Tag Archives: lgbt rights

Responding to #QueersAgainstPete and their baseless attacks on Pete Buttigieg

A new group, “Queers Against Pete,” has popped up in the Twittersphere. They have a website (which you can check out at www.queersagainstpete.com) and an open letter which you can sign, if you wish. However, before you do that, I’d like to offer my line by line rebuttal. There are some serious errors, omissions, and misrepresentations here which are worth considering. Please note that for the purposes of this blog I have used the letterwriter’s own acronym “LGBTQIA” to refer to our community.

Open Letter

Dear fellow members of the LGBTQIA community,

Hello, letter writer!

This election cycle we will be presented with plenty of options. Up and down the ballot, candidate’s stances will impact us, our families and communities. If we’ve learned anything from our ancestors and transcestors, it’s that we must speak out…and act up. This primary election is one such example.

Transcestors? Never heard that. Clever word play.

There has been much talk about identity and diversity in the race to win the Democratic party nomination for president. Some have touted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s openly gay identity as proof of progress in our politics. However, being gay is not enough to earn the support of LGBTQIA communities.

I agree that being gay is not enough to earn the support of the LGBTQIA community. I wouldn’t vote for a gay Republican because their politics do not match mine. There is no reason why anyone in the LGBTQIA community or any community should feel compelled to support Pete Buttigieg just because he is gay.

However, Mayor Pete is proof of progress in our politics – or at least in our society. His candidacy was unimaginable even 10 years ago. Keep in mind it was only 12 years ago that America elected its first Black president. Keep in mind it was only 5 years ago that marriage equality – which I’m sure you have radical arguments against, but stay with me – was legalized across the nation. I came out in 2001 (you can read about that here), and the world was very different. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and that is worth acknowledging at the very least.

We cannot in good conscience allow Mayor Pete to become the nominee without demanding that he address the needs and concerns of the broader Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) communities. While many see different issues in silos, we are clear that LGBTQIA people are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality among other things.

This is where it would be nice if you offered evidence that LGBTQIA people “are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality.” Maybe we are. But citing statistics and sources is important when making a claim. Because, for example, if a Black gay man is shot dead by the police in an extrajudicial execution—as happens far too frequently in our nation—I would argue that more often than not it’s because he is Black and not gay.

I will, however, concede the point that LGBTQIA people care about more than what we often refer to as “LGBT rights.” I respect the desire to point this out, because too often the media portrays “identity voters” as only caring about a narrow set of issues when that is simply not the case.

Mayor Pete is leaning on the support and actively courting the LGBTQIA community, but has shown time and time again that he is out of touch, not fit to be President of the United States, and simply falls short.

I actually haven’t seen Mayor Pete “leaning on the support and actively courting the LGBTQIA community” anymore than any other candidate (and less so than Elizabeth Warren), though I’m not sure why you present that as a bad thing. Candidates should be trying to win over LGBTQIA voters.

  • Mayor Pete opposes free universal free public college and does not support cancelling student loan debt;

    This is true, and when I endorsed Mayor Pete, I noted it as one of the principle policies on which we disagree. But here’s what Mayor Pete’s plan does do: it makes public universities free to families making up to $100,000 a year and adds $120 billion to the Pell Grants funds (which is an excellent fund and put me through college). 80% of American families will be eligible for free tuition.

    Pete’s logic is that the richest among us should be expected to pay their fair share. Pete’s plan is not, as you imply, a plan which is built out of selfishness or callousness, but a radical reshaping of American higher education. It opens a door for millions of Americans to get a degree who previously would have been prevented because of the skyrocketing cost of college tuition.

    As for student loans, Pete has pledged to cancel student loan debt for students who attend predatory for-profit schools. He has laid out an income-based repayment plan for people struggling with student loan debt – and the loans will be cancelled after 20 years in the plan. He will end wage garnishments for low-income workers, and offer student loan forgiveness to public servants after 10 years of employment in the public sector.

    These progressive plans do more than we’ve ever done to help students and those with student loan debt. They’re also more palatable to American voters, the majority of whom oppose free college and paying for loan forgiveness with a new tax. It’s important to move the country forward, but we must also meet voters where they are.

  • Mayor Pete has no plan to restore the right to vote for all formerly and currently incarcerated people, create an alternative to police, or end cash bail;

    Let’s take a look at Pete’s plan. “Pete will abolish private federal prisons and reduce the use of private contractors, eliminate the for-profit bail industry, and work with states to cap the amount of revenue cities and counties receive from fines and fees.”  He also wants to eliminate mandatory sentencing and look at sentencing caps, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions. He wants to equalize funding between federal prosecutors and federal public defenders – ensuring a robust and top-notch defense for the accused. He supports a constitutional amendment to ban the death penalty. Pete does support restoring voting rights to felons released from prison, but he does not support allowing those currently incarcerated to vote – an uncontroversial opinion with which 69% of Americans agree.

  • Mayor Pete has not addressed the concerns related to Eric Logan, a Black South Bend resident who was shot and killed by a white police officer. Furthermore, while in office, Mayor Pete refused to release the police tapes relating to the demotion of Darryl Boykins, the first Black person to serve as police chief. We echo the demands of Black Lives Matter – South Bend to create a Citizens Review Board and for the release of the tapes;

    It would be helpful here if you explained what specific concerns related to the police killing of Eric Logan you want Mayor Pete to address. Your vague wording strikes me as intentional – you want to score political points using a dead Black man but you do not actually have any grievances specific to this case. “The disconnect between the Black community and the municipality under several administrations has been a festering problem in the greater South Bend area for more than 50 years,” KaRon Kirkland, a 62-year-old lifelong South Bend resident told NBC last year. “It didn’t start with Pete.” For more on what Mayor Pete did for Black South Benders, Buzzfeed produced this detailed and thoughtful reporting in December.

    As for Darryl Boykins, I’m going to let Pete tell you what happened in his own words, as he goes into the details of the Boykins case in his memoir Shortest Way Home. I’ve quoted at length here, but I encourage you to stick with it, as it is one of the most misunderstood and misreported aspects of his mayoralty.

    “…after interviewing [Boykins] and two competitors for the job, I decided during the transition phase that I would reappoint him,” Pete writes. Boykins—who apparently was paranoid that “some other officers” were gunning for his job (despite the fact that Mayor Pete had decided to keep him on)—

    “allegedly confronted them with tape recordings that could embarrass them if disclosed. He had access to these tapes because some phone lines in the department were connected to recording equipment used for interviews and investigations, and the officers had been recorded on that equipment without their knowledge. As court filings would later document, the chief threatened to take action against at least one officer he had come to consider disloyal. Perhaps the chief didn’t realize that I was already leaning toward reappointing him; or perhaps it just seemed like an insurance policy.

