Davina Kotulski

Open Letter to an Isla Vista Activist

Filed By Davina Kotulski | May 04, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: gay rights, Isla Vista activist, LGBT community, LGBT Pride Week, open letter, Santa Barbara, UCSB

This weekend I flew on a tiny prop plane to Santa Barbara to speak at UCSB's LGBTIQ Pride Event. It was the first ever pride celebration on campus. My speech was sandwiched between funny but raunchy comedians and a helluva sexy and fabulous drag queen named Derek. The campus is in Isla Vista, and according to my host, there are 20,000 students there.

open_letter.jpgI'd never been to this part of California before and was struck with how laid back it was. Most of the students wore bathing suits; the more clothed ones wore shorts and t-shirts. It was very laid back. In fact, I didn't think these kinds of colleges or places really existed in California. I was out of place in my black San Francisco Bay Area outfit and the oldest one in the crowd at 40.

But I was pleased the crowd was responsive and I was approached by several students afterward. One spoke of applying for a job at an In and Out Burger and being told that "This is a family restaurant." Another young lesbian couple wanted to know how to talk to their fellow queer college students who feel marriage is old-fashioned and aren't interested in repealing Prop 8.

And a young physics major wanted to know if talking to people one-on-one about who we are really made a difference. I decided to share the letter I wrote in response to her question as part of my blog this week.

Dear Isla Vista LGBT Activist,

Yes, talking to people one-on-one does make a difference and being repeatedly out about your stand for full equality and dignity for LGBTIQ people does too. The heart and human connections are the most important. The more people talk about equality, write about equality, and show their support for equality and respect for our people the more the climate changes.

Additionally, the more self-respect and respect for non-LGBT people, that we have, the better as well. This is about everyone respecting differences and celebrating and honoring those differences.

To me the personal is still political.

Use every opportunity to stand up for equality. If I have to call a credit card company, go to the dentist, whatever, I mention my wife or my support for LGBTIQ rights.

Example #1

Today, I spoke with a psychiatrist about a client of mine whose parents fight constantly. I've never met this psychiatrist before, but I said. "It really saddens me that people wasted so much money taking away the rights for gay people to marry and not using that money to help run free marital counseling and communication workshops for people who cannot afford couples therapy."

She said, "I agree with you completely."

This was an opportunity to come out in support of LGBT equality and to plant a new talking point. I know nothing about her, but I just gave her a talking point for the next person that tells her we shouldn't have the right to marry and wants to spend money on another campaign. I suppose I could have gone even farther and talked about the money the church spent on Yes on 8. But it was simple.

Example #2

I bought travel insurance this week and said "I'm gay and I want to make sure that if something happens to my wife's mother, my mother-in-law, I won't be denied the insurance benefit because of DOMA."

The guy said, "No worries, we recognize domestic partnerships and civil unions."

I said, "Great, we are legally married in California."

I'm unwilling to let people demote my marriage.

Harvey Milk said that if all of us came out of the closet at once the gay rights movement would be over and we could all go home. As I psychologist I know that coming out isn't always easy, but as someone who is out in all areas of my life I know the power being out has on one's self-esteem. Coming out is good for the psyche and the soul and it makes the world a better place.

Every LGBT person who comes out and keeps coming out is making a difference in someone else's life and in transforming our culture and our laws. In fact, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Powell said that when he voted to uphold the sodomy laws in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) he did not know any gay people. It was only afterward that he discovered his law clerk was gay. Justice Powell says his biggest regret in life was his vote in Bowers making it a 5:4 decision to uphold the sodomy laws. Had he known his clerk was gay it would not have taken until 2003 to repeal the sodomy laws.

Simple acts of coming out create a culture where people are more aware of and more supportive of LGBTIQ people.

Thanks for your question and for your dedication to equality!

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THIS needs to be encouraged. It is very effective.

We will obtain our equality when we get enough people to join us and support our full equality. Two-out-of-three people we engage in conversation will begin to understand us better and are likely to join our effort. Of course, we need to endure the one-third that are not changeable, but reaching the majority is the obtainable goal. We go from a weak minority to a powerful majority when we add to our ranks.

Neighbors, friends, co-workers, family and even strangers. It takes real courage, but it actually works.

