Adovcacy Awards -2004 San Francisco Equality Awards
March 23, 2004
San Francisco Equality Awards
It's never easy to organize an evening for almost 600 people but we had to complicate things a bit more, when we responded to the tremendous honor of Equality California's invitation to accept an award and be the keynote speakers at the 2004 San Francisco Equality Awards. Due to circumstances we had to take separate flights into the States: one of us flew to California via Chicago, while the other arrived via Dallas. One of us landed in glorious sunshine, while the other touched down in the middle of the night.
While the trip there may have been disjointed, everything and everyone else seemed to be in collaboration to celebrate the tremendous advances that have been made for equal marriage in the county of San Francisco. We were warmly greeted by the staff at the Four Seasons. The Director of Catering sent an arrangement of fresh fruit (which was refreshed each day) to our complimentary room with a card saying "We are delighted to have you with us this weekend for such a prestigious event."
Outside the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny. So after a night's rest, together again, we spent the morning and afternoon before the awards dinner walking around this beautiful city. Same-sex marriage had come to dominate the news through-out the country, and in particular, in San Francisco where Mayor Gavin Newsom launched a new wave of civil rights by respecting the constitutional right of marriage for over 4,000 same-sex couples from 48 states. On almost every corner in the city we found our new friends, Molly MacKay and Davina Kotulski, on the cover of the Guardian, displayed in the window of the newspaper boxes.
It was the first day of spring, with the streets full of people, and our hearts full of delight as we sampled a few of the San Francisco's famous views. It was the perfect preparation for getting in the right frame of mind for our speech later that evening. We hoped to inspire a crowd that had a lot already to be excited about.
The Awards Dinner
The theme of the evening was "Equal Love. Equal Rights." Founded in 1998, the event's program said, "Equality California (EQCA) is the state's largest LGBT civil rights organization. EQCA leads efforts for LGBT civil rights at the state level through an array of strategies including sponsoring bills, lobbying legislators, building coalitions and empowering other organizations and individuals to engage in the legislative process."
We arrived in time for a VIP reception, preceding the awards dinner, for the Honorable Gavin Newsom, 42nd Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, and recipient of EQCA's 2004 Political Courage Award.
"It's been well reported that the Mayor was, probably an understatement to say, somewhat offended by the President's comments when he was in Washington, D.C. with our minority leader," Assemblyman (13th district) Mark Leno said during his introduction of Mayor Gain. "He [the President] thought, in a desperate need to protect the sanctity of marriage, that we may have to look at amending the United States Constitution to codify discrimination for the first time ever in history. But what's less reported is that Mayor Newsom knew quite well that on February 12 there would be hundreds of couples coming to San Francisco city hall to request marriage licenses, as they had been doing for the past five or six years. It was his decision to turn them away, as they've been turned away every year, or to really put into action the disgust and passion that he felt in reaction to the President's words. The rest is history. It was an astounding decision."
Mayor Gavin Newsom - Political Courage Award
The charismatic, married, Irish, Catholic Mayor received an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd as he addressed the standing room only crowd of pre-dinner guests.
"There are easy decisions, and then there are the easiest decisions like the one we made in February, and that is, do the right thing. It's not a hard thing to determine what to do ... we just did what we thought was right, and what I think each and every one of you know is right, and what I believe the majority of Americans, in their hearts, know is right. I hate to pull out Plato, but he said if there is any hope for the future, those with lanterns will pass them on to others."
"I'm just a conduit to all of you, I'm just proud that we were able to advance the cause of non-discrimination, I'm proud that we were able to stand up on principle, I'm proud that we were able to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the state of California. Those politicians still out there should be reminded of that oath of office that they took. The same oath that we all take: to bear true faith and allegiance [to the Constitution], and the President of the United States knows this, that's why he wants to amend the Constitution, and nowhere in the Constitution does it allow us to discriminate. It is wrong. It is simply wrong ... eventually, ultimately, we're going to prevail."
Mayor Ron Oden - Political Leadership Award
At dinner we had the pleasure of sitting beside the first openly gay African American Mayor in the United States. California's Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden was a dynamic speaker whose roots as a Baptist minister showed in his oration.
"As a child I spent my summers with my grandparents on my grandfather's farm in Alabama," Mayor Oden said during his speech." I can remember one evening; all of us were seated at the table. We didn't have indoor plumbing or electricity and we had kerosene lamps on the table. My grandfather was a hunter, but he only hunted in the morning. But on this particular evening as we were having dinner, he got up from the table and when he cam back, he had his rifle. He said, 'Everyone get under the table.'