    Enter the Federal Wiretap Act—a set of very strict federal laws about recording other people without their knowledge. In fact, making such recordings or disclosing their content can be a felony, punishable by prison time as well as fines. There are state laws, too, against recording a conversation without the knowledge of either party, absent a warrant or other legal clearance. The recorded officers knew it, and complained to federal authorities, who took the issue seriously. So that’s how it came to be that, a few weeks into the job of mayor, I learned that my newly reappointed police chief was being investigated by the FBI. Eventually a message came through, thinly veiled but quite clear, from federal prosecutors: the people responsible for the covert recordings needed to go, or charges might be filed……I sat at the end of the conference table in my office and contemplated which scenario was more likely to tear the community apart—a  well-liked African-American police chief potentially being indicted over compliance with a very technical federal law, or me removing him for allowing things to reach this point? There was no good option: the community would erupt either way.”

    Buttigieg then called Boykins, asking him to voluntarily step down. (Pete admits this was a mistake—he should have done it in person, and he learned that lesson.) Boykins agreed, and the community was predictably outraged. The next day, Boykins changed his mind and withdrew his resignation. Pete, however, felt he had no choice. “Even leaving aside that I believed removing him was the best way to avoid him facing potential legal action, I had lost confidence in the leadership of a chief who had not come to me the moment he realized he was the target of an FBI investigation.” Pete didn’t fire him—only the Board of Public Safety can fire an officer—he demoted him.It was only after this that local press began reporting that the officers who had been recorded had allegedly used racist language to insult Boykins. “The content of the tapes had not come up when I was talking with staff or with the chief about the issue,” Pete writes, adding that he was immediately concerned about the “credibility and legitimacy” of the South Bend Police Department. “…[S]ince so many of the worst race-based abuses in modern American history happened at the hands of law enforcement, policing was the most sensitive part of the entire administration when it came to demonstrating that we acted without bias.”

    The crux of the issue is that Mayor Pete had and has no way of knowing what is on those tapes. The recordings were made illegally. “Under the Federal Wiretap Act,” he explains, “this meant that it could be a felony not just to make the recordings, but to reproduce or disclose them. Like everyone else in the community I wanted to know what was on those recordings. But it was potentially illegal for me to find out, and it was not clear I could even ask, without fear of legal repercussions.” Mayor Pete still has not heard the recordings and doesn’t know if he or the public ever will—not because of some coverup, but because of federal law.

    Mayor Pete learned a lot from the Boykins incident. “The most important lessons of this painful episode were… about the deeply fraught relationship between law enforcement and communities of color,” he writes. “Ferguson and everything that followed in the Black Lives Matter movement came after the tapes controversy exploded locally, but their urgency grew from the same root: the fact that many of the worst historical injustices visited upon [B]lack citizens of our country came at the hands of local law enforcement.”

  • Mayor Pete has not said if he would support a moratorium to end deportations or that he would decriminalize border crossing;

    Mayor Pete has committed to supporting a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including a push for legislation on the issue within his first 100 days in office. He wants to reduce barriers to healthcare and education for undocumented immigrants and protect undocumented workers from retaliation when reporting labor violations. He plans to increase the number of visas issued for family reunification will fight for reforms to reclassify spouses and children as immediate relatives and recognizing same-sex partners from countries lacking marriage equality in order to allow an immigrant to sponsor their same-sex partner.

    While it is true that he has not said if he would support a moratorium to end deportations or if he would decriminalize border crossings, what you are talking about is essentially an open border. I support open borders (not just in America, but globally). Most Americans do not, and it is a cudgel with which Trump will bludgeon any candidate who does support open borders. That doesn’t mean Pete’s immigration plan isn’t progressive.

  • Mayor Pete opposes complete Medicare for All and universal childcare;

    It’s telling that you had to add the word “complete” before “Medicare for All,” because you know to do otherwise would misrepresent Pete’s policy. “Medicare for All Who Want It” would automatically enroll the uninsured and be the greatest expansion of American healthcare in history. Only 13% of Americans support “Medicare for All” as proposed by Bernie Sanders – while a majority of Americans support universal healthcare without abolishing private insurance. “Medicare for All Who Want It” insures the uninsured, provides an affordable option to low income people and will prompt private insurers to either compete with lower prices and better products or fail. I am someone who believes healthcare should be free at the point of access, but I do not believe Medicare for All is a winning electoral policy, and I certainly don’t believe anyone—not even Bernie Sanders—could get it through Congress, even if both Houses are controlled by Democrats. Barack Obama couldn’t even get a public option through because of the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats. This goes back to meeting voters where they are and choosing practicality and incremental improvements over ideological purity at the expense of power.

    From his website: “Pete will make a historic $700 billion investment in affordable, universal, high-quality, and full-day early learning, as well as outside-of-school learning opportunities in K-12 education. He will make early learning and care from birth through age five free for lower-income families and affordable for all, and invest in the child care workforce.”

  • During his tenure, Mayor Pete demolished homes of many South Bend residents who were unable to afford repairs and drastically ramped up unfair fines;

    This is not entirely accurate or fair. It is referring to Mayor Pete’s “1000 homes in 1000 days” initiative which, as the name implies, demolished 1000 abandoned or vacant homes in 1000 days. The media has really gotten this story wrong. The project tried to track down owners where they could and provide time and support for renovations to be made to bring the properties up to standards. Indeed, South Bend’s lack of enforcement on property codes in the past exasperated issues. This was met with the “South Bend Repair” initiative which poured $1 million into helping homeowners repair dilapidated homes. Another grant would give homeowners $25,000 to repair their homes.

    Part of the success of the “1000 homes in 1000 days” is, of course, demolishing unlivable homes (as we know abandoned buildings are hotbeds from crime), but also of refurbishing and rebuilding affordable housing for South Benders. Indeed, Mayor Pete met with residents and took 40% of homes off the demolition list after hearing their concerns (a hallmark of Mayor Pete’s mayoralty by the way – he listens to constituents)

    Mayor Pete has committed to building or restoring at least 2 million homes for the lowest-income Americans as well as investing in initiatives making homeownership a reality for millions of lower-income Americans, especially lower-income Black Americans who have experienced racial discrimination in housing.

  • Mayor Pete does not support boycotting for political reasons;

    I cannot find any evidence that supports this claim. He has allowed protestors at his events and has engaged with them when they are willing. I do not know how to respond to this claim other than to say I believe it is a flat-out lie.

  • Mayor Pete has no plan to cap credit card interest rates or guarantee a job to everyone who needs one; and

    From his website: “When your credit card company rips you off, you should have the right to a day in court with a good lawyer, full rights, and public transparency. In most cases, though, the company probably forced you to sign away that right. As consumers, we should always have the right to a fair process and strong protections that keep companies honest in the first place.”

