Saturday, March 14, 2009

Maine Marriage Bill Looks Promising

The New England state is moving fast ahead in giving full marriage equality to gays and lesbians, and amazingly, plenty of support is being voiced from both legislative parties. More than 60 legislators in Maine have co-sponsored a new same-sex marriage bill in the state, headed up by Democratic Senator Dennis Damon of Trenton.

Many have argued that not only is same-sex marriage the right step to equality, it's also beneficial to the economy, something everyone likes to hear.

Naturally, opposition is building, and the future of the bill, once it passes the judicial committee, is uncertain. Voice your approval by contacting Sen. Dennis Damon and help Maine join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only states that allow same-sex marriage.

Sen. Dennis Damon
Senate Democratic Office:
3 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333

Phone: 207-287-1515
*TTY phone: 207-287-1583
Message line (sessions only) 1-800-423-6900
Fax: 207-287-1585

Email the senator

Friday, March 13, 2009

Obama Cornered on Federal Benefits for Gay Employees and Spouses

Though I appreciate everything that President Obama has done, everything he has said and everything he stands for, the time has come to put his money where his mouth is. The gauntlet has been dropped.

In many interviews during his presidential campaign (and some before), he's been quoted as saying that he supports full equal rights for gays and lesbians. The fact that he doesn't support gay marriage but still says he supports equal rights is a discussion for another time. What is occurring now? The Obama Administration is experiencing pressure from the rulings of two federal judges stating that the federal government cannot hide behind DOMA to avoid giving benefits to employees in a same-sex relationship. So if these judges are to enforce their ruling (which the plaintiffs in the case are pushing for because the rulings weren't mere statements, they require consequences), how will the president respond?

The president is swept up in a historical, economical crisis in which he needs both parties of Congress on his side in order to pull the country out from its mire. Because of this, many argue that the LGBT issue is not a priority. But I disagree. Without the rights and full protections that marriage laws provide, same-sex couples have higher expenses, less disposable income and as a result, less money flows through our dry economy. (Not to mention all the money put back into the economy from all those weddings.) But putting the economic crisis aside, when in the history of our country have civil rights taken a back seat to a temporary crisis? Never.

And yes, this recession is temporary.

The Obama Administration has yet to fully answer inquiries about how they plan to respond if the federal judges do in fact demand enforcement. Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, told the New York Times: “While the president opposes gay marriage, he supports legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. He believes this country must realize its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”

But Richard Socarides, a New York lawyer who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay issues, said he believed that Mr. Obama “has broad discretionary authority to find ways to ameliorate some of the more blatant examples of discrimination.”

So will he?

So far, President Obama hasn't done much or given any signs of the advancement of LGBT rights. Little encouragement has come from his administration. And responses to questions have been evasive and done by rote.

The administration should see this as an opportunity instead of a quagmire to avoid, an opportunity to uphold the ideals that Obama has preached and as a result, bridge divides. Not only can offering benefits to gay federal employees, who are both Republican and Democrat, be a "practice what you preach" sign from the president, it will also ensure the support he needs from the large moderate and liberal base that got him elected. And if he's to save our economy by issuing controversial bills that needs the approval of both side of the aisle in Congress, he's going to need all the support he can get.

I'm eager to give it. I'm just waiting for my sign.

EVENT: Youth Today, Walking for Equality


Five hundred high school students are getting ready to march.

Designed to show support for same-sex marriage and raise awareness about homophobia, discrimination, abuse, and forced homelessness of queer youth, Youth Today: Walking for Equality will be a 1.6 mile march through downtown Los Angeles that ends at a rally in front of City Hall.

Organizers of the event – high school students themselves – got the idea when they saw that their voices were being excluded from the countless demonstrations that followed the passage of Proposition 8, the November ballot measure that stripped gays and lesbians of their right to marry.

“I really want to show the community that young people not only care and are affected by issues such as racism, homophobia/transphobia and healthcare, but they want their voices to be heard,” said Ariel Bustamente-Lupton, 16, one of the organizers of Youth Today. “This is about our nation’s future being proactive in the present.”

