Kate Kendell

The Day After a Hard Night

Filed By Kate Kendell | November 04, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: civil rights, domestic partnership, LGBT civil rights, Maine, marriage equality, New Jersey, Question 1

Déjà vu is welcome when it flashes us back to a welcome or happy memory.

Today déjà vu is not so pleasant. The loss of marriage rights in Maine is a traumatic reminder of our Prop 8 fight in California. On election night one year ago, I spent a sleepless night tormented by every thought of what might have made a difference.

My colleagues in Maine spent just such a night. Same-sex couples in Maine have been dealt a dehumanizing setback. And we are all diminished by this loss. But after 12 months to ruminate and recover from what happened in California, I have some insight for them.

One: Yesterday's loss, while a real setback and a crushing disappointment, is only a temporary setback. We all know the end to this civil rights story--we will win full equality. But it will be a path marked with pain and brutalizing defeats.

Two: It is a travesty of every principle that made this nation great that the rights of a minority group can be put up to a popular vote. There are many ignominious moments in the history of this country, moments of shame that were corrected by Courts or by legislative action.

If those great strides, in Women's rights, in the rights of religious minorities or of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans or American Indians had been put up to popular vote we all know how those votes would have turned out. The shame would have endured. And the taint on our Democracy would have continued.

Third: And there is no polite way to say this--one cannot claim to be fair-minded and still support measures which deny full equality. You either support full justice and civil rights and equality or you don't. Period. End of side-stepping and excuses.

For my friends and family who support civil unions or domestic partnerships but do not support the full equality of my 16-year relationship and the security of my two children which rests on that full equality--and yes, that means marriage, right now, in this country--you have to get off that fence.

We are past the moment when you can claim support of me and other LGBT folks you know and love and yet still stand with those who deny us marriage. To not support marriage equality, right here and right now, means you believe that same-sex couples are less valid, less equal, and less deserving. Such a position is untenable with any claim that one is "fair-minded."

We are in a difficult moment. This is a hard day.

But we can't lose hope or stop believing in the rightness of our cause. We have the privilege of living in the midst of our own civil rights movement. The cost of that privilege is the same cost it has been in every movement--our humanity and dignity is attacked and undermined and we stand tall, never give up, and never lose faith.

Today is a test, and we must be the measure of it.

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No offense but it is time to re-think how we go about this or these losses will continue. We know what they are going to do. We know that they are going to imply that we are child molesters. Yet, instead of opprobrium, we dignify the hyperbole with denials over whether "homosexual marriage" will be taught in schools. Answering the wrong question makes it relevant.

I watched videos of the debates in Maine. Our side seemed afraid to show passion and anger. We sought to explain away what should have been met with "how dare you?"

Just imagine if it was our side that did not form the required ballot committee. "What are they hiding?" would have been a major campaign theme. But we want to be nice so we ignored it. In one of the debates, not only were we afraid to confront our opponents but we distanced ourselves apologetically from the controversy. We did so shortly after Marc Mutty implied that we are child molesting perverts.

Money and effort do not convey how much we care to the voters. It is passion that is needed to convince people. We begged, hat in hand, for tolerance instead of insisting on it as a condition of social acceptance.

It is the official affirmation of the acceptability of homosexuality that scares the hell out of the churches. Only gay taxpayers in Maine were affected by Question One, either way. We lost a contest that has no coherent opposing argument and no consequences to anyone else. They lied and we failed to call them liars. That makes us losers in more ways than one.

coloredqueer | November 4, 2009 8:10 PM

Here's how Kate explains the loss in CA and now in Maine: If those great strides, in Women's rights, in the rights of religious minorities or of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans or American Indians had been put up to popular vote we all know how those votes would have turned out. The shame would have endured. And the taint on our Democracy would have continued.

Generally white gays have used the struggles of "blacks" to explain their agenda of gay marriage which is primarily a priority for white, rich gays or have blamed the people of color communities for their losses despite the fact that white gays have institutionalized racism in gay establishments which is even worse then their hetero counterparts. But, now, white gays in addition to blacks are bringing in other communities of color (see her words : Latinos, Asians, Indians and so on) into this debate and comparing the oppression of these communities to rich, white gays. Do these white gays have any idea of what it is like to wear a "COLOR" in this country? Ofcourse they do as they themselves exploit and discriminate against people of color including LGBT ones. It is not a coincidence that LGBT orgs are heavily white with few exceptions of "docile" tokens of color that they like to keep on hand to showcase "diversity." May be a gay, white leader would show the courage to release the racial make up of national orgs, their senior people, board members and put them to shame -- infact that would be a good starting point and an honest project for a national gay org to put their money where their mouth is especially when they seek to use the oppression of people of color communities. Right, Kate?