    I suppose I must concede that it is true that Pete Buttigieg does not have a plan to guarantee a job for everyone who wants or needs one. To the seven Americans to whom a promise of a job for everyone is a make-or-break issue, Pete Buttigieg isn’t your candidate, and fair dos.

    For everyone else, Pete plans to ensure workers in the gig economy are guaranteed their labor rights, strengthen unions by fining companies who interfere in union elections, institute gender pay transparency, enshrine multi-employer bargaining rights into law, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and end “right to work” laws, among other bold, progressive initiatives. His record in South Bend, where he revived a Rust Belt city on life support, shows that he knows how to grow the economy and attract 21st century businesses and create 21st century jobs. Unemployment in South Bend fell nearly 10% during his time as mayor.

  • Mayor Pete supports the increase of defense spending which is already 50% of the federal budget.

    “America’s security challenges demand a military budget that provides both the overall capacity and specific capabilities to deter conflict across the globe and fight and win if necessary. I’ve been clear that we need to maintain absolute military superiority. The question of how much we should spend should be defined by where and how we need to spend it to best protect our citizens and our interests,” Buttigieg told Military Times last November. He does not mention increasing spending, but rather maintaining our military superiority and modernizing our military. I’m not sure where you’re getting this figure from, making this another instance where it would be helpful if you actually cited your sources. The fact that you don’t should make anyone reading your latter deeply skeptical of your motives and accuracy in presenting Pete Buttigieg as an enemy to the LGBTQIA community.

These gaps in Mayor Pete’s platform will fall particularly hard on LGBTQIA communities. Take housing as an example: 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQIA. Nearly one-third of trans people have experienced homelessness, and one in ten have been evicted from their home for being trans. This is only exacerbated by the fact that there is no federal law that consistently protects LGBTQIA individuals from housing discrimination. And while Mayor Pete, like the rest of the field, supports the Equality Act, this isn’t enough. Public housing remains in disrepair in the U.S., with billions in backlogged repairs due to decades of underinvestment, and the changes Pete proposes are grossly inadequate relative to the scale of the problem, and will not solve our housing crisis. We need only look to Pete’s track record of tearing down hundreds of homes in Black and Latino neighborhoods in South Bend to show us that he is not committed to protecting our communities.

Here you actually cite your sources, which makes it all the more frustrating—and suspect—that you did not cite sources in your critiques of Mayor Pete. That being said, yes, homelessness is a pernicious problem for the LGBTQIA community, and the Equality Act (which you correctly note Mayor Pete supports) would go a long way in addressing the discrimination the LGBTQIA community faces in housing and public accommodations. As previously mentioned, Mayor Pete has committed to improve public housing and repair or rebuild two million homes for low-income Americans. I’m not sure how that is “grossly inadequate” as it is one of the biggest public works projects in modern American history. The Buzzfeed article you cite with regards to his “track record of tearing down homes” is rightly critiqued in an article from Washington Monthly I cited earlier in this blog and paints a one-sided, slanted, biased view of what happened with “1000 homes in 1000 days” – an initiative which helped many POC and/or low-income South Benders repair their homes and addressed the urban blight of abandoned and decaying houses.

As LGBTQIA people our lives are layered and must have an intersectional framework in our analysis, organizing, and movement building. We know that: Education justice is LGBTQIA justice. Racial and economic justice are LGBTQIA justice. Decarceration is LGBTQIA justice. Immigrant and refugee justice is LGBTQIA justice. Health justice is LGBTQIA justice. Housing justice is LGBTQIA justice. Demanding corporate accountability and for wealthy people to pay an equitable share of taxes is LGBTQIA justice.

Yes, education, racial and economic justice, immigrant and refugee justice, health justice, etc etc etc are “LGBTQIA issues” (or matters of justice as you say) because 1) they effect LGBTQIA people just as the effect the rest of society 2) LGBTQIA people care about these issues just like other communities care about them. So while I think this paragraph comes off as sort of smug, it’s not entirely wrong. What is wrong is suggesting Pete Buttigieg doesn’t care about these issues.

During this critical election, it’s important that LGBTQIA people demand more from our leaders and from a candidate claiming to be in community with us. Leaders within our communities — especially Black trans women —  have worked tirelessly over the past two decades to push LGBTQIA movements to value and fight for our full identities and experiences. We cannot afford to go backwards or accept the status quo.

Pete Buttigieg isn’t “claiming to be in community with us,” he is in community with us. Stop trying to tell me otherwise. He is gay, whether you like it or not. Voting for Mayor Pete is voting to move American forward and bridge the divides within our nation. It is not accepting the status quo, and it is not going backwards.

It is for these reasons and more that a group of us have come together under the banner of #QueersAgainstPete. If you agree, we invite you to add your name to this letter and join our collective voice against Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy for president. We believe the LGBTQIA community deserves better than Pete.

I have to question why you hate Pete Buttigieg so much. Writing this letter about one of the most progressive candidates for president in American history instead of any other candidate reeks of homophobia in that it’s clearly written from a perspective that Pete isn’t a “proper gay” or isn’t “gay enough” because whoever wrote this disagrees with his policy positions. I believe the LGBTQIA deserves better than a deliberately misleading open letter and smear campaign against the first openly gay candidate for president. So no, I won’t be signing.

I would encourage anyone who has read this far to check out www.peteforamerica.com to find out what Pete Buttigieg really plans to do for Americans (LGBTQIA or not).

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Pete Buttigieg and the Equality Town Hall show how far we’ve come in the fight for LGBT rights

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Pete Buttigieg and Anderson Cooper shake hands at CNN’s Equality Town Hall on 10 October 2019. Photo: The Advocate/GETTY IMAGES

I went to the courthouse for my 18th birthday. Full of excitement and the promise of America, I proudly filled out my first voter registration card, marking “D” for Democrat. It was 2004, and as a young, openly gay American, I was ready to cast my ballot against the homophobic policies of George W Bush.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Bush coasted to re-election using lesbian and gay Americans as a wedge issue. Campaigning on a platform which included amending the US Constitution to explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage, Bush was aided by equally odious state amendments which drove evangelicals to the polls in record numbers.

In Kentucky, where I lived at the time, I spent the summer and fall of that year knocking on doors, introducing myself as a gay man. It was a daunting task, but one I felt obligated to undertake. My community was under attack, and I was compelled to defend it.

During those long afternoons walking the streets of Bowling Green, I had many people tell me they opposed my equality. Some asked me to repent my sins. Still others slammed doors in my face. There were the occasional supporters, and I even happened to knock on the door of an older gay couple. Mostly, though, I was met with unabashed homophobia.