While Proposition 8 was the genesis of the demonstration, organizers are making sure to bring attention to other LGBTQ issues as well.

“Queer youth still are being thrown out of their house and forced on the streets to a life of substance abuse and survival sex, coupled with high rates of suicide,” said Dahlia Ferlito, an adult advisor for the event. “We want the state to know that this still exists.”

Youth Today: Walking for Equality begins at College & Spring Street on Sunday, March 22 at noon and will conclude with a rally at City Hall.

Rally speakers include Robin Tyler (original plaintiff in court case that legalized same-sex marriage in California), Cleve Jones, Robin McGehee (GSA Network), Torie Osborn (Liberty Hill Foundation/National Gay & Lesbian Task Force), Bamby Salcedo (transgender youth project coordinator) and Michael Ferrera (Lifeworks Mentoring).

For more information, visit the Facebook event page.


Youth+Today Event flyer

Thursday, March 12, 2009

UPDATE 3/12/09: URGENT ACTION NEEDED: Adoption Battle in Kentucky

UPDATE 3/12/09: GREAT NEWS! This horrible bill has died, for it was unable to make the Senate vote agenda.

This discriminatory measure stated that anyone “cohabitating with a sexual partner outside of marriage” cannot be considered as a foster or adoptive parents.

However, our work is not done.

A similar bill has been seen in Tennessee and three states -- Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas -- currently have laws that outlaw adoption by unmarried couples.

Republican Sen. Gary Tapp of Shelbyville said he plans to file the bill again next year. See his contact info below and go ahead and tell him not to bother. He'll be met by us every step of the way.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, this horrible bill passed a key committee and now advances to the Senate floor for a vote. Please contact Sen. Tapp (info below) and let him know how strongly you disagree with this discriminatory measure. Reach out to Fairness Campaign and see what you can do to help the inequality spreading in the blue grass state.


From Lez Get Real:

"A proposed Kentucky law that would not only prevent gay and lesbian couples wanting to adopt or become foster parents from doing so, but also unmarried heterosexual couples as well, drew protesters to the Kentucky State Capitol of Frankfort yesterday… and more than 100 people attended the “Kentuckians Value Fairness” rally in the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday afternoon.

"The way the current legislation is written, Senate Bill 68, sponsored by Shelby County Republican Gary Tapp, would prevent would prevent unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children in the State of Kentucky. Similar legislation is already in force in six other states — Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah - all have laws directed at preventing nontraditional couples from adopting.

"The laws in Florida and Arkansas are both currently being challenged in the courts.

"Tapp says the intent of the bill is to assure that children are place in “stable environments” in both adoptive and foster homes.

"The Family Foundation of Kentucky is for also the bill."

URGENT ACTION: The protests against the bill at the Capitol was organized by the Fairness Campaign, and they are in urgent need of action support. They're requesting everyone to contact Shelby County Republican Gary Tapp and to voice their disapproval of this legislature.

Phone Number(s)
Home: (502) 633-2304
Annex: (502) 564-8100 Ext. 648


Camp Courage in San Diego and Bay Area

Over 150 leaders attended Camp Courage Fresno with amazing results. Fresno is humming with activity, gearing up for the continued fight for LGBT rights.

Wishing you were there? Well now you have another chance. Camp Courage is headed to San Diego next, quickly followed by the Bay Area. If you're interested in attending, contact for more details. You don't want to miss this!

Equal Rights Battle Building in Washington State

The state Senate has approved a bill giving same-sex domestic partners all of the rights and benefits the state offers married couples have.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Ed Murray, was passed on a 30-18 vote and now heads to the House.

However, this bill faces many obstacles. Opponents claim the legislation will open the door to gay marriage in Washington, and with the success of Proposition 8 in California, they feel very motivated to repeat that victory in their own state.

