Not just a ‘California thing’

By John Lendman

More than 5,000 protesters gathered at Federal Plaza, 50 W. Adams St., on Nov. 15 to rally against the recent passing of Proposition 8, which halted same-sex marriages in California. A diverse blend of participants-gay and straight alike-congested the Loop, representing Chicago as one of more than 200 cities in all 50 states holding local demonstrations in a simultaneous national protest.

The Chicago Gay Man’s Chorus opened the two-hour rally, as same-sex couples who married in California and leaders of Chicago’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community withstood the 37-degree weather to share testimonials.

“All over the nation right now, as we speak, our brothers and sisters are gathered in solidarity,” said Allison Leber, the event’s emcee from Join the Impact, a grassroots effort who organized the nationwide rallies following the Nov. 4 vote on Proposition 8.

“We’re here today to protect marriage from fear, from hate, from the people who have the Constitution in one hand and a Sharpie in the other,” Leber said to the crowd, describing same-sex marriage as “the civil rights issue of our time.”

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network and one of the organizers of the rally, said the protest wasn’t just an opportunity to blow off steam, but a chance to fight for equal marriage rights in Illinois, which is currently proposing the passage of a civil union bill in the statehouse.

“We can’t even get a lousy separate-but-equal civil union bill passed-that’s pathetic,” he said to the crowd of couples draped in rainbow flags and protesters holding signs that read, “Can I vote on your marriage?” and “Separation of church and hate.”

“We have to put our own Illinois politicians’ feet to the fire. This is not just a California thing; let’s make it an Illinois thing,” he said.

Speakers at the rally included Marc Loveless, coordinator for the Coalition for Justice and Respect, an organization of black lesbian and gay activists, and Sherrie Lowly, the Reverend of the United Methodist Church, 4754 N Leavitt St., who warned the crowd not to place blame on black and church-going communities.

Karin Taylor, who helped create Equal Marriage NOW, one of the largest feminist activist groups in the nation, urged the crowd to demand equal marriage rights, stating that the LGBT community needs to refuse being treated like second-class citizens while being taxed as first-class citizens.

“We will no longer have our aspirations simply tolerated,” Taylor said. “We want equality; we want civil rights.”

Sidney Stokes, president of Common Ground, a LGBT and ally organization at Columbia College, said he believes proponents of Proposition 8 are using the Bible and misinterpreting the teachings of God to fit their agendas.

“There is nothing wrong with being religious, but there is a time and a place for it. Public policy is not that place,” Stokes said. “These are the moments that define our movement, and these are the movements that test our resolve.”

Organizing more than 200 rallies across the country didn’t happen overnight for Join the Impact, however. In less than two weeks, the group ambitiously challenged armies of volunteers to organize protests in their hometowns at 12:30 p.m., Central Standard Time, on Nov. 15.

Other rallies in Illinois were held in Springfield, Normal, Carbondale, Champaign-Urbana and Peoria, according to

Corrine Mina, a Columbia alumna who originally signed Chicago up to participate in the event, said she never thought the rally would gain so much support and so many participants. The online social-network-led effort was spearheaded by her and her friends, DePaul University graduates Nik Maciejewski, who put up fliers, and Missy Lorenzen, who acted as the media contact.

Mina and her friends didn’t make the effort alone-they had the help of the Gay Liberation Network’s Thayer, who has been protesting for gay rights since the ’70s, she said.

“All three of us had absolutely no experience in organizing anything whatsoever,” Mina said. “We pretty much found contacts in the gay community, and Andy Thayer showed us the ropes.”

Mina said while handing out fliers and contacting as many people as possible on Facebook and MySpace, the trio organized large poster and banner-making parties to prepare the night before the rally. She also said the march up to North Michigan Avenue following the Federal Plaza rally was not planned, but highly demanded by a hyped-up crowd.

Nevertheless, the rally didn’t come without conflict.

Protect Marriage Illinois, a supporter of Proposition 8, came out with about 12 people counter-protesting at Federal Plaza with signs that read, “One man and one woman,” and “homosexuality is not a family value.”

Peter LaBarbera, a board member for Protect Marriage Illinois who organized the counter-protest, said he hopes to one day gain enough support to put a referendum on the Illinois ballot to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.

“This is not about hate, it’s not about bigotry; it’s about supporting the traditional definition of marriage,” LaBarbera said.

Since the march was “spontaneous and unplanned,” stopping street traffic as protesters headed east on West Adams Street and north on South Michigan Ave., Thayer said, the Chicago Police Department charged him with a violation of the city’s parade permit ordinance for “parading without a permit.” His court date, as confirmed by Chicago police officials, has been set for Feb. 4, 2009. The amount he will be fined is yet to be determined.

Evanston, Ill., resident Annette Giarrante stood among the spirited crowd before marching on North Michigan Avenue with her partner Janet Trzaska.

Giarrante said she and Trzaska were captivated by the strong momentum of the crowd and encouraged by the speakers, especially the speeches challenging the crowd to “no longer be content with tolerance” but to stand out and have a voice.

“I get the sense now that Chicago is more in solidarity with a lot of the other states that are fighting for the same rights,” Giarrante said. “It’s time for the next step, but we need everybody behind us to do it.”