Fifteen years later, it’s hard to remember specific conversations. One, though, has always stuck with me. She was, she told me, a mother with a son not much older than me. Perhaps because of that she engaged me for longer than most people cared to. She would be voting for the amendment, she told me in the most apologetic tone, but she hoped it wouldn’t discourage me. “You’re going to win,” she said. “I see it with my son. Your side won’t win this year, but it will eventually.”

I thought about that woman last night as I watched the CNN Equality Town Hall, a forum in which Democratic presidential candidates answered questions from the LGBT community about issues that affect us. There were many moving moments, but none stood out to me more than when Pete Buttigieg spoke about struggling to come out as gay: “What it was like was a civil war, because I knew I was different long before I was ready to say that I was gay, and long before I was able to acknowledge that was something that I didn’t have power over.”

That moment was a watershed moment in LGBT and American history. On national television, an openly gay presidential candidate stood with one of the evening’s two openly gay moderators—both among the nation’s most respected journalists—and told the country what it was like to struggle with your sexuality. Simply put, that has never happened before.

Today is the annual Coming Out Day. Around the world, LGBT people are discussing what it means to finally kick open the closet door and be your authentic self. Some are taking the opportunity to actually do it. Last night, all those people—whether out and proud for decades or just peeking out the door—got to see a viable candidate for US President tell us his story.

It’s easy to dismiss how historic this moment is. Marriage equality is the law of the land, and LGBT people are more mainstream and visible than ever. We’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time.

Because of this, many people—even within the LGBT community—want to downplay, or do not see, how important last night was. Protestors advocating for more action to curb violence against transgender women of colour interrupted as Mayor Pete was being introduced. Later, he was asked whether he is “gay enough” to advocate for our community, as though there is any litmus test beyond being exclusively attracted to the same sex. “When somebody is weighing whether to come out or just come to terms with who they are, it’s really important for them to know that they’re going to be accepted,” he answered. “There is no right or wrong way to be gay, to be queer, to be trans.”

Ending violence against trans women and discussions of diversity within our community are important. However, we should pause to reflect on just how much we’ve accomplished. An LGBT person asking an openly gay candidate for president whether he’s gay enough to represent our community is a stark contrast to where we were just four presidential elections ago. Let’s take a moment to savour that.

Mayor Pete might not win the presidency, but it doesn’t matter. He has already made history. His candidacy, and the forum we had last night, is a testament to the progress we have made in the fight for equality for all Americans. Thinking back to that woman on the doorstep all those years ago, I don’t know if we can claim victory yet, but last night, it sure felt like we were winning.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a writer based in North Carolina. He has previously written for The Independent, Salon, The Daily Dot, and more.

Equal at last: A few thoughts on what the SCOTUS decision means to me as a gay man

Just over a decade ago, I sat weeping as my home state of Kentucky passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions in our fair commonwealth. I was 18 years old, a freshman in college, and had worked tirelessly trying to persuade my fellow Kentuckians to vote against discrimination. I went door-to-door in Bowling Green, talking to voters about what it means to be gay. Some were sympathetic, even understanding. Others were forthright in their opposition to equality. Most were polite. A few were hostile.

I knew we were unlikely to win, but at 18, I think you always have hope that somehow things are going to work out in your favour. That, you know, it can’t possibly be as bad as you think. But it was. 75% of Kentuckians voted to amend the state constitution to bar gay marriage. We were one of many states to do so that year.

As the night crept on, it became clear that not only would the amendment pass, but that President Bush would be re-elected on a platform that was decidedly anti-equality, swept back into the White House by a tide of homophobia he himself had instigated.

I was at my friend Jonathan’s house. We’d recently stopped seeing one another romantically, but it still felt right to be together. He was the gay person I was closest with, and on that night, I desperately wanted another gay person with me. We cried in one another’s arms, taking shots of vodka or gin or whatever was in the house, really. Drinking numbed the pain. Cuddling cured the sense of rejection. America might hate us, but at least we had each other.

A couple days later, I had a conversation with my friend and fellow activist Kelli Persons. “It won’t be our generation that wins marriage,” she told me sombrely. “We may see it in our lifetimes, but it’ll be our grandkids who get it done.”

I agreed. It was a stark juxtaposition to the jubilation I felt when the Massachussets Supreme Judical Court ruled in favour of equality the year before. In November 2003 I was a senior at Leslie County High School, deep in the East Kentucky coal fields. My life was a daily crucible of homophobia, with slurs so violent I still find it hard to believe I made it out unscathed. As a teenager whose only exposure to gay people had been Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek, the Massachussets ruling was a complete shock. I had no idea that there was a place in my own country where I was actually viewed as equal before the law.

I decided I had to move there. I applied to colleges there. I got accepted to one.

But fate had different plans, and I ended up at WKU, where on election night 2004, I felt the full weight of bigotry and oppression land upon me like a giant homophobic anvil.

I spent the remainder of my college career fighting for LGBT equality. When the university closed the Outlet, our LGBT resource centre, I pressured the university to reopen and rehouse it, a fight I’m still waging as an alumnus. I became the president of our gay/straight alliance. I helped form a statewide network of LGBT students pushing for fairness in our schools. I spoke at a rally when one of those students was expelled from his university for being gay. I became a vocal supporter of domestic partner benefits for university employees. I cried when, in 2010, that came to pass.

Never did I fathom that five short years a Supreme Court decision would render that whole fight irrelevant. I could only dream as big as health insurance. Never did I imagine our relationships would be granted true equality in this country. Not so soon. Not before I turned 30.

Yet here we are. Something I’ve dreamt of, worked towards, and fought for since I was a teenager is finally a reality. And it feels fucking great. True, I’m not getting married. I’m not engaged. Hell, I’m not even seeing anyone. My most committed relationship is with bourbon. But that doesn’t matter.

You see, this day means something to every gay, lesbian, and bisexual American, regardless of whether or not they’re rushing to the alter. Today, the Supreme Court of the United States of America affirmed to the masses what I have known all along—that I am equal. They didn’t give us the right to marry; they acknowledged that it’s been there from the beginning. I already knew that. Today they pointed it out to the rest of you.

