Sunday, January 25, 2009

From the "Equality Summit" --
Pre-packaged "choices" are so over

Some 400 LGBT people got together at the Los Angeles Convention Center to chew over the unsuccessful campaign against Prop. 8, absorb both analysis and opinion, and consider their next steps toward marriage equality for LGBT people.

I'm not going to try to summarize the event. (Full disclosure: how could I? I was a facilitator for a plenary on race and religion and the LGBT movement -- I was listening, not planning a blog post!) The blog California Ripple Effect has a seven part live blog of the day if anyone is interested.

As we know from the post-election street protests, folks are extremely distressed by the defeat, sometimes blame the "No" campaign almost as much as the majority of California voters who said "Yes," and want to know how to move forward. Some of the leadership was defensive -- but mostly those who had been in the middle of the fray showed up to talk with their community.

My perspective is that LGBT community in California has not had to defend itself in a statewide campaign in recent times and didn’t have much developed experience or infrastructure to do the job. I've seen that before: the state's civil rights leadership got hammered over and over by right-wing wedge initiatives in the 1990s (anti-immigrant, anti-affirmative action, anti-bilingual education) and learned a great deal about how to fight in the electoral arena. LGBT leadership is now acquiring that painful expertise. Doing it well in a deeply engaged community under threat is tough -- if same sex marriage goes back to a ballot measure, the campaign will probably find a better balance between poll driven advertising and the needs of its own vulnerable constituents.

Participants at the summit were involved.

They were serious.

In addition to critiques, they generated reams of ideas.

One of the most practical ideas from the day was offered by Geoff Kors of Equality California. As we wait to see how the California Supreme Court rules on whether it is really constitutional to deprive people of the state's equal protection by a majority vote, he suggested that folks should look over the enormous list of organizations that have joined the legal challenge to Prop. 8 -- and thank one of them by donating to it. If that one is something you haven't joined before, so much the better. I took his suggestion and made a small contribution to the California Council of Churches.

Above all, we can take away from the Prop. 8 campaign the knowledge this struggle for LGBT equality is not over. I agree with California political consultant Richie Ross: conservatives are shooting themselves by mobilizing constituencies against gay marriage. He compares the likely effect of Prop. 8 to the effect of Prop. 187. Then Governor Peter Wilson used that 1994 initiative attack on immigrants to win re-election. But it also pushed forward a boom in immigrant naturalizations that rapidly increased the Latino vote. And young Latino citizens coming of voting age repudiated what they saw as a party that attacked their hard-working parents. The Latino vote has been solidly Democratic ever since. Ross believes that by attacking LGBT marriage, Republicans are seriously alienating an entire generation of "millennial" voters whose numbers are exploding.

The fastest growing segment of the California electorate is the "millennials" -- young people coming of age since the year 2000. There are more than six million of them in California. By 2012, they will outnumber the "baby boomers."

They are hip, rebellious and more than "pro-choice." Their lifestyle is choice. And technology empowers their ability to demand and make choices. They reject pre-packaged everything. ...

Every poll on Proposition 8 showed that the ban on gay marriage in California was a generational issue. Younger voters opposed it. The percentage of young people today who are gay and lesbian is no greater than among previous generations. But the percentage of young people who rebel against a pre-packaged society is.

They believe in the right of people to make their own choices. They want themselves and their friends left alone to make those choices. And the empowerment they experience through technology makes them intolerant of authorities that deny choice.

The whole analysis is worth reading. I think Ross is onto a national phenomenon. Our time is coming.

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