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A Federal Office of LGBT Health can no longer wait

Posted by willow On November - 19 - 2009
On the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we cannot help but be moved by the impact of discrimination on our communities,  11 gender non-conforming individuals killed in US alone this past year. It is imperative to speak up to eliminate discrimination; discussing the devastating effects of discrimination and violence on both the individual and their community. A component of discrimination that should not be overlooked is its link to health.
No one should be afraid to come out to their doctor. Our health professionals should have access to information on how discrimination affects our health and what they can do to make it better. Too little attention has been paid to our health needs for too long. With the current focus on federal health reform we can no longer wait to close the gaps in our health needs.

Over the past two decades, limited research has established the trend that LGBTs are a health disparate population with increased health risks and access to care barriers, producing a broad pattern of disparities in many health areas. People in our community are more likely to delay routine medical care due to past negative experiences with providers, which puts the population at-risk for higher rates of preventing chronic conditions such as cancer.  Because of the social stressors LGBTs endure like homophobia and isolation, we have higher rates of substance abuse, mental health problems and stress-related disorders.

Unfortunately, lack of data collection and only sporadic inclusion in policy, research, and intervention programs has hindered the efforts to address and ultimately reduce these disparities. With the change of administration, it is time for us to unite as activists, health professionals, and LGBT advocates in the struggle for health equality.

Please support us by signing our petition (click here) urging the federal government to create an Office of LGBT Health.

Equal health is a part of equal rights and as we fight for full federal equality we need our government to understand that our health needs cannot wait.

We cannot be an invisible population anymore. This is a time of health reform, the leaders must hear our cry loud and clear: WE ARE A PRIORITY!

Equality Can’t Afford to Take a Vacation!

Posted by willow On August - 7 - 2009

Willow Witte, who authored this post, co-founded Join The Impact with Amy Balliett last November. She currently serves as JTI’s Executive Director and has since moved to Washington, DC. Email her at or find her on twitter @wonderwillow.

For months many of us have been contacting our Senators and Representatives in Washington, DC urging them to support key pieces of legislation. While phone calls, emails, petitions and letters have been imperative to our efforts to get positive legislation passed, they are relayed to our legislators, through their staff, as numbers for or against an issue. We must continue these contacts, but they do not tell out stories.

August presents an unique opportunity. In August all of our Senators and Representatives will be at home, in their districts, giving us just the opportunity we need to gain their full support and send them back to the House and Senate Floor armed to fight on our behalf- and know what they are voting against if they choose not to support us.

The most effective tool we have is our stories. Discussing how discrimination affects us and our loved ones every day is most effective, and most powerful, in person.

Join The Impact and Equality Across America are joining together for an August campaign called Change Comes Home. The campaign is focused on encouraging grassroots story telling in the offices of our legislators because they are the ones who will design and VOTE on the bills we need for full equality.
It’s a simple campaign in which you need to:

1.    Schedule in-district visits with your Representatives

2.    Meet with the other folks you’re working with ahead of time to prep for your meeting

3.    Have a one-on-one talk with your legislators on the day you’ve scheduled

If you’ve never met with your legislators before, don’t worry! It just takes passion for civil rights and a willingness to speak up for them. We’re providing an informational toolkit found here including a sample letter to send to request your visit, resources on ENDA, DADT, DOMA and other guidelines & information to help make your visit as successful as possible.

Get your toolkit now to get started by clicking here!

Don’t lose this chance to have your voice heard in Congress. You have the power to make change.

Let’s show our legislators that when we say “full federal equality for the entire LGBTQI community in all matters governed by civil law- Now!” We mean it!

Schedule your visits TODAY!

What is Equality Across America?
Have you heard of the National Equality March happening in DC in October? Many people that have organized previously with Join The Impact have already begun organizing to get their district represented at the march. Equality Across America is a network of decentralized organizers growing out of the march to continue the work for full equality in all 435 Congressional districts- as a unified movement. Learn more at

The Great Nationwide Kiss-In

Posted by willow On July - 22 - 2009

David Mailloux is an event coordinator with the Massachusetts chapter of Join the Impact. He is also the national press contact and national volunteer coordinator for the Great Nationwide Kiss-In, and will be planning the Boston Kiss-In event alongside JTI-MA co-chairs Paul Souand Morgan Collado. This is his first national event, so please be gentle. You can reach him at

