In his most famous speech, my good friend Harvey Milk urged LGBT people to come out of the closet. "For invisible, we remain in limbo," he said.
Harvey knew that full equality would not become reality as long as the public was also shielded from the truth about who we are. The hollow arguments at the foundation of our institutionalized second class citizenship would never be challenged unless we embraced our identities publicly.
With closing arguments in the Prop. 8 trial this morning, Harvey Milk's words ring as true today as they did when they were first uttered in 1978. And all parties to the Prop. 8 trial know it.
That's why the Courage Campaign and CREDO Action gathered nearly 140,000 petition signatures asking to have the historic federal trial over Proposition 8 (Perry vs. Schwarzenegger) televised back in January. It's also why we launched the Prop. 8 Trial Tracker blog, which has received two million hits so far, to help everyday Americans stay connected to the important and historic events happening in the courtroom.
And it's why last month, we launched an unprecedented grassroots campaign to bring this historic trial to life across America through a project called Testimony: Equality on Trial.
Testimony is a natural outgrowth of the events that have happened in the trial. It is our way of bringing the truth of the trial to the public.
During two weeks of riveting testimony back in January, an unlikely duo of plaintiff's attorneys - former Bush v. Gore adversaries Ted Olson and David Boies - presented the unvarnished truth about LGBT families in the most eloquent of terms. In doing so, they thoroughly debunked the lies perpetuated by everyone from Anita Bryant to the National Organization of Marriage (NOM) as being devoid of reason or scientific basis.
"We think that every American should have seen the wonderful education that this trial was." -Ted Olson Esq., Attorney for the Plaintiffs, Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, Courage Campaign Conversation, 6/9/10
But most Americans have not seen this evidence.
That's because after successfully petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to deny public access to the trial, Prop. 8's supporters have fought to strike their own witness testimony from the official trial record. Their objective has been to keep the truth "invisible" to the American people no matter what the outcome of a case that is likely to continue until it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court - a process that could take years.
Now is the time to answer Harvey Milk's call to action by taking the Prop. 8 trial out of the legal abstract and into the public square. It is time to empower the tens of millions of Americans who are also on trial because of the lies at the heart of Prop. 8 - but whose stories will never be admitted into evidence in this case.
Through videotaped, guerrilla theater trial re-enactments and depositions by everyday Americans who have come to understand the destructive power of discrimination, Testimony can be the definitive public education campaign for the LGBT equality movement.
It all starts with your participation. All you need is a camera, a friend, and an internet connection.
I created the Names Project, known as the AIDS Memorial Quilt, to engage every American who knew anyone afflicted by the pandemic and to bring AIDS and HIV out of the shadows. That project changed the way our country, including the government and health researchers, viewed HIV/AIDS. And that's precisely what Testimony will do for equal rights.
I remember when Anita Bryant used her virulent brand of homophobia to strip basic rights from LGBT people in Dade County, Florida in 1972. My generation of activist - the Stonewall Generation - vowed never to accept public votes on our rights. As Ted Olson says, "when the rights of minorities are voted on, minorities usually lose. That's why we have the constitution and the federal courts."
This trial is the best shot the Stonewall Generation has of seeing full equality. The strategy of fighting state by state, county by county and city by city has created a patchwork of inequality where some have certain rights, others none. It divides Americans from each other. And it fails to recognize that true equality can only come from the Federal Government.
Our challenge in the months ahead is to share the testimony heard by Judge Walker with our fellow citizens and our representatives in government; to accelerate the profound shift in public opinion on this issue and to make that change evident to the President, Congress and Supreme Court.
We need your help to ensure that this trial, and the millions who will be impacted by its outcome, are invisible no more.