The first time you feel as though you are finally an equal citizen of these United States is a feeling I can’t really describe to anyone who isn’t also experiencing (or hasn’t in the past experienced) such euphoria. There are no words. But there are actions, which may illustrate what it’s like. Here are just a few things I’ve done today:

  • Ran into my office screaming “gay marriage!”
  • Blasted “Born this Way” through half the city
  • Had a mimosa
  • Had another one, bought for me by the straight guys at the bar I always go to cos EQUALITY
  • Cleaned my apartment
  • Did laundry so I’d have a REALLY cute outfit to wear to the gay bars tonight
  • Decided that outfit made me look fat and chose another one
  • Broken down in tears at the convenient store
  • Danced to “Same Love” in my back yard and gave no fucks
  • Shouted “Glory to God!” as I read the decision
  • Chosen a wedding venue (my college campus)
  • Sorta proposed to a British guy
  • Broken down in tears in my car, making it difficult to parallel park
  • Wished my cousin happy birthday
  • Lifted a glass to Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, and Ellen Degeneres
  • Cried again

There is still work to be done, I know. We can still be fired for being ourselves in 29 states. My trans siblings, especially my trans siblings of colour, are being murdered in our streets. Kids are still being sent to conversion therapy. “Faggot,” “dyke,” and “gay” are still deployed as insults in high schools throughout the country. And somewhere, right now, while I’m typing this and celebrating, an LGBT child is begging for food or sleeping on the streets. We’ve got a long way to go.

But for today, for just one glorious day, I am focusing on the fact that for once we’ve gotten it right. For once, this country has acknowledged that all men and women, even gay men and women, are created equal. That for once my dignity as not only an American, but a person, has been federally and officially and finally recognised.

Today, as we prepare to celebrate Pride, I am proud. Proud to be gay. Proud to be an American. Proud to be finally, truly, and irrefutably equal.

New app launches to help LGBT voters find out if their MP is pro-equality

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Screen capture from The LGBT Whip, a new web-based app which launched this week.

As Britain goes to the polls today, some LGBT voters may have a clearer picture of which candidates support their equality thanks to a new website launched this week.

The LGBT Whip is the brainchild of Chris Ward, a developer from Vauxhall who also helped develop the LobbyALord app used by marriage equality campaigners in 2013. While LobbyALord was intended to help win equal marriage, The LGBT Whip takes a broader approach to equality issues, and is intended to illustrate, rather than change, a candidate’s position.

It is also a “recognition that as all parties are moving to the centre and their policies support LGBT rights, a lot of their candidates don’t,” Mr Ward said, adding “we need to look from a more granular level of where and what candidates stand for.”

The web app, which was developed at a 24-hour hackathon at Facebook and on which Ward collaborated with several others, including his partner and his brother, is fairly straightforward. Voters input their postcode, and a list of candidates for their constituency appears. From there, they can select up to three candidates to compare:

The first frame shows what happens when voters select their postcode. The second frame shows a list of of candidates, while the third frame compares them on the issues.

The first frame shows what happens when voters select their postcode. The second frame shows a list of of candidates, while the third frame compares them on the issues.

I chose to use Brighton Pavilion as an example, because its former MP and Green Party candidate Caroline Lucas did answer the 10 questions. She is one of what the developers estimate is only 20% of candidates who have, though. And while Mr Ward is “cutting them some slack” because “it’s a very busy period,” some candidates have left him disappointed. “We’ve had a number of candidates, who should know better, responding with an automated response saying ‘I support LGBT rights.’ Well if you do you, spend some time answering these ten very simple questions.”

The questions include historic positions, such as Section 28, as well as issues currently being debated, like banning conversion therapy. For those former MPs who haven’t responded, their votes have been gathered and made available. Candidates who have never sat in parliament “have a clean slate,” because, as Mr Ward put it, “I’d rather go by what they actually do in the voting lobbies than what they say to a journalist, because that’s what makes the law.” It was important to ask about both the past and the present, he said, because equality can be lost just as it was won.

Though MPs who voted against LGBT rights in the past can’t erase their slate, they can still show they’ve come round to equality, as has already happened.

“One Labour MP in particular…e-mailed and said ‘I know I’ve not been great on this in the past, but this is what I think now,’” Mr Ward says. “So it’s almost a recognition of the progress those individuals have made. So they’ll have a red cross on their history, but next to that they might have a green tic, almost essentially saying ‘I’m sorry about this. I’ve changed my mind.’”

But the site doesn’t just give politicians a chance to show they’ve evolved. It also gives voters a unique tool with which to hold MPs accountable. “It goes beyond the election,” Mr Ward said, and gets at “the full democratic process” of holding politicians to their word. “We have pledges at hand. We have e-mails from candidates. And when it comes to these votes or these things being discussed in Parliament, we can hold them to account.”

Ultimately, though, this is an app designed to assist LGBT voters in finding candidates who support equality. “I hope it helps (voters) make an informed decision on the basis of LGBT rights.” This way, he says, “when they go into the voting booth…they’ve made an informed decision with all the facts at their disposal.”

LGBT Whip is the result of a collaboration between Chris Ward, Peter Burjanec, Joshua Gladwin, Hereward Mills, Chimeren Peerbhai, Matt Ward, and Adriana Vecc. Though currently only available for the UK general election, the team has plans to eventually expand to include the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, and possibly even foreign elections, including the 2016 US general election. It is dedicated to the memory of Ms Peerbhai’s mother, Debra Diane Rich, who recently passed away from cancer in America.

What a coalition featuring the DUP might mean for LGBT Britons

Photo courtesy of the Open University.

Photo courtesy of the Open University.

Tonight, BBC News broadcast the Northern Ireland leaders’ debate from Belfast, the last of the general election debates ahead of Thursday’s vote. Though mostly ignored in the national campaigns — in large part because none of the major parties have a heavy presence there — Northern Ireland could yet play a deciding factor in who will soon occupy Number 10.

Northern Ireland is unique in the United Kingdom. Marked by years of sectarian violence between unionists who wished to remain in the UK and nationalists who wished to join the Republic of Ireland, it is still a country struggling to reconcile its past with its future. But what really struck my interest was the fact that, perhaps for the first time in the entire election, LGBT rights took centre stage.

Equal marriage arrived in England and Wales early last year; it followed in Scotland shortly thereafter. Even the Republic looks like it may vote for equal marriage later this month. But Northern Ireland, deeply traditional and conservative, has held out. In April, the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected equal marriage for a fourth time. This follows the controversy surrounding the Ashers Bakery, which is currently in court fighting charges it discriminated against an LGBT group by refusing to bake a cake supporting gay marriage. And just last week the DUP’s health minister resigned after saying that gay parents were more likely to abuse and neglect their children than straight parents.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the largest Northern Irish party in the Westminster parliament. As the right-wing website Brietbart UK reported, it is likely to have 9 seats in the next parliament which could prove deeply important to a possible Tory minority government. It is an extremely socially conservative party, though with a strong contingent of pro-labour sentiment. Sinn Féin — the Irish nationalist party — tends to be more left-wing, but has long refused to take the seats they are elected to, believing the Westminster government to be illegitimate in Northern Ireland. The other party supportive of equal marriage, the Alliance Party, has one MP who may well lose her seat on Thursday.