Our equality is our responsibility.

You are absolutely right! I came out in 1971 as a student at UCSB. (At that time, being gay was against state law...) I worked with the GSU speakers' bureau and we spoke to everybody from our classmates to RN students to High Schoolers. And things did change. Not immediately, but surely and positively. Anybody born since 1980 has no idea what it was like then, and how important it was to talk with people one-on-one and make friends just by showing up... and being out!

Terry Leftgoff | May 5, 2010 3:59 AM

Thank you for traveling to UCSB and helping engage and encourage young college students. Your message is an important one.

One minor point though that I think bears correcting lest readers think UCSB and Santa Barbara are some kind of cultural outback:

While this may have been the first pride some of the students have attended or organized on campus, there have been pride celebrations at UCSB and on the campuses of the many colleges and universities in the Santa Barbara area for decades.

Santa Barbara has a rich and storied GLBT history hosting many GLBT and allied social justice organizations. The town lays claim, for example, to the first school district in California to adopt an anti-discrimination policy.

One organization, Pacific Pride Foundation (pacificpridefoundation.org), sponsors a range of youth, cultural and HIV/AIDS services. It also sponsors the annual Santa Barbara Pride Festival which will be held July 10 at Chase Palm Park opposite the beach.

Another, the GLBA Scholarship Fund (sbglba.org), has provided scholarships to local GLBT college students, many at UCSB, for over 25 years.

There is also a hard working group fighting for marriage equality, called SAME, that helped make Santa Barbara the only County in Southern California to defeat Prop 8.

UCSB even sponsors a Lavender Graduation ceremony for GLBT students every year.

All this is to say that there is indeed more diverse and textured gay life in California than in its big urban cities.

Glad you could discover one of the many coastal jewels.

Terry, thank you, I had no intention of suggesting that SB was a cultural outback. In fact, David from Pacific Pride Foundation was at the event and we had a chance to talk. I also met some of the students with SAME were there as well. However, I was told that this was their first school-sponsored pride.

I might also add, that some of the folks who spoke with me expressed frustration that many young people still think marriage equality is not an important issue. I'd like to find a way to for more connection between LGBTIQ Youth and LGBTIQ seniors to show how important the rights that come with state and federal marriage are over the lifespan.

Terry Leftgoff | May 8, 2010 12:56 AM

Thank you for the reply, Davina.

Given the campus turnover and the staggering generational loss we've suffered, there may be gaps in historical memory.

I recall attending and speaking at a number of pride events at UCSB where there has been a vibrant and active LGBT community.

Here are some fun factoids that might be of interest:

The Palm Center, a think tank which has performed groundbreaking scholarly work on gender, sexuality, and the military, is based at UCSB (http://www.palmcenter.org/). The Palm Center's Aaron Belkin and Nathaniel Frank have helped elevate the national discussion around the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT).

UCSB has a fantastic campus funded and staffed Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (http://www.sa.ucsb.edu/sgd/). It is an accomplishment of which we should all take pride.

Here is a little known factoid: Sean Hannity, the rabid Fox talk show host, has The Gays at UCSB and in Santa Barbara to thank for his broadcasting career.

Sort of a story of unintended consequences.

Years ago, Hannity somehow wound up in Santa Barbara and was able to snag a spot on the student radio station, KCSB. Hannity, who was direct from New Jersey and had a thick NJ accent, had no relationship or affiliation with UCSB and we never knew how he came to wind up in SB.

Hannity rose to local attention when, during his radio show, he went on a nasty tirade and made homophobic remarks about a campus staff member who produced a well regarded LGBT public affairs program on the same radio station. Hannity used slurs to target the lesbian producer's pregnancy.

When challenged, he ramped up the hate which offended the campus and those of us in the surrounding community.

A complaint was filed against Hannity citing UC's policies prohibiting LGBT discrimination and a hostile workplace. The local LGBT community circled in support; we mounted a rather vocal response to his homophobic attitude.

Hannity was bounced off the air when it was discovered he had no standing to have had access to a campus program of any kind. He went on to use the tapes from those radio shows to launch his conservative broadcasting career.

So Hannity has The Gays in SB to thank for his current career.