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‘Stonewall 2.0' generation rallies for gay rights

Lornet Turnbull
The Seattle Times (MCT)
Rally in Chicago, 15 November 2008 (Photo: Sarah Zupko)

‘Stonewall 2.0' generation rallies for gay rights

SEATTLE - In 1969, gays at a small New York City bar called the Stonewall Inn staged a revolt against harassment and launched the gay-rights movement of a generation. Nearly 40 years later, a nation of young people awoke to find that even as the U.S. had elected its first African-American president, voters had stripped gays of the benefit of marriage in California and pre-empted any such attempts in Florida and Arizona. And so it began - Stonewall 2.0 - a new generation's revolt of the status quo. In the last 10 days, gays and their supporters, stunned and angry over the passage of Proposition 8, have hardly left California streets, where their protests of the same-sex marriage ban have led to sometimes ugly confrontations with those they blame for their loss. Their movement is now national, with planned demonstrations Saturday expected to draw thousands in cities across the country, including Seattle. The revolt is being led not so much by graying street warriors who took on the establishment following the Stonewall riots but by young people - gay and straight - using cellphones, text messaging and Web sites like Facebook and MySpace to quickly assemble armies of foot soldiers. They came of age after many of the nation's big battles for rights had been fought and have friends of all races and sexual orientation. Many are young enough to have parents who are openly gay. "For us, Proposition 8 was a wake-up call that rights are not something we can take for granted," said Taylor Malone, a sophomore at Eastern Washington University. Twenty- and thirtysomethings, some politically active for the first time, are coming to this movement energized and inspired by Barack Obama's campaign for president. Like Malone, many handed out fliers, canvassed neighborhoods and made phone calls on Obama's behalf. "For me it was sobering, the excitement of Obama winning by such a large margin - I was so very proud - and then learning that three states had passed gay-marriage bans," Malone said. Two days after the election, University of Washington law professor Peter Nicolas, who teaches a class on gay rights and the Constitution, responded to an e-mail from a student distraught over Prop. 8's passage. "I understood his disappointment but told him that in the years since I've been teaching law . . . we've had substantial progress. "The thing is, older people are used to discrimination - not that we accept it, but we are not surprised by things like Prop. 8." For younger people, he said, discrimination is less accepted. This new movement comes five months after the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. Through Nov. 4, more than 18,000 couples - including some from Washington state - were married there. With Prop. 8's passage, gays have taken their fight back to the courts, where three lawsuits now challenge its legality. Supporters of the gay-marriage ban, meanwhile, say they are prepared to defend it court. They criticize protesters, saying while they claim to cherish tolerance, they've trampled the rights of others, including black and Hispanic voters and church groups. "No matter your opinion of Proposition 8, we should all agree that it is wrong to intimidate and harass churches, businesses and individuals for participating in the democratic process," Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage, said in a statement. In the meantime, the street protests continue, driven by people like Amy Balliett, 26, who launched an Internet site, jointheimpact.com, where people in 150 cities can sign up to join Saturday's demonstrations. Balliett, a lesbian, said she and her friends weren't getting much response from gay-rights organizations they e-mailed after Prop. 8 passed, "So I said, 'Why wait for them to get the ball rolling? Let's just do it ourselves. Let's have a national protest.'" She and others sent e-mail and text-message blasts to everyone they knew - starting a chain reaction. By Thursday, more than 2 million people had visited the site. Along with legal and legislative strategies, she said, people in the movement need to "speak to our opponents, normal, average everyday people like us." For years, longtime Seattle activists Bill Dubay and George Bakan have groused about whether a new generation of activists would pick up the torch. They are encouraged by what they see. Bakan recalls the old days, when activism involved taping notices to lamp posts and getting mailings out weeks in advance to ensure people would show up. "There's this new grass-roots movement, a new wave of energy at the basic level, where people are speaking for themselves about their rights and denial of rights," Bakan said. "It's long overdue."

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