This is all idle speculation, and there is no guarantee that the DUP will even play a significant, or indeed any, role in any coalition. To my knowledge, none of the major party leaders have publicly entertained the idea. Plus, as the Christian Science Monitor put it, “Northern Ireland may simply be too distant from Westminster thinking for either Labour or the Tories to find common ground” with the party. But in an election that’s been defined by the rising profiles of a right-wing populist party (the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP) and of nationalist parties such as the Scottish National Party and Wales’ Plaid Cymru, it’s also easy to imagine the appeal to Miliband and especially Cameron of aligning with a populist, pro-union contingent from outside England.

So if Northern Ireland is to play kingmaker, it’s likely to be the result of MPs antagonistic, or at least antipathetic, to LGBT rights. It’s not a stretch, given the tensions over the issue in Belfast, that one of the DUP’s “red lines” (as the press has taken to calling non-negotiable policy positions in potential coalition negotiations) might be no further advances in LGBT equality. That could mean up to and including halting any efforts to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. This has been a pet project of the Tories’ education secretary, Nicky Morgan who, it’s worth noting, voted against equal marriage. UKIP, with its reputation and record, are unlikely to cringe at the DUP’s positions. And the majority of Tory backbenchers did vote against equal marriage. In that context, a grand coalition of the right including the DUP, and their anti-gay policies, becomes more imaginable.

What that might mean for people remains to be seen. But judging by what’s happening in Northern Ireland, if the DUP is allowed to hold any of the balance of power in Westminster, it won’t be good for the LGBT community. It’s something few have entertained, but in an election where anything is possible, it’s one activists, and indeed the country, should consider as they tick that box on Thursday.

I don’t need “clarification,” Governor Pence. Indiana’s RFRA is state-sanctioned discrimination.

Governor Mike Pence (R-IN) signs his state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, in the presence of   orthodox religious leaders and far-right lobbyists who championed the bill. Photo: twitter.com/govpencein

Governor Mike Pence (R-IN) signs his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, in the presence of orthodox religious leaders and far-right lobbyists who championed the bill. Photo: twitter.com/govpencein

In what the Indianapolis Star calls “the deepest crisis of his political career,” Mike Pence, Indiana’s Republican governor, continues to support his state’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Speaking to the paper on Saturday, Governor Pence said that whilst he will seek legislation “clarifying” the intent of the law, he stands behind it. The massive backlash, he insists, is due to “misunderstanding driven by misinformation.”

This has been a common refrain among supporters of the RFRAs popping up in state houses throughout the country. To date, 19 states have passed laws similar to the federal one which, as conservatives like to use as a trump card, was signed into law by that Democratic darling President Clinton. (You know, the man who also signed the Defence of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?) Indeed, Governor Pence couldn’t help but mention this fact in a statement released after a private signing of the law, while also citing similar laws in neighbouring states Illinois and Kentucky.

Now, as chance may have it, I live in Illinois, which passed an RFRA in 1998, a year after the Supreme Court ruled the federal RFRA did not apply to the states. However, as the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this week, Illinois lawmakers have balanced RFRA with statewide protections for LGBT people. Before moving to Chicago nearly four years ago, though, I lived a decade in Kentucky, the state I still call home.

Kentucky’s law—passed in 2013—was initially vetoed by Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat. It became law when the General Assembly, including the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, overrode the governor’s veto. But some conservative activists said the law would not have any real consequences for LGBT Kentuckians. This law isn’t going to have an effect they think it’s going to have,” Martin Cothran, of the right-wing Family Foundation of Kentucky, told the Associated Press at the time. “All of the case law is going in the other direction. It’s not going in the direction of over-protecting people’s religious freedom. We’d like to see something a lot stronger than this.”

A year later Cothran’s wish was granted. In a landmark—and now infamous—decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that crafting giant Hobby Lobby could not be mandated to provide contraception to its employees, as it violated the company’s First Amendment right to free expression of religion. In this brave new world where corporations are people, states such as Arizona, Mississippi, and now Indiana were emboldened to pass their own RFRA laws, which broadened the scope of protection to include corporations and businesses. These laws were worded so vaguely that even some Republicans, such as the mayor of Indianapolis and, most famously, former Arizona governor Jan Brewer came out in opposition, the latter vetoing her own state’s RFRA because of fears it could lead to “unintended and negative consequences” and hurt businesses, something that is beginning to happen in Indiana.

But the ability to discriminate against LGBT people is a very intentional consequence of the Indiana bill, despite what Governor Pence says. As Buzzfeed reported, Indiana’s law allows for a RFRA defence even when the government is not party to a lawsuit, which is something the federal RFRA doesn’t do. It also allows this defence to be mounted against any state or local law, which as the potential of invalidating the citywide fairness ordinances a handful of Indiana jurisdictions have passed. This means the potential exists for landlords, hotels, and restaurants to openly discriminate against LGBT people, something which has already begun. A restaurant owner called Ryan phoned an Indiana radio station to say that not only has he already discriminated against gay people, but he intends to do so in the future, as the law allows.

And while Governor Brewer feared “unintended consequences” in Arizona, this was very much the intended consequence in Indiana. Governor Pence invited several right-wing lobbyists who worked to pass the bill to the private signing. One of them was Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana (AFAIN). The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the AFA an anti-LGBT hate group, and AFAIN’s website shares many homophobic and transphobic stories. It also includes a quote from then-Congressman Mike Pence, praising the organisation and its Indiana leader. “I have known and worked with Micah Clark for over a decade,” Pence is quoted, “and I can tell you that you’re standing behind a pro-family, pro-life leader…” (“Pro-family” has long been a conservative dog whistle meaning “anti-LGBT”.)

Another of the lobbyists present at the singing was Eric Miller of Advance America, which not only has a history of transphobic and homophobic rhetoric, but actually posted a blog on its website following the bill’s success, which read in part:

[RFRA] will help protect individuals, Christian businesses and churches from those supporting homosexual marriages and those supporting government recognition and approval of gender identity (male cross-dressers). Here are just three examples:

  • Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!
  • A Christian business should not be punished for refusing to allow a man to use the women’s restroom!

  • A church should not be punished because they refuse to let the church be used for a homosexual wedding! [emphasis is original]

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Governor Pence can repeat himself until he’s blue in the face, but it doesn’t change the fact that Indiana’s RFRA was clearly intended to and will allow discrimination against LGBT Indianans. The Religious Freedom Restoration Acts being passed now—the next battleground is Arkansas—are not meant, as the federal law and the 1998 Illinois law, to protect religious minorities from burdensome government regulations. They are meant to allow merchants operating in the public marketplace to refuse service to those they don’t like.

