Click on images to enlarge…Click on the play button in the video box to play the video, or follow this link… ABC LOCAL CHANNEL 30 NEWS COVERAGE
"I’d take him to a lake and drown him…" the man answered, turning his head away from us mid-sentence, but not without us hearing his every word. We’d asked what he might do if he had a son who was born gay. His response was only one of such replies we ended up hearing that night.
We were at the Save Mart Center, a small group of us, on Saturday, February 28th, to stand with Jay Matthew of EraseTheH8.com to stage a protest against the $2,500 donation by Steve Cleveland, coach of the FSU basketball team, to the YES ON 8 campaign, the proposition responsible for stripping thousands of Californians of the equal rights they’d been granted by the California Supreme Court in 2008.
In the world of sports, support of marriage equality is perceived to be far lower than in the general population. Given our experience that night I can assure you, that’s not just a perception.
We arrived at the Save Mart Center well before the ticket holding crowd. Cars were just starting to trickle in as we looked around for the areas we were told were available, the "Free Speech Areas", which, in fact, turned out to be "Protest Areas". These areas are adjacent to the entrances of the center, cordoned off with a band of yellow paint, meant to keep protesting voices in the designated area.
The security and door staff at the center were more than accommodating, guiding us to where we needed to be and reassuring us that if we needed anything at all or if there was any trouble, just to ask someone and they’d come to our aid.
We’d come with small handouts (see the images attached) describing Cleveland’s actions, and an explanation of how Prop 8 was used to strip Americans of their civil rights. We had large posters decrying Cleveland for what he’d done, as well as "I DO" (Support The Freedom To Marry) posters from letcaliforniaring.org, a new campaign slogan used to show support for marriage. At first, when the crowd was light, there was little activity. Staying in our designated area, we watched as people moved by, squinting to read the signs as if they were written in a foreign language. Given the brevity of the words, I found in interesting that even after they had to have finished reading, most people still looked confused, something I found to be indicative of the depth of delusion by conservative Americans. They seem to have not even tuned in to this very public and important battle for equal rights. You can feel some of what every other restricted minority must go through in America while simply trying to achieve equal rights. They look at you as if you’re aliens, as if not only do you not deserve equal rights, but as if you’re of a different species. The fact that about half of the mass that passed in front of us were uniformly dressed in red clothing only made it creepier.
As more of our group arrived and more people started pulling in for the game, we broke up into two groups to cover each side of the Center’s entrances. Jason, Felicia and I stayed on one side while Jay, Don, RJ and Jami remained posted on the other. We started engaging the ticket holders by shouting out things like "Support Marriage Equality" and "Steve Cleveland donated $2,500 to the Yes on 8 Campaign". Reaction was immediate and uniform. After Jay’s shout out about Cleveland’s donation, on more than a couple of occasions, small groups of ticket holders, swathed in red, gathered in front of us, broke into spontaneous applause, mumbling back things like "good for him" or "amen" or "I gave them money too".
So we stepped up our game.
It wasn’t hard to do. We heard things such as, "you people should be arrested", "someone should beat the crap out of you", "you’re disgusting" and "my son fought overseas for your right to stand there". Forget the fact that these parents then TOOK AWAY our civil rights by voting in favor of Prop 8, still, they want to honor their son for protecting our rights just so they could then strip us of them.
Felicia and I came up with a dual shout out, "OPTION ONE: SUPPORT MARRIAGE EQUALITY!", followed by, "OPTION TWO: BE A BIGOT LIKE STEVE CLEVELAND!" We joined in on Jay’s chant of "STEVE CLEVELAND’S HATE SHAMES FRESNO STATE".
The man who said he would drown his son in a lake was a shock, even to me. Not because he thought that way, but because he was willing to say that in front of a huge group of people in front of and behind him, all of whom did nothing and said nothing. It was like a mass of negative zombies, moving together into the safe sanctity of the sports arena.
One man came up to us quietly after we’d reorganized together at the busiest entrance, to let us know that the word HATE, on one of our signs, really wasn’t appropriate for Cleveland, because if we "knew the man" we would know that it’s not hate, that Cleveland doesn’t hate. Since I’ve had enough of this ridiculous theory, both from straight and gay Americans, I immediately responded. "Then I don’t think you or Cleveland understands the definition of the word hate". Can we all just put this tired, and completely illogical sound bite to bed now? Trust me, if you’d seen the faces and heard the words that night, you wouldn’t say this "isn’t about hate". What’s more, by promoting this insane "it’s not about hate" BS, what we do is give strength to the opposition, as if there’s some logical reason that as Americans they feel it’s patriotic to strip other Americans of equality.