"I got under the table but I kept saying, 'what's going on, what's going on?'
"My cousin leaned over and said, 'Shhhhhh! It's the Ku Klux! It's the Ku Klux!"
"So here I am, five years old, on a farm, and the only thing I know that goes 'cluck' is a chicken. In my five year old mind, I see the curse of the fifty-foot chicken outside, and I imagine my grandfather getting ready to kill this huge chicken. But that was my first realization that there were people in this country who didn't like me, or who wanted to hurt me, or who wanted to limit my freedom over something that I had no control over. It was my first welcome to America.
"As I grew up fighting for civil rights and liberties for people ... I might have given up. But I discovered a lot of things along the way, through a failed marriage, but I have two wonderful children and a beautiful granddaughter, that our community is very diverse. Somehow we have the feeling that if you are gay, there's this gay experience, and everyone has this same experience if you are gay. It ain't so! We talk about celebrating diversity as if it is something outside our community. But it is very much within our community as well. Long before someone may ever know my sexual orientation they know that I am an African American male. I think that it's important that when we talk about equality ... it's important to understand that we are dealing with a lot of discrimination within this room.
"It's time for us to conduct our own inventory. When we conduct our own inventory, I believe that the group that will emerge will be a part of the moral conscience of this country. What a legacy we have. What an opportunity we have to speak to the moral conscience of this country. While there are those who will say a lot of things about us because of our sexual orientation, they will try to tell us that we are bereft of any spirituality, but we know better! It is important for us not to allow the outside to define us, but for us to take this opportunity to define ourselves, our goals, and our futures."
Kate Kendell - Del Martin/Phyllis Lyon Marriage Equality Award
Next to be honored was Kate Kendell, Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
"This is an historic moment, and for me to be part of it is something that I am so grateful for, and I am honored to receive this award from Equality California. But the thing I know for sure is that it would not be possible for me to be here without the love of my life, heart and soul. The fact that she has been in love with me for 11 years is proof to me that anything is possible. With or without government approval, she is the love of my life, Sandy Holmes.
"The other thing that I know for sure is that this award is so not about me. This award is about the legions of brilliant, genius attorneys ... this moment is possible because you have made it a priority to support vital organizations that now have the muscular presence in this movement to make a huge difference: the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and finally in California a state-wide political organization ... Equality California. That is why we are in this room.
"We are in this historic moment, because each of you ... and millions of more of us, refuse to live unauthentic lives ... I know we are not done, because even with the amazing changes that you see, and with my Mormon girl gone bad, I have true belief that justice will win out. We cannot be passive spectators to our own liberation. We must hold accountable our friends, and we must send packing the enemies of injustice ... it is our engagement, it is our commitment, and it is our unstinting belief that what we're doing is right, and who we are is true. We will not accept anything less, and we will not stop until full justice and equality exists, not just for us, but for all who are marginalized."
Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell - Creating History Award
As the evening's final speakers, we felt an obligation to leave the assembled crowd with a sense of renewed resolve. The weeks and months ahead, we know, will hold many battles that will play out on the national stage and we hoped to recall for the crowd the proud history of civil rights and advocacy that is their heritage.
We began by relating the basics of our story and indicating what our journey had taught us about ourselves and our families. How the union of two families is an essential element of marriage - an element that is discarded when governments try and relegate our relationships to the 'special' status of a separate but unequal union.
Then we explained the connections between the decisions of the Ontario courts and the great civil rights cases of the United States, the crowd growing more enthusiastic as they recalled the judgments of Loving v. Virginia and Brown v. Board of Education. And with this sense of their own history ringing in their ears, we reminded them of what they have been taking on:
"You are making history in California. You are at the vanguard of changing the world for all who come after you and the magnitude of your courage will be measured in the smiles of all the children who will grow up knowing it is possible to say to anyone - will you marry me."
The enthusiastic final round of applause as the crowd rose to its feet left us feeling that we had accomplished our goal.
Feeling renewed, we woke early the next morning (our bodies still on eastern time) and visited the San Francisco Metropolitan Community Church where we worshiped with the congregation and visited with Rev. Paul Fairley, formerly of MCC Toronto.
We had one last walking tour of the city before it was time to return to our hotel to prepare for an early flight home the following day, together this time, grateful for the Equality California experience, our wonderful new friends.
Our thanks to the board of directors and members of Equality California; Timothy Cavanaugh; Julian Chang; Leslie Katz; Mark Leno; Molly MacKay and Davina Kotulski; William Wilson; The Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco; American Airlines.