This law is nothing more than state sanctioned homophobia and transphobia, and no amount of “clarification” will change that.

#TBT: Millennials on the March

This is the first in a series of Throwback Thursday posts I’m going to be doing, highlighting my work at now-defunct publications I’ve written for in the past. This is a piece I wrote on the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. which took place several years ago. It first appeared in the October 2009 issue of Rise Over Run Magazine.

The sun was wicked, but the air cool and crisp. Standing in a crowd of thousands, swelling and expanding by the second like a balloon ready to pop, I tingled with anticipation. Students from Western Kentucky University, Northern Kentucky University, and Bellarmine University—an unofficial Kentucky contingent—were chatting merrily, albeit loudly, as the roar of the crowd, chanting and singing before they even began walking, drowned out most anything else.
A middle-aged woman I was talking to began staring at the group. “You’re all college students?” she asked. I nodded. “It’s hard to believe how many young people are here. I feel so old,” she laughed.

This was a common sentiment expressed by older people at National Equality March, a march of approximately 200,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, as well as their allies, in Washington, D.C. Though practically every age group in America was represented in the hundreds of thousands of marchers, it was the Millennials—loosely defined as those born between the late 70’s and early 90’s—who stood out. Chanting ferociously and demanding “equal protection in all matters of civil law in all 50 states,” according to the National Equality March’s Facebook page, a new generation of LGBT Americans came out to the nation this month.

Activist David Mixner first called for an LGBT march on Washington—the first since 2000’s Millennium March—last spring, and at the Meet in the Middle rally in Fresno, California following the California Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of Proposition 8, Cleve Jones, the veteran gay rights activist and disciple of Harvey Milk, made the first public call. Despite initial hesitation and a few prominent naysayers, including openly gay Congressman Barney Frank, (D-MA) who was quoted by the Associated Press as saying “the only thing they’re going to be putting pressure on is the grass,” it was quickly apparent: the gays were marching in.

And though Mixner and Jones, both elder statesmen of the LGBT community, were the ones who called for the march, it was young LGBT Americans they were interested in reaching. Mixner and Jones set out to inspire Millennials to step up to the plate. Looking around at those marching, and listening to the speakers on stage, you couldn’t help but to feel they had succeeded. What made this march different than any before it was that, for the first time, a new, liberated generation was stepping up to take over the reins of the LGBT community. The Millennials were on the march.

Millennials Get Mad:
The “Prop 8 Generation”

To understand why young LGBT people responded to Mixner’s and Jones’s calls requires delving into the psychology of a generation. This is a generation that grew up in the era of Will and Grace, Queer as Folk, and The L Word. As being gay became more socially acceptable over the last decade, to gay youth, so did inequality. Still, the social progress being made gave a false sense of hope for legal progress, and many LGBT youths simply felt progress was inevitable. This myth was jarringly shattered last November, when California’s Proposition 8 passed, banning gay marriage in that state.

This was a flashpoint for the LGBT community, according to Tobias Packer, the New Media Manager for Equality Florida, Florida’s statewide LGBT rights organization, and one of the speakers the march. “Prop 8 brought the issue to the national stage,” he said, “and whenever any issue is brought to a national stage it gets a lot more attention—and the people who are doing the work for a lot more attention. And more people join the work.”

Tanner Efinger agrees. “You don’t just come out of the womb being politically active and politically aware,” says Efinger, founder of Postcards to the President, a grassroots campaign to send postcards to President Obama urging him to support LGBT equality and one of the organizers of the march. “Something has to happen. For a lot of us that’s what Prop 8 was. It was a very public, very loud thing that happened in California and we all stepped up.”
Like many of his contemporaries, Efinger, 25, was not politically active before Proposition 8. However, following its passage, Efinger felt a call to action. After discovering you could send letters and postcards to the president, Efinger decided to enlist some of his friends to help, eventually taking his initiative to the bar he works at in West Hollywood, California. From there, events were held in New York and San Francisco, and to date over 15,000 postcards have been sent from nearly 30 states.

This is no surprise to Mario Nguyen, a sophomore at Western Kentucky University originally from Dallas, Texas. “Of course we’re waking up and we’re doing something. For us, grassroots and being active is what’s in, is what’s cool,” he says. “We’re the generation that cares where our coffee beans come from, that care about water and global warming—we’re that generation. It’s cool to be an activist.” Nguyen was the runner-up of “Equality Idol,” a competition held by march organizers to find a speaker for the event. (Though he was runner-up, Nguyen was asked to deliver his speech anyway.)

Sam Sussman, a freshman at Binghamton University in New York, was the winner of “Equality Idol.” He, too, felt that things changed for the movement last November. Sussman dubbed himself part of the “Prop 8 generation,” a generation of “young people who had strong convictions but didn’t have the urge to act” until after Proposition 8 passed. In the wake of Proposition 8, Sussman—a straight man—founded the Alliance for Realization of Legal Equality in his hometown of Orange County, New York. He wanted to “put [equality] in people’s faces and make them think about it when they got their morning papers.”

The Second Great March on Washington?

If Proposition 8 inspired a new wave of young LGBT rights activists, the National Equality March gave them an outlet to vent their anger. Tanner Efinger, for one, was growing impatient with the lack of progress and was ready to be proactive. It’s why he founded Postcards to the President, and why he jumped at the chance to help organize the march “I started e-mailing anybody I knew that was involved, even in a small way, and was like ‘I want to help.’”

Kat Michael echoed this sentiment. Michael, a junior originally from Louisville, is the president of the Student Identity Outreach (SIO) at Western Kentucky University. SIO took 18 students to Washington, driving nearly 1400 miles round-trip in less than 48 hours. But for Michael, the trip was worth it. It was great to see that number of people come from such long distances,she said. “The way the people managed—fly, train, car, boat it—they got there and that’s really encouraging to see with this movement.” Michael says that hailing from the south, people often think LGBT people aren’t organized. She wanted to dispel that myth.

For Tobias Packer, it was an opportunity to represent not only himself and Equality Florida, but also transgender Americans. “There are definitely moments where I have felt, as a transgender person, excluded or overlooked intentionally or unintentionally,” Packer said, pointing specifically to the 2007 passing of a non-transgender inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act in the House of Representatives. (The bill died in the Senate.) For Packer, the march was a way to take his—and Equality Florida’s—message to a national level.

Taking it to the national level was, in essence, the theme of the National Equality March. Seeking equality in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states is a fairly sweeping statement, which is just fine in Tanner Efinger’s book. “I’ve always felt that a national strategy was the best way to go,” he said. “For me it’s not about marriage in California, while that would be great and open a lot of doors. For me it’s about the 16-year-old kid in Alabama who thinks his only option is suicide.”

It will be accomplished.”