"We're fighting with a great sense of urgency," Larry Stickney, president of the Washington Values Alliance, told the Seattle Times. "In light of the California Supreme Court decision, it inspired us that if we didn't fight, it's lost. We feel backed into a corner."

As a result, they plan to rally and protest this measure, flooding lawmakers with phone calls and packing legislative hearings.

Show your support for the local LGBT community. Visit Equal Rights Washington and Pride Foundation to see how you can get involved. Sign their Marriage Equality Petition 09. If you live in Washington, send it to your government representatives. And check out Equal Rights Washington's rally event they're having today!


SAFE, Straight Advocates For Equality, was formed in the wake of a devastating loss. After the passage of Prop 8, two straight couples got together at a pub in Fresno,CA and dreamed up a straight advocacy group. The idea was outlined on a cocktail napkin (like many good ideas) and SAFE was born. These two couples invited others who were dedicated to equality and the first SAFE meeting occurred.

SAFE is a new organization but growing rapidly. They have a diverse array of dedicated people who are committed to equality and realize that no matter what happens with Prop 8, there is a huge national battle to fight. A fight to win so their LGBT friends and family may enjoy full federal recognition of their rights.

SAFE is focusing on community building training and coalition building by sending representatives to other LGBT organizations and the Central California Alliance, and the organization will be actively involved in Meet in the Middle 4 Equality in Fresno, CA.

Want to get involved with SAFE? Live in Fresno and want to attend their next meeting? Check out their group on Facebook for more information.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

EVENT: Screening of "Save Marriage"

"Saving Marriage" chronicles the true story of the Massachusetts fight to save marriage equality. The film will inspire Californians who are in their own fight to win back marriage rights after the passage of Prop 8.

Massachusetts went down this road fighting for marriage equality four years before California did and the two fights are strikingly similar. Activists in Massachusetts tried to fight off a constitutional amendment that would take gay marriage away, but they narrowly lost. Then, the community spent the next year and a half changing peoples' minds about same sex marriage before the issue came up for a vote the second time.

"Exuberantly big-hearted... Engrossing... Rambunctious and hopeful."
- Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times

"Acutely suspenseful ... A virtual how-to manual for changing hearts
and minds."
- Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

"Even for those who think they know the full story...this documentary
will be a revelation."
- Jonathan Curiel, San Francisco Chronicle

Co-directors Mike Roth and John Henning will do Q & A following the screening.

WHEN: Friday, March 13, 2009 @ 8pm

WHERE: Regent Showcase Theater
614 N La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Suggested donation at door = $5. All proceeds go to Marriage Equality USA.

Sign up for the event on Facebook.

"Saving Marriage" official website.

Proposal to strike "Marriage" from California Law

From the Associated Press:

(Sacramento, California) California’s top election official says supporters can start collecting signatures for a proposed ballot measure to strike the word “marriage” from all state laws.

Supporters of this ballot measure want to replace it with the term “domestic partnership,” while keeping all the rights of marriage in place.

The proposal is in response to a voter-approved gay marriage ban that passed in November. The new measure would repeal the ban, and define domestic partnerships as unions between all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said Tuesday that supporters must gather nearly 700,000 signatures by early August to get the initiative on the ballot.

The measure is the grassroots effort of two heterosexual college students.

What are your thoughts on this? Will it hurt or help marriage equality? Would striking "marriage" from the law actually be a compromise, taking away the sensitive wording on marriage? Or do you think this is the direction the whole nation should be headed?

Activists Call For Immediate National Response to Forthcoming CA Supreme Court Decision

Recognizing that win or lose, the LGBTQ community must have an immediate response to the forthcoming California Supreme Court decision on whether or not to uphold Proposition 8, veteran activists Robin Tyler and Andy Thayer have called for "Day of Decision" actions the night that the court releases its decision. Volunteers for the effort are being coordinated through the new website,

The court is required by law to announce its decision no later than 90 days after the March 5th oral arguments (June 3), but could do so much sooner. One day before the decision is announced, the court will inform us that the decision will come the next day. The evening that the decision is released, DayOfDecision actions to either protest a bad decision or celebrate a good decision will take place.

