Demonstration organizer calls for world-wide GLBT “coming out.”
By Anders deMarcus
Jacob Whipple, 29, never saw himself as front runner in the GLBT civil rights movement. In fact he never really even considered such a thing to exist. But this week, after the disheartening passage of California’s Proposition 8 that would ratify the state’s constitution to exclude same-sex marriage, Whipple found himself taking the wheel of the struggling movement.
Whipple and his partner, Drew Cloud, intended to marry in California in spring 2009. While they watched the results roll out on television he and his partner saw their soon-to-be-legal marriage being peeled from their grasp and there was nothing that they could do about. Then Whipple saw the reactionary “No on 8” demonstrations taking place in front of the Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood. For two days he watched as angry, heartbroken, and disillusioned Californian GLBT supporters shared their outrage to the LDS Church’s participation in the coalition that bank rolled the “Yes on Prop 8” movement. He watched the heated confrontations in Los Angeles and the solemn gathering in San Francisco and finally realized that he couldn’t sit any longer. He had to stand up and show his solidarity with those in California.
And so the phone calls, text messages, Facebook™ posts, and countless other means of communication began flying across the digital airspace and a hum of activity began to bustle about in Salt Lake City, Utah, international headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“We are at the heart of a culture that put millions [of dollars] into to [passing proposition 8],” Whipple told me, “and if no one else is going to get something happening, I will.”
This began a new grass-roots movement in what so many outsiders label a conservative strong hold. The local Utah Pride Center and the AIDS coalition were notified, word began to spread to the college campuses and the media that something big was going to happen in Salt Lake City. People who had never before taken any role in, what Whipple calls, “the new civil rights movement,” were actively recruiting their friends, neighbors and co-workers to come to the protest. But Whipple needed to make one thing clear, “this is not a protest, that has a negative [connotation]. This is a rally…To show that we are hurt and offended by the [LDS] Church’s, as well other coalition members’ involvement in passing [this] proposition. This rally is a springboard for a gay civil rights movement. There is a lot of energy in the gay community. My hope is to harness that energy and that that will spring [us] into a fully fledged civil rights movement.”
Along with the help of close friends and others they got out the message that this rally was to be a peaceful demonstration. Many expressed sentiments of concern that echoes these words of an anonymous participant, “if we arrive without one clear message it will be to our detriment and not to our benefit… If we are to succeed we all need to have one message of unity. The demonstrations must be peaceful and without confrontation.” Whipple and his colleagues were on the right path. Well before the demonstration began in Salt Lake City the leaders of the “No on 8” campaign issued this analogous statement:
“This has been an incredibly difficult week for Californians who are disappointed in the passage of Proposition 8, which takes away the right to marry for same-sex couples in our state. We feel a profound sense of disappointment in this defeat, but know that in order to move forward we must continue to stand together as one community in order to secure full equality in California.
“In working to defeat Prop 8, a profound coalition banded together to fight for equality. Faith leaders, labor, teachers, civil rights leaders and communities of color, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, public officials, local school boards and city councils, parents, corporate law firms and bar associations, businesses, and people from all walks of life joined together to stand up against discrimination. We must build on this coalition in order to achieve equal rights for all Californians.
“We achieve nothing if we isolate the people who did not stand with us in this fight. We only further divide our state if we attempt to blame people of faith, African American voters, rural communities and others for this loss. We know people of all faiths, races and backgrounds stand with us in our fight to end discrimination, and will continue to do so. Now more than ever it is critical that we work together and respect our differences that make us a diverse and unique society. Only with that understanding will we achieve justice and equality for all.
“Dr. Delores A. Jacobs CEOCenter Advocacy Project, Lorri L. Jean CEO L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Kate Kendell Executive Director National Center for Lesbian Rights, Geoff Kors Executive Director Equality California. “
Whipple and those that supported his nearly spontaneous demonstration have struck a chord that appears to be the tune of the “new” gay rights initiative. Peaceful, civil and united demonstrations in the tradition of great reformers like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi may be the cohesive trend of this up and coming GLBT Civil Rights Movement. And the message spread like the seeds of the Utah native Cottonwood carried by the winds of hope and determination.
As six o’clock rolled around the local news stations began their evening broadcast. Some shed their shadows of doubt that more than a handful of demonstrators would even show given the late fall temperatures, a frigid 40 degrees (4°C), not to mention their lack of confidence in the influential power of one young, unknown Jacob Whipple. The newscasters, in order to appeal to all audiences in Salt Lake City also shared the recent release from the LDS Church:
“It is disturbing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being singled out
for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election.