When would these white gay leaders STOP using the oppression of communities of color to explain their own shortcomings in terms of building a grassroot movemment and inability to form coalitions with other communities which is not going to happen since these rich, white gays in charge of gay establishments are completely disconnected with the average person and other communities on the street.

And even though gay marriage is not a priority for LGBT people of color who are fighting a double whammy of being gay and being of color and just struggling to survive in their daily lives but we do pay a price when white gay leaders issue their analysis based on their narrow and limited vision and impose their agendas on LGBT people of color and no, we refuse to be further marginalized by self-appointed white gay leaders and their selfish agendas.

I understand where you're coming from, but I'm going to tell you why NCLR gets my money every year--over all of the other national groups: they care about racial and economic justice. They don't just talk about it. They are doing work that protects ALL of us. Take a minute to look at their website before lumping them in with all of the other Gay Inc. groups. What other group has a program to protect rural queer farmworkers? Or low inclome families of color? None. We need NCLR.

Kate I believe everything you wrote. I don't think NO on Prop 8 or NO on Question 1 could have done that much differently to change the outcome. There is a large segment of the heterosexual population that does not want gay people to have the exact rights they do. These heterosexuals believe gay people are of a lower order than they are and therefore deserve less or no rights at all.

"On election night one year ago, I spent a sleepless night tormented by every thought of what might have made a difference."

Let me help you out Kate!

1. Don't have your key leaders take 3-4 week vacations in Spain and Alaska 12 weeks before Election Day.

2. Don't hire an incompetent campaign manager that you have to ease out 4 weeks before Election Day.

3. Don't tell volunteers that their help isn't needed and ignore people who call and email trying to help.

Now, you might follow all of the above advice and, like our brothers and sisters in Maine, still come up short. But at least you will know that you didn't lose because of your own staggering incompetence.

Aren't you a ray of sunshine on a dark cloudy day?

Let me help you out...

When the only thing you have to offer is a bitchy comment on a blog post meant to offer encouragement and support to emotionally devastated people? That is staggering incompetence - at being a compassionate human being who's not so self-centered they have to try and score points off other people's misery.

Well, you are certainly in touch with your feelings. However, emoting isn't going to solve our problems. Self-criticism and correction just might.

I am not going to accept this "what could we have possibly done better?" routine from No on 8. It is ridiculous. And BTW, we shouldn't have to learn about Geoff Kors' and Lori Jeanne's July 2008 vacations on Michael Petrelis' blog. You should have reported it here.

Finally, please don't assume that I am not one of the people devastated by the past 2 defeats, OK?

It's just frustration. The problem is that we have a gay establishment that isn't elected by anyone, isn't overly participatory and isn't accountable to its constituency-by-default. While they don't have a monopoly on wisdom, they have a monopoly in influence.

It is extremely difficult to convey ideas, let alone get anyone to take them seriously if one is not an establishment colleague.

One of the things that I wrote about today, for example, was the economics of same-sex marriage.

colorqueer, gay organizations are heavily white because that is who participates. Non-white gay people are much less likely to participate in anything gay related. It is non-white gay people's responsibility to participate, no one else's. No gay issue is a priority with the majority of non-white gays especially black gays who would rather deal with imaginary racism in the gay community than fighting anti-gay bigotry amongst their own racial group.

Most of the gay people running gay organizations are middle class. Don't be fooled because gay people are well-dressed and well-mannered that they are rich.

I don't think gay people should compare our struggle with that of racial groups because our's has been a lot harder and pervasive.

coloredqueer | November 6, 2009 10:41 AM


This response is one of denial of racism in gay community and actually, ironically, so similar to homophobes who use similar arguements to explain their homophobia. These arguments have been used by white, racist gay orgs to explain the absence of LGBT people of color. Gay white leaders know the reality though and are aware of a number of LGBT people of color who either left or were driven out from these orgs because of a culture of whiteness and deep seated racism that thrives in gay orgs. These self-appointed white gay leaders populate boards, staff with their own kind and that is what has led to widespread racist culture and absence of people of color in gay orgs.

The argument that the oppression of gays is far more severe then people of color communities defies history and is so racist and undermines what blacks and other people of color have gone through in the US, and in so many other countries at the hands of Angelos. Gays have not been enslaved, hunted, lynched, and raped for centuries so stop comparing your oppression to other communities.

Eventually white gays would be forced to acknowledge their racism and address it as marriage fight again moves back to CA, NY and New Jersey -- states with heavy populations of people of color who are very aware and educated about racism in gay community. White gays failed to address their racism and open their good old boy/girl networks in CA and those strategies backfired. Also, opening storefronts in the name of communities of color won't work --some in white gay community are attempting to just do that. Acknowledging your racism, indulging in an honest conversation and challenging racism within your white gay circles and even creating a shame on you list of racist gay leaders would be a starting point. These bold steps are needed to start the conversation of racism in gay community before we can even think of stratgies to eliminate the deep seated racist culture which would take enormous effort.