"We know that win or lose, our community will respond that night. The purpose of beginning to organize these Day of Decision actions right now is to make these actions as powerful as possible," said veteran LGBT activist Robin Tyler, who is one of the plaintiffs in the original suit to win equal marriage rights in California and a petitioner in the case to overturn Proposition 8. "Sitting in the CA Supreme Court hearing last week, we walked out feeling that the court would uphold Proposition 8."

"By organizing now, we are also sending a message to the Court that people are watching what they do, and that if it's a bad decision, our community will not go softly into the night. We will react with a justified anger at one of the worst, and most cowardly court decisions of our era," said Andy Thayer, co-founder of Chicago's Gay Liberation Network. "If we win, these actions will be celebrations, and an attempt to push the momentum of a California victory to other states and regions."

"A decision which upholds Prop 8's ban on future same-sex marriages, but allows those already performed to stand, will not be considered a victory," said Tyler, whose marriage to Diane Olson would be upheld in such a scenario. "As a community, we can only advance as one. Picking off one part of our community for special treatment while disregarding the rights of the rest is completely unacceptable."

Tyler and Thayer initiated successful Day of Decision actions in 50 cities around the country following the 2003 U.S. Supreme CourtLawrence v. Texas decision which junked the anti-gay sodomy laws that were used to justify legal inequality in a broad range of areas. They also were two of the principal organizers of the successful StopDrLaura campaign which stopped hate radio hostess Dr. Laura Schlessinger's daily, national one-hour television program.

People who want to organize Day of Decision actions in their city around the forthcoming California Supreme Court decision are encouraged to go to to volunteer. If you are already organizing, please sign on so we can refer people in your area to what you are doing. "D-Day" (Day of Decision) can happen anytime and we must be ready now.

Look for other events to occur in the following days after D-Day, such as Meet In the Middle 4 Equality. View the calendar at the bottom of the blog for more events.

Ark. Bill Proposed to Ban Domestic Partnerships

A proposed bill to ban domestic-partnership registries for gay and straight couples was submitted in Arkansas on Monday, just making the deadline for the current legislative session.

Rep. Bryan King, the Republican house minority leader, who submitted the bill, represents a northwest district of the state in which Eureka Springs sits. The town approved domestic-partnership registry to circumvent Amendment 83, which defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman, and outlawed civil unions. So as a response, Rep. King filed the current bill, which would prohibit any county or city in the state from creating a registry that "recognizes a domestic-partner relationship not recognized by the Arkansas constitution, Amendment 83."

King’s bill has been referred to the house committee on city, county, and local affairs. The committee membership includes Rep. Kathy Webb, a Democrat, who is the only openly gay member of the Arkansas state legislature.

Contact Rep. Bryan King and let him to know that you do NOT support this measure that continues to restrict civil rights.

Contact Rep. Kathy Webb and voice your support in killing this bill.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

PSA: The Difference Between Domestic Partnership and Marriage

In Spanish:

MAJOR EVENT: Meet In the Middle 4 Equality!

MAJOR EVENT: Meet In the Middle 4 Equality!

On the first Saturday AFTER the California State Supreme Court issues its ruling on the Proposition 8 cases, meet us on the steps of City Hall in downtown Fresno, CA to rally for NATIONAL LGBT EQUALITY.


The battle for equality has to be fought in small towns like Fresno, California -- not just gay-friendly cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles .

The population of California 's Central Valley is far more reflective of national attitudes toward LGBT rights and until we roll up our sleeves and engage the communities of “middle-America", we will not have the full equality we deserve.

This IS the civil rights movement of this generation.

Where will YOU stand when the Court rules?

Where will you STAND for equality?

We will stand in Fresno...join us!

City Hall at 1:00 PM
2600 Fresno Street
Fresno, CA 93721
Map for event updates
Join Meeting in the Middle 4 Equality (MM4E) on Facebook!

Download MM4E flyer to pass out!