“Members of the Church in California and millions of others from every faith, ethnicity and political affiliation who voted for Proposition 8 exercised the most sacrosanct and individual rights in the United States — that of free expression and voting.
“While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process.
“Once again, we call on those involved in the debate over same-sex marriage to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility towards each other. No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information.”
Again this mention of “respect and civility” but this time the gay community in Salt Lake City had set the precedent. This time, the bar had been raised by an un-suspecting young man and a community finally ready to join hands and make a difference.
Security around LDS Temple Square, the spiritual center of American faith, was tight. There was a significant police presence as the supporters arrived with their signs in hand and heads held high. It was clear that the Church feared a potentially violent out lash. More and more people showed and continued to show. What had started out as just a few dozen frustrated Utahans, by seven thirty in the evening turned into two thousand plus, united and very active allies of the GLBT movement. This was something that Salt Lake City and even more so that the world had not seen from this community.
Gone were the violent days of Stonewall. No more were the hateful words of degradation and hurtful words to be shouted from the mouths of the “alternative lifestyle crowd.” This was something amazing. This was something worth putting in the history books.
Now the newscasters and everyone throughout Utah had something to talk about. There were somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 peaceful demonstrators walking around Temple Square. The crowd was made up of gay and straight supporters, members and non-members of the LDS faith, men, women and children, students, professionals, doctors, nurses, lawyers, artists, mechanics, professors, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, several members of the local GLBT media and city, county and state representatives. This was no small feat. The roads had been cut off and traffic stopped. There were but a few heated confrontations. There were no fist fights. There were no violent exchanges between opposing parties. There was not a single soul taken away by riot-gear clad police. It was almost passive, yet this patient group spoke words so loud that their voices should be heard across the entire country if not the world. THIS IS THE NEW CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT!
“My name is Christine Johnson, and I am a lesbian,” said one Utah state representative as she spoke to the hopeful crowd. She continued by saying “we protest with respect and civility because we appreciate freedom of religion. And we appreciate freedom of speech.”
The message is clear. There is to be a new definition in the GLBT community throughout all cultures and nationalities. The message is one of respect and tolerance. As a group often discriminated against in legal and private settings around the world the GLBT community must be a flawless representation of acceptance and understanding. Even in the hardest moments when those of another mindset choose to defend their beliefs with hateful words and deeds, the organizers of this event ask that the gay community responds with more love.
When asked what his plans for the future were, Whipple stated that there are numerous ideas on the table and that, “this is not the end.” He continued by saying that, “the GLBT community holds a responsibility that is theirs individually and collectively. The unknown generates fear. If society doesn’t know who we are they can’t recognize that we are normal people. [If we remain unknown, society] can’t accept us for who we are.” Whipple went on to profess that each individual that strives for rights in whatever society has the burden to make himself or herself known.
The idea of a world-wide coming out is a scary thought for some. But others feel Whipple’s idea is the only answer. It seems as if the only image that most of society as of the GLBT community might be the local priest convicted of molesting young boys. Or the pride parade they saw on TV or in movies. They may see the gay community as forever perpetuators of the “Will and Grace” stereotypes. Some outsiders might fear that the gay community consists only of druggie youths addicted to porn and strange sex. That, in Whipple’s opinion, is not who we are.
So, it is that a new day has dawned on the gay community. It is being asked that like the Rosa Parks before them, that the gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals of the world take their seat at the front of the bus. The community can no longer play hide-and-seek with its rights. It’s time to, “come out, come out, wherever you are!” Recognition by those that you love, that you are a valid member of society is the only way that each and every member of this great community can ever achieve true equality. Whipple believes that equality consists of equal marriage rights, adoptions rights, fostering rights, military service, and anti-discrimination amendments to include the GLBT community. Jacob Whipple added, “We are not rioters, we are not terrorists, we are not pedophiles. [But] how can we fight for rights if we can’t stand up for ourselves and make ourselves known?”
Those in great days of the Suffrage movement were clearly women. They could not hide their place in society. And they gained their rights by speaking out. The same was true of the African-American Civil Rights movement. They bore with them their difference every day. While some in the Gay community may be clearly gay there are many many more that hide their “secret” very well. Not until each person is validated by those that they love, that they work with and that they live with, will their presence be made known.