While the march gave Millennials a chance to vent their anger at the establishment, it also served as an opportunity to rise to the challenges facing their movement. “In many ways it represents a passing of the torch,” Sam Sussman said. “The demographics are changing. I think now you see a new civil rights movement brewing among young people.” Sussman predicts the movement will now be carried by younger people.

Kat Michael also believes that this new generation has risen to the challenge and is beginning to take over the reins of the movement. “The youth is really what’s going to carry this movement forward,” she said. “Those individuals who have been fighting this fight their whole lives, who were part of the Stonewall Riots, are getting tired now. They have beaten down a path. It is our time to pave it now.” Michael believes the real point of the march was to inspire a new generation of LGBT leaders.

This sense of a generational shift was one of the most prominent themes for Mario Nguyen. Following his speech, Nguyen says he got an overwhelming response from his elders. “I got a lot of messages from people over 45 saying ‘I’m not concerned because you’re somebody I know will take care of this. What I couldn’t do in my generation I see it in your generation, already accomplished.’” Nguyen points to the fact that two Millennials were chosen to speak through the Equality Idol competition as evidence that a transition is occurring within the LGBT rights movement, and he is ready to embrace the challenge. “It will be done this generation,” Nguyen says. “My generation will fix it, and it will be accomplished. I will get married, without a doubt.”
Still, Nguyen isn’t without criticism of his generation, which he still views as apathetic. He was particularly hard on the gay community in Bowling Green, which he was “thoroughly disappointed by.” “With the exception of SIO… they stayed here for fun. They didn’t want to ask for work off. A lot of them had the money, a lot of them had the ability.” Nguyen, who traveled with a group of friends to DC (including Adam Swanson, a WKU student heavily involved with Tanner Efinger’s “Postcards to the President” but was unfortunately unavailable for comment as of press time), says a lot of LGBT locals decided to forgo Washington, instead opting for a trip to Miami.

Kat Michael expects that level of apathy to change, though. “I think a lot of people with this movement have just been sort of complacent in allowing the movement to happen, but I think that’s definitely gone now,” she said. “Everybody knows we’re here now, and now it’s time to actually start moving.”

Tanner Efinger agrees, saying he feels the ownership of the movement more so than ever before. But he wants people to remember that the work doesn’t end at the march. “The point was to get [the youth] there to mobilize, to galvanize, to excite them,” he said, “but let them understand that this doesn’t happen if you just march and go home.” Efinger, like Nguyen, wants to hold his contemporaries accountable for the future of their own movement. “Our hope is that everyone will see that they need to work now.”

Where Nguyen sees apathy, though, Tobias Packer sees diligence. “Young people have always been a part of this movement,” he said. “There are young leaders who have been unlocking a lot of the doors and pushing for a lot of the victories that we’re standing on the precipice of now.”

Where do we go from here?

The one sentiment echoed by Tanner Efinger, Kat Michael, Mario Nguyen, Tobias Packer and Sam Sussman was that the work does not end with the march. The words of Cleve Jones—“we are not organizing to march; we are marching to organize”—resonate with these five individuals, all of whom headed back to their respective states eager to continue working, feeling they have established their presence in the broader LGBT movement.

“I was in between Julian Bond and Cleve Jones,” Efinger said. “I can’t even imagine that before. I just felt so humbled and so honored—but also like I belonged there, as well, like I had a place beside them. I didn’t need to be somebody to stand next to them; in fact, we were the same.”
Efinger returned to West Hollywood, where he is still working as a cocktail waiter, but with a renewed sense of service. He plans on continuing with Postcards to the President and remaining active in Equality Across America, a new national organization born of the National Equality March. “From here we organize everyone in their congressional districts…what we’re really trying to do is plant the seeds of social change,” he said. And while he’d like to return to his original passion—writing—right now his activism has taken precedence. “I want to get this done now,” he said.

Postcards to the President is also a project Mario Nguyen is eager to work on. He’s also planning on using his talent for public speaking to further the cause. (In addition to speaking at the march, Mario is part of the WKU Forensics Team, currently ranked as the best forensics team in the world.) He is in talks to speak at Quinnipiac University next spring, and he would like to do more speaking engagements if possible. “My thing is speaking and will forever be speaking. Until I lose my voice I will speak.”

Sam Sussman, on the other hand, is going to continue his political advocacy with the Alliance for the Realization of Legal Equality. He’s also beginning to work with a new national organization, The Right Side of History, a campaign which, according to its website, is “a movement of young, inspired Americans who have committed to no longer be silent. “ Sussman hopes to begin a chapter at Binghamton University. Also in Sussman’s future is a statewide initiative to pressure four to five select New York state senators to vote for marriage equality. Sussman hopes to secure enough votes to pass a marriage equality bill through the New York state assembly next year.

For Tobias Packer, Florida is home, and Equality Florida where he belongs. He is preparing for the 2010 legislative session and hoping to push a statewide, LGBT inclusive civil rights bill through the legislature. Equality Florida also has plans to, for the sixth consecutive year, attempt to repeal Florida’s statutory ban on gay adoption. He hopes that those who went to the march will follow his lead and get involved in the movement. “The reality is there is work being done in almost every corner of this country,” he said. “My wish for this march is that all the people that came out really turn to see what work is being done where they live.”

Kat Michael returned to WKU ready to continue working with SIO. “The work hasn’t stopped for me, it hasn’t stopped for my members,” she said. “I don’t think any of them feel that things have stopped now… we’re all really willing and ready to go.” She says that the march was SIO’s way of showing they’re going to be a permanent presence on campus, and that they exist to serve more than just their friends. “We’re not just here to hide and take care of our own friends, we’re here to take care of everything,” she said.

Thinking back to the day of the march, I’m left wondering what effect the National Equality March will have. It is not the first, or the biggest, LGBT rights march on Washington. Yet somehow, this one feels different. This one feels like instead of capitalizing on momentum the movement had, the march itself created a sort of momentum, sending grassroots activists into the trenches, prepared to wage proverbial guerrilla warfare in the name of equality.
It also feels different because, for the first time, my generation—the Millennials—is beginning to take the reins. What’s unique about the burgeoning leaders is that they are, for the most part, amateur activists. For every professional lobbiest or community organizer are dozens of people like Kat Michael, Sam Sussman, and Tanner Efinger who started organizations aimed to make a difference—not because they were paid to, but because they saw a need not being met.
And while the LGBT movement gears up for fights over marriage in Maine and domestic partnerships in Washington state, these five young leaders expect things to continue trending toward equality, and expect their generation to take a more active role in these struggles.
“This is just the beginning,” Mario Nguyen said. “We may lose the battle, but the war’s what we’re after.”

And the Millennials are running in, guns-a-blazing.