SAN FRANCISCO — They’re calling it Stonewall 2.0.
Outraged by California voters’ ban on same-sex marriage, a new wave of advocates, shaken out of a generational apathy, have pushed to the forefront of the gay rights movement, using freshly minted grass-roots groups and embracing not only new technologies but also old-school methods like sit-ins and sickouts.
Matt Palazzolo, 23, a self-described “video artist-actor turned gay activist,” founded one group, Equal Roots Coalition, with a group of friends about 10 days ago. “I’d been focused on other things in my life,” Mr. Palazzolo said. “Then Nov. 4 happened, and it woke me up.”
Often young and politically inexperienced, the new campaigners include an unlikely set of leaders, among them a San Francisco chess teacher, a search-engine marketer from Seattle and a former contestant on “American Gladiators,” who jokingly suggested that he had become involved in the movement as a way of making up for his poor performance on the show.
“We’re a gay couple in West Hollywood, neither of us involved in activism, but we just wanted to help,” said Sean Hetherington, 30, a stand-up comic who was the first openly gay contestant ever to do battle, however briefly, in the Gladiator Arena. “And we were amazed at what happened.”
Mr. Hetherington and his companion were among several people surprised by the strength of positive reaction after starting Web sites geared toward a demonstration planned for Wednesday, “Day Without a Gay.” Its organizers are asking gay rights supporters to avoid going to work by “calling in gay” and volunteering in the movement instead.Many grass-roots leaders say the emergence of new faces, and acceptance of tactics that are more confrontational, amount to an implicit rejection of the measured approach of established gay rights groups, a course that, some gay men and lesbians maintain, allowed passage of the ban, Proposition 8.
“I think we are demanding as a community that we democratize our processes and ensure we all have a voice,” said Molly McKay, media director of the volunteer group Marriage Equality USA. “Because we are not a campaign. We are a movement.”
The executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kate Kendell, a member of the No on 8 campaign’s executive committee, said the criticism was understood.
“Even from my vantage point, I would have a wish list of things I would have done differently,” Ms. Kendell said, adding that she would have preferred “to give our community a greater level of engagement.”
Now, however, the ballot initiative’s passage has forced many in the gay community “out of our stupor” and opened the door for new leaders, she said. “It’s totally legitimate to say that the normal way of doing things did not get us to the finish line,” Ms. Kendell said. “And now some of those groups need to move over a couple of lanes to make room.”
On Tuesday, another group behind the failed campaign, Equality California, announced that it would add several new board members to reflect a surge in interest. The group has also added two “faith leaders,” reflecting the opinion of many critics that the campaign should have courted the religious vote.
The new activists have impressed some gay rights veterans.
“They’ve shown a clear ability to turn out large numbers of people,” said Cleve Jones, a longtime gay rights advocate and labor organizer. “It’s also clear that they are skeptical of the established L.G.B.T. organizations. And I would say they have reason to be.”
The ban, which passed with 52 percent of the vote, overturned a decision by the California Supreme Court in May legalizing same-sex marriage. The same court is currently considering a challenge to Proposition 8.But many activists seem unwilling to wait for a legal solution and have planned a series of events to keep the issue in the public eye, including a nationwide candlelight vigil later this month, a Million Gay March in Washington next spring and continued protests at county clerks’ offices throughout California.
“We’re doing an end run around the mainstream organizations that run our causes,” said David Craig, a movie producer who is an organizer of Wednesday’s “call in gay” protest. “And the Internet has given us the tool to create these events.”
Indeed, in much the same way a previous generation used phone trees and megaphones, Amy Balliet used Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about protests on Nov. 15 that drew tens of thousands of people in scores of cities and towns across the nation.
Ms. Balliet said the skills she used had been learned in her work at a search-engine marketing firm in Seattle. “I’m good at driving traffic to Web sites; that’s what I do,” said Ms. Balliet, 26, who with a friend, Willow Witte, founded a group called Join the Impact last month.
She added that their impatience with the status quo had played a part. “We said: ‘Why are we going to wait for the organizations to have a protest? They’re going to have to go through all their bureaucracies to get approval. Why don’t we just do it?’ ”
The sudden burst of energy has drawn some comparisons to demonstrations during the early days of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. But Larry Kramer, the playwright and founder of ACT UP, which used confrontational tactics to fight for money for AIDS treatment and research, said advances in treating the disease had, somewhat incongruously, robbed the gay rights movement of broader political momentum.
“For activism to work, you have to be scared and you have to be angry,” Mr. Kramer said. “Nobody’s frightened anymore. The drugs have taken care of that.”
Still, many current activists seem to be enrolled in crash courses in protest politics, with almost daily organizational meetings in cities across California. Some also study the arc of the gay rights movement, which custom dates from the riots at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, in 1969.
“I see a lot more people reading history books now,” Mr. Palazzolo said.
Quite a few activists said they had also been inspired by the acclaimed film “Milk,” which chronicles the fight by a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), to beat back a 1978 ballot measure that would have barred gay teachers from California’s public schools.
Justin Lenzi, a 23-year-old chess coach who attends San Francisco State University, said he saw Mr. Milk, who was murdered inside City Hall here shortly after the 1978 election, as a model for activism. So do others in his social set.
“I’m seeing a lot of people at my university, either gay or straight, who want to be part of my cause,” he said.The new campaigners are also showing a willingness to learn. Robin Tyler, 66, a lesbian activist in Los Angeles, said she had been invited to speak at a meeting of grass-roots groups on Saturday and was inspired by the younger generation’s efforts to take the movement “into the streets.”
“The grandchildren in the movement are like us,” Ms. Tyler said. “I told them, ‘We just had to skip the generation above you.’ ”
Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a gay rights group in New York, said he applauded the sudden involvement of “people who were either complacent or not reached” during the campaign against Proposition 8. But he cautioned that the advances and methods of older groups should not be discounted.
“Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Mr. Wolfson said. “It’s not so much a failure of leadership; it’s an opportunity to bring more people in.”
Mr. Palazzolo, the activist-actor-video artist, said it had taken Proposition 8 to reawaken political consciousness that he and many peers abandoned during college.“We’ve been spoiled,” he said. “Because while we knew we’d been discriminated against in the past, we’d never felt it until now.”
Love your way... you are Brilliant!
Alan Davidson is the author of the Free report
"Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your
Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a
available at www.throughyourbody.com
Alan is also the author of Body Brilliance:
Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences (IQs)
Watch the Body Brilliance Movie