UTF Note: Unite the Fight wholly supports this event. After attending Camp Courage, Fresno, I saw how much our own LGBT community there needs our support. D-Day itself, in our cities, will be met with events and actions. But let's all come together in solidarity that following Saturday, from all the major cities, to support our own LGBT brothers and sisters, in a town that needs to reminded that our friends in Fresno are not alone, and we will not tolerate their mistreatment anymore! And not only that, let's show the whole world just how many of us there are, en masse, and truly make MM4E a historical day!

REMINDER: Million Gay March

REMINDER: The Million Gay March's new website is up and running. Go check it out!


The Million Gay March is gearing up for one of the biggest gay rights march in history, June 28th, 2008. Check out their video on Facebook.

On Wednesday, their brand new site will be up with all the information, so don't forget to check it out at

FIELD POLL: Same-Sex Marriage Is Still a Divisve Issue

The most recent California Field Poll shows that, if there were another vote today to decide whether or not to allow same-sex marriage in the state, it would be a dead heat, showing that the LGBT community and its allies still have a lot of work ahead of them.

The poll shows voters almost evenly split, 48 percent to 47 percent, when asked if they would approve a new constitutional amendment to again allow same-sex couples to marry. It's a dead heat when one factors in the 3.5 percent margin of error. (See field poll at bottom of post)

When asked if they supported marriage over civil unions, forty-five percent said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Thirty-four percent favored civil unions and 19 percent said gay and lesbian couples should not receive any state recognition. Only two percent of those polled had no opinion.

From The San Diego Union-Tribune:

A coalition of gay-rights groups have filed an initiative aimed at the 2010 ballot to make same-sex marriages legal again.

Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said that while Californians are dramatically more supportive of same-sex marriages than they were a few decades ago, he questioned whether attitudes would be much different in 2010 than they were in 2008.

He noted that gubernatorial elections always have smaller voter turnouts than presidential elections and that younger voters most supportive of same-sex marriage are also among the least reliable voters.

“If you bring this to an election, turnout really does matter,” DiCamillo said. “Which groups turn out a little bit more and which ones turn out a little bit less have a big effect on the outcome.”

A second difficulty, the pollster said, is that an amendment reinstating same-sex marriage would require a “yes” vote whereas Proposition 8 required a “no” vote to preserve gay marriages.

“The thing that works against the advocates' position is now they've got to get a 'yes' vote which is harder to get than a 'no' vote,” DiCamillo said.

Acceptance of same-sex marriage in California has grown steadily over the years.

When registered voters were asked by the Field Poll how they feel about allowing same-sex couples to marry and have regular marriage laws apply to them, 49 percent approved to 44 percent who disapproved.

Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee puts it more bluntly:

". . . whether a pro-gay marriage measure would pass in 2010 is very uncertain. But the Field Institute polled registered voters, not likely voters, because it's much too early to determine the latter, and who actually votes in 2010 will depend on the dynamics of that election.

It could be argued that gay rights groups had their best shot in 2008 as they sought to defeat Proposition 8 and allow an earlier Supreme Court decision, validating same-sex marriage, to stand. It was an extremely high-turnout presidential election in which Democrats dominated from the White House down.

It's likely that 2010's voter turnout will be millions of voters smaller and somewhat less liberal than the 2008 electorate, although it's not certain yet whether a pro-gay marriage measure would be on the June primary ballot, whose turnout would be even lower, or on the November general election ballot.

If the Supreme Court were to uphold Proposition 8 and gay rights groups were to seek a 2010 measure, only to lose again, their cause could be stalled for many years."

We need to be sure that doesn't happen.


Same-Sex Marriage Field Poll 3/10/09

Website Highlight:

For all of you LGBT community members and allies in Visalia, CA - you are not alone. is there to bridge your community together. It exists to keep you informed and involved in this historic movement of equal rights. It provides a forum for you to connect, share and express yourselves. It will also keep you in the know about any events happening around the valley.

There's a lot coming your way in the central valley. Get prepared. Get ready. Get active.

