Volume , Number 0
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Sports & Culture
Organizing for Justice
George j. Bryjak
Gay & Lesbian Notes
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Carnival As Organizing
decade ago the idea of seriously organizing for gay marriage—or,
more correctly stated, same-sex marriage—was barely imaginable.
The idea of actually getting any place with it was unthinkable.
Yet, in the past two years, we have seen enormous strides made in
fighting for the right for gay and lesbian couples to become legally
wed. First the Supreme Court of Vermont decided it was discriminatory
for the state to offer the financial and economic benefits of marriage
only to heterosexuals. But rather then grant an official “marriage”
status to homosexuals, the Vermont legislature invented “civil
unions”—which was marriage, without the word. Last November,
the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court made the same decision
and a few months later—after queried by the legislature—nixed
the idea of civil unions, calling them “separate but equal.”
The Massachusetts legislature— with many members determined
not to give up heterosexual control of the word “marriage”—is
now in a battle over proposed constitutional amendments that would
legally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. While
the gay community is divided over the issue—many queers with
a gay liberationist and feminist background are more interested
in finding and promoting alternatives to traditional marriage—almost
everyone agrees that issues of equality under the law are also important.
One of the problems for the not-so-wild-about-marriage crowd was that organizing around the issue was often blatantly conservative. Not only was it legalistic— “we don’t want to change that law, we just want to be included”—but the organizing tactics were basically appeals to the judiciary and legislatures. There were no alternative visions offered.
That was until San Francisco got into the picture and Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to engage in civically-endorsed civil disobedience and began, on February 13, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Leave it to San Francisco to shed new light on how to organize.
By all reports, the same-sex marriage frenzy in San Francisco turned into a let’s-get-married Mardi Gras. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus serenaded long lines of same-sex couples outside City Hall. Hotels offered special honeymoon rates for wedding parties. Local flower shops covered the steps of City Hall with rose petals. Students from the University of California at San Francisco baked a giant wedding cake for the couples. Professional musicians volunteered their services to couples who wanted music. Isn’t this unleashed joy of communal celebration what marriage is supposed to be about?
According to the San Francisco Chronicle , the city has already issued more than 3,200 marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Most are from the Bay Area, but others have traveled from more than 20 other states. Some have come from as far away as Venezuela, Switzerland, and Thailand. But then, San Francisco has long been known for its “party” politics.
Since the mid-19th century, San Francisco was called, in the parlance of the day, a “wide-open town”—the kind of place where practically anything goes. The city was rife with gambling palaces, opium dens, all-male dance halls (not so much homosexual as homo- social because of the predominantly male population), and male and female brothels. Dubbed the “Barbary Coast,” it was also a haven for all kinds of immigrants, from gold-seeking Latin American miners to fugitive southern slaves.
By the 1930s, San Francisco had a thriving bohemian arts community. After World War II, thousands of lesbian and gay veterans, many of whom had come out during the war, moved to San Francisco and founded one of the largest, most open queer communities in the U.S.
In the 1950s, the city gave rise to the newly emerging Beat culture and, in the 1960s, hippies and flower children made it the nation’s countercultural capital. By the late 1960s, San Francisco had become a last stop for queers around the world.
This history had a profound effect, not just on gay culture, but on gay political organizing. From the 1960s onward, San Francisco’s queer communities were far more flamboyant—and daring—in their quest for basic civil rights than their East Coast counterparts. The Mattachine Society’s eastern leaders, for instance, required members to dress up (suits and ties for men; dresses and heels for women) for a 1965 protest in front of the White House. Compare that with José Sarria’s 1961 election bid for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. A performer at the notorious Black Cat Bar who often campaigned in drag, Sarria’s slogan was “Gay Is Good.” He won only 5,613 votes (at-large seats required from 70,000 to 100,000 votes), but Sarria helped create the idea of a publicly gay political presence. In 1962, a loose association of San Francisco’s gay bar and club owners formed the Tavern Guild of San Francisco (TGSF) to fight off police raids, in part by providing economic help for smaller gay-owned businesses. (On the East Coast, meanwhile, gay club owners spent the 1950s and 1960s paying protection money to corrupt vice squads.) The TGSF raised money by organizing risqué events like the Halloween Drag Ball and the Beaux Arts Ball. The group made progress by keeping one eye on the basic civil rights struggle and the other on throwing a fabulous party.