Felicia, who’d come from LA to stand with us, made every attempt to remind all the ethnicities that passed before us that it wasn’t long ago when they were not granted equal rights. She pointed out the shame in the inter-racial couples who moved toward the doors, arm in arm, refusing to even take a flyer. Nothing seemed to making a dent in the denial we faced from these people. One woman who came forward to say she supported us refused to take a flyer, afraid of what it would look like if she was seen with it. She took a white knot, but then slipped it in her purse.
Since I have a fundamental problem with Christians, I started to ask anyone who made an ugly or hateful remark if they were a Christian, and without an exception, they all said they were. After a while, I didn’t need to ask. After a nasty comment I’d simply shout out, "another Christian" and they’d gently nod in agreement.
At one point, in the group passing in front of Felicia, Jason and me, was a married couple, the man towering over his wife, half his size. He started saying things against us, and with every sentence he’d say, his wife, facing forward the entire time, would use her left arm to reach over and punch him in the stomach, the hits getting progressively harder as they approached the entrance doors and her husband refused to quiet down. We asked what he would do if his son was gay and he replied, "I’d beat it out of him," at which point his wife finally turned to us, told us she wasn’t saying those horrible things and that they had a grandson who was gay. Now that’s got to be a tough marriage, for her.
I can’t say we didn’t have any supporters in masses that night. Of the thousands that moved past us I’d estimate we encountered about 20-25 who were willing to take a flyer, a white knotted ribbon, or to say they support us. One man gave us a thumbs up. Unfortunately, that number means nothing compared to numbers of Americans present.
On more than a couple of occasions we were told by those walking by that we can have unions as long as we don’t call it marriage. "Just use another word."
"Never," we shouted back. "Separate but equal is not equal. It’s equal rights or nothing."
The best moment for me was when a family of five came over, a mother, father and three children, who all accepted flyers and said they supported us, smiled and moved back into the crowd. Something like that wasn’t repeated, but it was nice, for a brief moment.
Inevitably, our chanting grew louder as the negative response started mounting. At one point a police officer pulled me aside.
"We’ve gotten several complaints from people about some of the language being used."
"Such as?" I asked.
"They said the word f**k was used, and faggot and bigot."
"Well," I admitted, "The F word slipped out of one of our mouths once but we caught ourselves and it won’t happen again."
"Okay, well you can’t be saying bigot either."
"Because there are a lot of children here."
I paused, sure he didn’t really mean what he was saying. "Bigot is not a curse word, so what’s the problem with it?"
"Because there are children here."
"But it’s not a dirty word."
"Well you can’t use it. And no faggot either."
After just being assaulted by one of the ticket holders with that word I was quick to point out the facts, "Faggot was used against us from the crowd and I simply said back that I didn’t mind the word faggot. They used that word. What if they use words against us?"
"Well, I can’t do anything about that."
And we couldn’t do anything about a ridiculous order which had no legal center, so we continued to use the word bigot.
Shortly after that, 2 or 3 security vehicles pulled up to join this man, who stood his ground a few feet away from us, along with other Save Mart security.
Shannon Handy and Channel 30 showed up to interview us and take shots of the crowd. We were in the middle of having a discussion with them when I noticed Jay had engaged a couple of women a short distance away and as I moved closer I heard that it was about Christian belief. When I heard the word god brought in I shouted from my Protest Area, "What does God have to do with this? This is about America, the constitution, not God," as well as, "This is a country, not a church". At that point her friend started shouting back at me and I shouted some more and triggered the interest of the news team.
I shuddered as Channel 30 moved in to interview the vocal Christian. Why, why do we constantly have to be countered and often upstaged by Christians who, for some reason, cannot grasp the difference between an American who can "believe" something and an American who uses those "beliefs" to legislate the restriction of equal rights on other Americans? As I listened to her say that this was all about her beliefs, rather than her vote to take away the rights of others, I let out a disappointed sigh. They simply don’t get it, yet they always end up in front of a microphone.
Fortunately I got a shot at the mike after her, and was able to make a statement countering hers.
We were all taken aback at the visceral presence of hatred and anger directed toward us that night. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if we hadn’t been in a public place, with security nearby. None of these people made any attempt to have a logical, thoughtful debate with us about the issue. Even the Christian interviewed by the news team, who believed she was standing as an American, was not. She simply couldn’t rationalize that her belief system, in America, is not to be used as justification for the anti-American act of stripping others of their equal rights.
Security didn’t approach us again, but upon leaving, as we walked to our cars, security vehicles tailed our movements.