KSEE Fresno News on Camp Courage

Monday, March 9, 2009

VIDEO: Dolores Huerta and Cleve Jones at Camp Courage, Fresno, CA

Right Wing Scams Massachusetts Residents to Sign Anti-Gay Marriage Petition

No on Prop 8 Campaign Didn't Use Obama Letter

The No on Prop 8 Campaign had a letter from, at the time, presidential candidate Barack Obama, citing that he did not support Prop 8. But they didn't use it. It makes one scratch one's head. Again.

"That was a close call,” says Steve Smith, No on 8 Campaign consultant. “Maybe we should have used it.”

Maybe? With the Yes on 8 blasting ads that construed that the candidate did in fact support Prop 8, what was there to think about? But thankfully, they have released the letter.

Here it is:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the opportunity to welcome everyone to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club's Pridc Breakfast and to congratulate you on continuing a legacy of success, stretching back thirty-six years. As one of the oldest and most influential LGBT organizations in the country, you have continually rallied to support Democratic candidates and causes, and have fought tirelessly to secure equal rights and opportunities for LGBT Americans in California and throughout the country.

As the Democratic nominee for President, I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law. That is why I support extending fully equal rights and benefits to same sex couples under both state and federal law. That is why I support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, and the passage of laws to protect LGBT Americans from hate crimes and employment discrimination. And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.

For too long. issues of LGBT rights have been exploited by those seeking to divide us. It's time to move beyond polarization and live up to our founding promise of equality by treating all our citizens with dignity and respect. This is no less than a core issue about who we are as Democrats and as Americans.

Finally, I want to congratulate all of you who have shown your love for each other by getting married these last few weeks. My thanks again to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club for allowing me to be a part of today's celebration. I look forward to working with you in the coming months and years, and I wish you all continued success.


Barack Obama

It hurts to read, knowing that it wasn't used. However, it's encouraging to know how much our president is behind us. Let's look forward!

The Movement is Headed to Fresno, CA

In preparing this post, I can't but help use the first-person perspective because the impact that Camp Courage in Fresno had on me personally as a facilitator is so profound that distancing myself from it would, not only be difficult, but wrong in how I should communicate what needs to be told about the amazing change that is happening in Fresno, CA.

For the sake of time in telling this story, I first need to direct you to my Op-Ed on the first Camp Courage in LA so you can know what Camp Courage is and what it's about. This exact same model was brought to Fresno, but effectively expanded upon over the course of two days.

On Saturday morning, we facilitators anxiously waited for our pre-assigned group to arrive through the conference room doors, excited to know who we would be working with for the whole weekend. The expected 160 and more attendees were randomly divided into groups to help mix it up, and I was curious to see whom I and the rest of the facilitators would get. Many of us had either been to the energized Camp Courage in LA or had worked at several Camp Obamas, whose model Camp Courage has adopted. So we were expectant of the same amount of energy.

The attendees, many from Fresno and the large surrounding Central Valley, trickled in and quietly sat down. Immediately, we could feel that there was energy, but it was definitively different from what we experienced before. Trying to put my finger on it, I observed my amazingly diverse group - a lesbian in her 70s, a middle-aged gay man, a lesbian in her 20s, a straight woman (yeah, straight!) and a bisexual girl of just 16. Though we were talking, you couldn't miss the initial impression - "What do I have in common with these people? What have I done by coming here?" As the Camp kicked off, it hit me what the energy was - "Caution."

As I grew to learn, these residents of the Central Valley had been let down so many times before. Fresno, CA is practically the capitol of the Bible belt in California (and yes, there is a Bible belt in California), and the local LGBT population has continually and constantly experienced discrimination and hate from their own city. But worse, they have reached out to their own LGBT community in other cities, raising their voices that they needed help only to get no response. (Fresno doesn't even have a center for the LGBT population to meet at, let alone organize.) During the No on 8 Campaign, they cried out that they needed help, that they were prepared to act, only to receive a few yard signs to put out in response. And even more, they have witnessed the burgeoning movement blooming in their neighboring urban cities only to be forgotten about. Again.