Perhaps the contrast between East and West Coast gay activism played out most clearly in the politics of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). In San Francisco, the movement was sparked with the 1970 publication of Carl Wittman’s Refugees from Amerika: A Gay Manifesto . While Wittman had a long history as a leftist political activist, his work in San Francisco was rooted in the counterculture and it was from this he drew most strongly. Much of Wittman’s manifesto concerned sexual liberation and personal freedom, which in turn served to reinforce those aspects of the West Coast’s gay movement.
In New York, the GLF was formed after the Stonewall Riots in June 1969 and drew its inspiration from organized progressive institutions such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the War Resisters League. East Coast gay activists tried to change the world by quoting Marx and Mao, San Francisco activists did it by transforming the everyday culture of the city.
By the 1970s, San Francisco, more than any other U.S. city, offered an ongoing spectacle of queerness. Although concentrated in the Castro and Tenderloin districts, lesbians, gay men, and transgender people were visible everywhere. As a result, Gay Pride marches were larger and more extravagant than elsewhere, as were serious political gatherings.
N ot everyone was happy with Newsom’s decision. California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer both voiced disapproval of what they saw as an illegitimate method of testing the validity of state law. Massachusetts Congressperson Barney Frank told the Associated Press he feared “San Francisco being in sort of a free-for-all will be used against us politically.” Arline Isaacson, who has lobbied tirelessly on Beacon Hill for gay rights, expressed fear of a backlash when she told the Boston Globe : “What happened in San Francisco has not helped us at all. And it arguably made things worse here.”
This is what you would expect to hear from senators, representatives, and lobbyists. This is what they have to say (and may even believe). But such fears don’t invalidate what’s happening in San Francisco. Within days of Newsom’s mayoral order, Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley said he agreed with Newsom’s decision and would, if he had the authority, issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples as well. On February 20, Victoria Dunlap, the clerk of Sandoval County, New Mexico, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the county attorney said state law defines marriage as an agreement between contracting parties, but does not mention sex. Licenses were granted to 26 couples before New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid issued an opinion saying the licenses were “invalid under state law.” The Netherlands and Belgium both allow same-sex marriage and, on February 19, Cambodia’s 81-year- old King Norodom Sihanouk announced—after seeing news of gay marriages in San Francisco—that he would support same-sex marriage in his country because he had “respect” for homosexuals and “God loves a wide variety of tastes.”
Progress has been made in the legal fight for same-sex marriage—in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court declared it to be a constitutional right, as did the Supreme Courts of Hawaii and Vermont (although the implementation of those decisions was circumvented by a constitutional amendment forbidding it in the former case and a civil-union bill that replaced it in the latter).
The city of San Francisco has sued the state of California, arguing that the law prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from marrying violates the state constitution. If the Golden State’s highest court finds that these weddings have violated the state constitution, it will have to order 3,000-plus couples to divorce. (Massachusetts will face the same prospect if the legislature and public eventually pass a constitutional amendment banning same- sex marriages—which cannot happen until November 2006 at the earliest, long after the first of these weddings takes place this May.) Newsom’s challenge of the implicit discrimination in California’s state laws has created a cultural context in which the world can see the alternative to what exists now. The gambit not only generated great press, it also showed that the world doesn’t fall apart because there is same-sex marriage, that it actually looks like a better, more fun place in which to live. (Most of the reporting about the anti same-sex marriage protesters has cast them as disgruntled, wet-blanket party poopers. )
Politics is often described as “the art of the possible” and San Francisco has shown the world that gay marriage is possible.
Michael Bronski’s most recent book is Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps (St. Martin’s Press, 2003).
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.