The first step for a national gay org is to undertake a project to publicly disclose the racial make up of major gay orgs and put them to shame.....to silence the racism issued failed and will fail again and how hard such a project can be unless these gay orgs are so guilty of racism that they cannot afford to open that door? ofcourse, that can disturb the power structures of these white gay orgs but the benefits to the entire LGBT community including people of color outweigh the self-interests of these white gay leaders.

Average gay person who is not a part of gay inc would be critical in this since white gays are more likely to respond to their own kind rather then to people of color so lets hope white gays would understand the analysis behind racism in gay community as we all understand homophobia in straight community and would hold these self-appointed white gay leaders accountbale since their decisions impact you as well.

coloredqueer, your response is predictable and nonsensical. I'm not intimidated by you calling me a racist. You want to shift blame and responsibility onto white gay people for fighting for their rights because non-whites don't. I call those who fight for their rights honorable. During the marriage equality hearings in Washington D.C. practically all those against gay couples getting marriage rights were black while most for it were white. Once again you have a situation where white gay people show up and do the work (mind you Washington D.C. has a majority black population so their are no excuses for black gay people not to participate). Many non-white heterosexuals wrongly believe being gay is a white and elitist thing (which you continue to perpetuate). It is their prejudices against white people and homosexuality the reason they are against any gay rights legislation not about supposed racism in the gay community (which is really about non-white gay people wanting to date white gay people but being unsuccessful, that's the root of all these racism allegations). This past election in Anapolis, Maryland a group of black citizens made fliers which stated "white + gay = sin" which sums up the prejudices of a lot of non-white heterosexuals. The mission of gay organizations is to work for the interests of gay people not for some imaginary racism. Gaining marriage rights for gay couples is apart of gay liberation. It is the responsibility of non-white gay people to get involved.

Terry Leftgoff | November 6, 2009 12:16 AM


Thank you for this.

Technically Maine clearly did better than CA, particularly on their field and GOTV operation. But they ended with an identical electoral result.

It is dispiriting to face such public rejection again and again. But it is what most of us have had to face down whenever we come out. It is also our hidden strength.

I believe it is clear: we must radically reinvent our messaging, tactics and strategy.

While the Maine messaging was powerful and humanizing there were still no game-changers. There was no effective response to predictable lies about children, the identical lies made a year earlier during Prop 8.

The response both times was to play into the inplied homophobia by denying/agreeing that we should never teach about gays in school. Rather we need to develop an affirmative response that redirects the debate and reaches higher to American principles and human respect.

I believe one way is to effectively portray the real effect of rejection on us and our children. It is about gut empathy. Many voters can get that and it is missing from our arsenal.

I'd like to propose a brain trust to explore new messaging and a new tactical direction. We need to reframe the debate.

Today we mourn. Tomorrow we reassess. Then we keep fighting.

colored queer | November 7, 2009 11:49 AM

So, Keegan, you nailed the racism in gay community in one statement: """It is their prejudices against white people and homosexuality the reason they are against any gay rights legislation not about supposed racism in the gay community (which is really about non-white gay people wanting to date white gay people but being unsuccessful, that's the root of all these racism allegations)"""

We need not indulge anymore over what racism is in gay community and it is best to leave it up to "your white leaders" in different gay white groups to provide leadership to folks like you. By the way there are plenty of interracial gay couples (black + brown or Black+ white) and plenty of people of color, both hetero and homo, who do not date whites.

White heteros have never used this argument that blacks want to fuck with them and white heteros reject them and that is why blacks make racial allegations against them.

Infact, we just shared your response to other people of color and even whites and everyone agrees that this argument of rejection of LGBT people of color by gay whites in dating scene is quite laughable and just shows the extent of deep seated racism that gay white leaders have sown in gay community and is just another form of expression of white supremacist attitudes which as shown by this discussion here in gay community is even worse then white straight community. But, again, we can expect anything from white gays and nothing is a shocker when it comes to racism in gay community.

And, no, LGBT people of color are not looking to intimidate gay whites like you and it is actually other way around in case you have not noticed the power structures and white privlege in gay community which is the ROOTCAUSE of racism in gay community.

colorqueer, you just thrown out acusations. There is no point in what you wrote. No, racism is much less a problem in the gay community than it is in the heterosexual community. Gay people like you just like to carry the prejudices you learned from heterosexuals growing up into the gay community and pollute it, that's all.