No wonder they attended Camp Courage with caution. "Who are these urbanites coming to our town? Are they going to let us down again? Are they going to "train us" only to take off, yet again, to forget us?" Many probably came only to see their opinion of us, which up to this point was correct, validated.

When we opened the camp, Lisa Powell, the amazing head facilitator, asked the attendees, "Who here is uncomfortable? Who here doesn't know anyone? Who here is wondering, 'What am I doing here?'" Quite a few hands went up, and I could tell by the faces of others, they wanted to raise their hands, too. One 16 year old had been dropped off by their mom, to come to the camp all alone, not knowing anyone. A sure sign of the desperation and the need for community in the area.

One of the first exercises at Camp Courage is for each member of each group to answer one simple question about themselves. This easy exercise slowly began to break the thick layer of ice. It began to dawn of everyone that they're not just going to sit around listening to a droning speaker talk down to them - they were going to be engaged.

But what was the turning point? What melted the ice wall? The brilliant but difficult exercise, "The Story of Self." This exercise asks the camper to distill their story of how they came out, about how they overcame a challenge that put them on the path of equality, a story that is extremely personal, a story they may have never told, down to two minutes. Why? Because the Story of Self is a powerful tool in connecting with people emotionally, and to help bring them into the movement, to connect even with those who oppose us.

I heard stories about the mistreatment from hospitals keeping partners apart while facing fatal circumstances, about children not relating to their gay parent, about a teenager rising above her difficulties at her school, about a straight woman raised in a religious environment who came to realize that her stance in support of the LGBT community could cost her, about a woman and her partner who can't get full coverage for their daughter 's disability. I heard more stories about a trans woman who went to school and had to wet her pants everyday until she was allowed to use the woman's restroom, how others were spit in the face by their fellow Fresno residents simply for being who they were, and so much more.

As I was sitting there, listening to these stories, not being able to keep the tears from welling - it hit me. I'm not here to facilitate. I'm here to learn. I'm hear to listen. I'm here to show these amazing people that they are not alone. They have truly been on the front lines, the real soldiers, facing hate in a town in which the residents are not ashamed to show it, actually proud of it, literally spitting it in their faces. I live in the cush bubble of LA where, if someone does hate me, they're not about to fling it in my face.

I knew so little. But I walked away knowing so much more. And not just that, I left with a greater sense of community way beyond the Los Angeles city limits.

After these brave campers told their stories not just to their groups, but to the whole convention, the ice melted. These people, many of whom didn't know each other until this day, exposed their hearts and realized that they were not alone. They had a community that had shared experiences, not only from far away cities, but within their own neighborhoods. This was the turning point. The energy transformed from "caution" to "trust" and "community."

Over the course of two days, with campers driving miles and miles to return, with speakers like Cleve Jones and Dolores Huerta of the union movement to add to the inspiration, with the Story of Us bringing everyone even closer together, with solid friendships between people who were recently strangers developing, with commitments to change and action being made, the sense of community building was tangible.

The recurring them of Camp Courage Fresno was, "I thought I was alone. Now I know I'm one of many, and I never have to feel that way again."

But here's the amazing thing about Fresno.

They're not alone simply because we urbanites came along and said sincerely, "We'll never make the mistake of not listening again." The truth is, these amazing people are not alone because they have each other. They have strength from each other. They're planning outstanding events and actions (which I will talk about over and over and over in many posts to come - hello!!!). They have built their community. And the movement is headed their direction!

And if there's one thing I can take away from this experience this past weekend, it's the sense that I too am a part of a greater community that's driving an even greater movement. It's not just an LGBT community, it's not just an LGBT movement. It's a community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, intersexuals, queers, straights, union workers, African Americans, Latinos, Asian and everyone in between.

It's a movement of change.

And I have Fresno, CA to thank for that.

Thank you, Marta Evry, for these amazing pictures!

Sunday, March 8, 2009