ed piece:

AN END TO HATE

By Ronald Gold

Here in Bangladesh, I got up at the crack of dawn on Nov. 5, so as not to miss the early election returns coming in 11 hours earlier from my home country, the United States of America.

I was fearful that the polls had been somehow wrong, but as the morning wore on and it became clearer that Sen. Obama actually would win, euphoria set in. I applauded what everyone has agreed was a gracious concession from Sen. McCain. I thought it appropriate and was moved by, Obama’s minimum-content but brilliantly written and delivered Grant Park speech. At age 78, I even managed a few dance steps along with the celebrants from around the world. This election, I said to myself, represents the end of hate in America.

That is, until a couple of hours later, when I learned that the voters in California and two other states, the same people who’d put Obama over the top, had amended their constitutions to limit marriage to “one man and one woman.” Hate, I learned, was alive and well, but now almost solely directed at gay people, directed at ME.

No, I can hear you saying, that’s not hate. You, like Barack Obama, want us to have all the rights and privileges of everybody else, it’s just that marriage is . . . Is what? A religious rite? Not when it’s a secular contract; when no member of the clergy has ever been forced to perform a same-sex marriage, and many of them have gladly done so. Tied to procreation? Not when one man and one woman are often infertile or past childbearing age. Let’s face it: the ban on gay marriage is hate in the same way that “separate but equal” was. It says I’m just not good enough to share what you’ve got.

I’m in Bangladesh for half the year because Ali, my mate, can’t even get a tourist visa to visit me in the U.S. And our dozen-year relationship doesn’t entitle me to sponsor him as an immigrant as I could if he were a woman I could marry.

The only route left for us is the Uniting American Families Act, now languishing in Congress, which – on the model of l9 other countries, some of which don’t trumpet their devotion to equal rights like we do in America – would allow me to sponsor him without resorting to marriage.

President Elect Obama, as I understand it, has expressed some support for this bill, but judging by the pundits who’ve rushed to caution him against such “distractions” as gay rights, he’s unlikely to touch this issue any time soon. It’s time now for us gay people to employ the righteous anger that has served the black civil-rights movement so well, and for straight people of good will to start marching on our behalf, as white folks like me did so many years ago when I went to Washington to hear about Martin Luther King’s dream. I too have a dream, about an end to hate against gay men and lesbians, but like him, I suspect I won’t be around when we reach the promised land.

Milo Morris | January 3, 2009 11:11 AM

Kudos, Matt!!

I have been quite browned off by the way the Gay Party has been handling the national conversation on equal rights for sexual minorities for many years. I was was worried about all the random pith and vinegar that spewed forth from the gay community in the days following November 4th. I have been hoping that someone, somewhere would channel all of that anger into some strategic thinking, and clear tactical approaches. Equal Roots is definitely headed in that direction.

We need more of this kind of activity, and less hollering.