Molly and I just got back from our Southern Fried vacation in Northwest Arkansas. We started in Bentonville, home of Wal-Mart, and drove down to Fayetteville home of the U of A Razorbacks and the Northwest Arkansas Center for Equality. I'm told it is the only LGBT center in Arkansas and an all-volunteer one at that.
I conducted a "5 Secrets of Being a Love Warrior Workshop" and signed copies of my new book Love Warriors: The Rise of the Marriage Equality Movement and Why It Will Prevail while Molly signed up some new Marriage Equality USA members and gave a presentation on "How to Make a Lasting Impression with the Media."
About 25 people attended and shared stories of being denied benefits that spouses automatically get with marriage. One woman had her child taken away from her because she was a lesbian. Arkansas has an anti-gay marriage amendment and an anti-gay adoption amendment as well. Another woman spoke of her lesbian daughter who was bullied so badly she dropped out of school.
Mind you, this is the state where the school board member last week said that he hoped "all those fags and queers commit suicide."
Toe in the door
Everyone at the Fayetteville event wanted marriage rights but felt like there was nothing they could do. I spoke with them about passing non-binding resolutions at their local human rights commissions and city councils. Non-binding resolutions, which I talk about and include a sample in my new book Love Warriors, are one way to get people in dialogue about marriage equality, to see us and hear our stories, and to get politicians to take pro-active steps towards supporting us.
Yes, these votes are symbolic, but they put people on record, so we know who pays us lip service and who really will go to bat for us, and it creates that "toe-in-the-door" strategy that sociologists talk about. Once you ask for something from someone and they say "yes" and move towards it, it will be easier to ask them for something else the next time around. Also, it's going to give politicians and human rights board members a chance to really make a difference.
Non-binding resolutions were something we began doing all over California in 2003-2005, a couple of years after we began going to counter-clerks and asking for marriage licenses. It was really interesting to see how it played out, especially when some human rights commissioners failed to see LGBT people as human and in need of having equal rights. In those cases, Molly encourages you to attend your city council meeting and sign up to speak during the public education portion about why LGBT people need equal protection under the law.
Ultimately, to win we must win in the court of public opinion and at the U.S. Supreme Court level and the only way to do that is if we do our part to speed up public acceptance.
As we have clearly see, even when the courts or legislature affirm our constitutional rights to marriage, if the court of public opinion is not on our side, our constitutional rights will go up for a popularity contest.
After our Fayetteville marriage equality teach and preach, we drove to Eureka Springs, the San Francisco of the South, complete with Victorian Houses, a mini-Golden Gate Bridge, and tons of Gay People.
Three times a year Eureka Springs is home to Diversity Days. LGBT and Q of all kinds come to Eureka Springs from Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Alabama and even Texas to enjoy Pride in the Ozarks. Let diversity be.
Festivities begin with a Meet and Greet at the Pizza Bar on Main St. Hosted by "would be married" couple, Lorrie and Sunday, also known as the Pizza Sluts. Lorrie and Sunday also hosted a book signing for me and fed the traveling hungry love warriors (yes, I fell off my "no flour" diet).
The first Saturday of Diversity Days is PDA Day at Basin Springs Park. We wore feather boas and Viking hats, compliments of Sparky from Little Rock who hosts the annual kiss in. There was one protestor, a biblical biker, whom everyone knew on a first name basis. I guess he goes every year. In the background, what could only be described as an Ozark Jug band by this Yankee, fiddled, picked, strummed, showed off their foot-long beards and in between songs talked about appreciating diversity and letting everyone be them selves. A PFLAG Mom held up a sign that said, "Straight, sane, not narrow or mean." She was giving out hugs.
That afternoon, I read as part of a literary event of local Arkansas talent. Amos Lassen read from "Unnatural..." a book chronicling Eureka Springs, gay history. Paul Harris read from his book about being trapped in the superdome during Hurricane Katrina, and Bryan Borland, a young gay poet from Little Rock, read his gay coming of age poems. He held the audience spell-bound.
I read from Love Warriors about Bill and Robert, a San Francisco couple who were on vacation when Robert fell ill and ended up in the emergency room. I shared the ugly truth that their "domestic partnership" and power of attorney back home were not enough to allow Bill the dignity to be at Robert's bedside and hold his hand when he died. I spoke about the 1,138 federal rights we are denied because of whom we love and the heartaches that lie ahead of us if we don't change the laws. I know, Debbie Downer. But this isn't going to go away on its own.
What the world needs now
The next day Molly and I spoke at the UU Church in Eureka Springs. I talked about how to talk with people who seem to be completely shut down to equality for LGBT people. We discussed strategies to open hearts and minds. Molly led a beautiful rendition of "What the World Needs Now" with the congregation who spontaneously harmonized. It was a beautiful church with sunshine spilling in from the big windows that looked out onto the dogwoods. It was a glorious morning.
We topped off our Southern Fried Marriage Equality Vacation with an evening of Big Bad Gina, an all-girl-loving-girl band from Fayetteville who sang a beautiful song called "Love Makes a Family" and did an unforgettable version of "Sweet Transvestite." It was good, clean fun. Well, at least until they played their last song, "I'll hold you up," then things got a little unpredictable.
It is not inevitable
During the trip a lot of people said "Well, it (marriage equality) will happen some day." Or "It's inevitable." I assure you marriage equality across the country will only happen in our life time if we stand up and speak out for it. It will never be handed to us. Even in California, where the legislature passed a marriage equality bill in 2005 and 2007 and the courts ruled in 2008 that marriage was our constitutional right, on November 4, 2008 a 4% majority were able to take that right away from us. Exactly, two years later, same-sex couples still cannot legally marry in California and Prop 8 is still in effect. It is not inevitable.
We must speak out for marriage equality whether we are in San Francisco or Little Rock! We must stand up for marriage and stay committed to marriage, even when they offer us cheap substitutes like domestic partnerships. We must become Love Warriors!