When I first heard of the incident in El Paso, where two gay men and their friends were harassed by security guards and police officers for kissing in public, I thought it was a fluke. Then, only a couple of days later, I learned that a similar incident occurred in Salt Lake City – one man kisses his boyfriend on the cheek and, within minutes, they find themselves thrown on the pavement and handcuffed by Mormon Church security guards. A few months earlier, a woman kissed her girlfriend in a San Antonio mall, and essentially the same thing happens – except they were arrested!
They were kissing! On the cheek! It’s so innocent, so pure, probably the purest sign of affection there is, but these men and women were harassed, detained, even arrested for it. And this is 2009, folks. There is no question that this happened because they were gay. That’s the bottom line, and it’s not right.
A friend, and fellow blogger, David Badash published a blog about this (you can read that blog here) a couple of weeks ago. As soon as I read it, I realized that he and I had to band together on this one. We both started talking about it to friends and acquaintances on Twitter. How can such a beautiful expression of one’s love for another person be deemed inappropriate, or labeled “faggot stuff” and result in arrests? We wanted to find others who wanted to make a strong statement to everyone everywhere: that kissing is not a bad thing, nor has it ever been. It’s not illegal, nor is it vulgar or inappropriate. It’s a sign of affection that is as old as time itself. And it’s a beautiful thing that we share with our loved ones every single day. And if there is anything that this country needs more of, it’s definitely love – love and affection and kindness. Most of all, though, it’s love.
As a result of all the blogging, networking and rage, David Badash and I are joining forces with Join The Impact’s Co-Founder, Willow Witte, to organize the Great Nationwide Kiss-In, on Saturday, August 15, 2009, at 2 p.m., EDT (or 11 a.m., PDT). In the coming weeks, we hope it evolves into a simultaneous occasion of kissing and hugging between thousands of couples, gay and straight, in cities and towns all over the country. This will be a fun and lighthearted event, but one with an extraordinarily strong message as well: we are human, capable of a beautiful normal love like everyone else in the world. We won’t keep being excluded. There is nothing wrong with us.
Please consider joining us on August 15, both to have fun and to send out that extraordinary message to folks all over the country. If you want to host/organize an event similar to what is already being planned in Boston, New York and several other cities, please e-mail us at as soon as possible; we will send you written guidance on how to plan your event. Again, it’s going to be really simple to put together, but we need people from as many different cities as possible to help us. In advance, thank you!

Bar in Texas Raided On 40 yr Anniversary of Stonewall

Posted by willow On July - 3 - 2009

This blog was written by Eric Ross, a Join the Impact organizer in the East Bay of California. He is also the founder of Students for Equality, an organization dedicated to getting high school and college students more involved in LGBTQ Activism. He can be found on facebook and twitter as @LGBT_Activist

In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 29, 2009, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) was accompanied by officers from the Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) to conduct what they called a routine check at a gay bar called the Rainbow Lounge. A total of three bars were inspected that night (the other bars were the Rosedale Saloon and the Cowboy Palace); however the “routine inspection” at the Rainbow Lounge resulted in one person (26 year old Chad Gibson) being hospitalized with a head injury, and witnesses at have been claiming that excessive force was used with many customers at the bar.  Witnesses are saying that even though 7 people were arrested, many more were dragged out of the bar. People are actually calling the event a “Police Raid”. What makes the story even more interesting is that the incident just happened to fall on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall. Is this a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

Stories have been popping up all over the internet claiming that police came armed with zip ties and were overly aggressive to the people in the bar (you can find links to some of the stories toward the bottom of this article).  An early statement by the police said that they encountered hostile and argumentative drunks that made “sexually explicit movements” and even “assaulted a TABC agent by grabbing the agent’s groin.” Witnesses claim that these allegations are false and the police harassed people for no reason. Regardless of whether or not the above allegations are true, a man was still admitted to the hospital with a brain injury and there is no excuse or justification for that.

People are outraged with the FWPD, but the interesting thing is that Fort Worth was one of the first cities in Texas to pass a non-discrimination ordinance including LGBT people. The State of Texas does not currently have a non-discrimination ordinance that includes LGBT people, and the TABC (a state organization) are the ones that arrested Chad Gibson. Another interesting thing is that Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead has become proactive by saying he’ll add LGBT liaison and sensitivity training. So far the TABC has not stepped up to offer improvements in their organization. Is it needed? What really happened at the Rainbow Lounge? A thorough investigation is needed to find out exactly what happened, and who is responsible for the hospitalization of Gibson.

Here are some things that you can do to help out:

1.    A facebook group has been created and is called “Rainbow Lounge Raid”. It mentions that an account has been set up at Frost Bank to benefit Gibson and people can make donations to Q Cinema for the benefit of Chad Gibson (the donation is through Q Cinema in order to be tax deductible). The account number is 608439230. Make checks out to “Q Cinema FBO Chad Gibson. It also mentions that the ability to make online donations will be coming soon.
2.    You can also send emails to Fort Worth councilmembers to demand a full and independent investigation into the appalling raid on the Rainbow Lounge. The key word here is “Independent” to ensure the investigation is not biased. So far, only Joel Burns and two of his colleagues have called for a swift, thorough, open and transparent investigation.

•    Councilmember W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman

•    Councilmember Danny Scarth

•    Councilmember Frank Moss

•    Councilmember Jungus Jordan

•    Councilmember Carter Burdette

•    Mayor Mike Moncrief

3.    Call and send emails to thank the people who have supported a thorough investigation:

•    Councilmember Joel Burns

•    Senator Wendy Davis
(817) 332-3338

•    House Representative Lon Burnam
(817) 924-1997

4.    Upcoming events for people in or near Fort Worth, TX:
•    7/03/09 – 9 p.m. Benefit Show for Chad Gibson, Rainbow Lounge
•    7/14/09 – 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 14: Fort Worth City Council Meeting, Fort Worth Municipal Building
1000 Throckmorton St.

This blog was written by Eric Ross who is a Join the Impact organizer in the East Bay of California.
Follow him on:
Facebook –
Twitter – @LGBT_Activist

Here are some articles regarding the Rainbow Lounge Incident:

Star Telegram –

The Dallas Morning News –

The Dallas Voice –

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s Statement –

The Caucus Blog –

The Stranger (SLOG) –

at home in a crowd of thousands

Posted by willow On June - 8 - 2009

The following post was originally published on on May 19, 2009.  It is republished here with the permission of the author, Tony Clements. Tony Clements is a sometimes actor, director, composer, playwright, t-shirt salesperson, former telemarketer (he’s sorry), piano salesman, newspaper ad man, wedding band singer, and kimball organ demonstrator in the local shopping mall (at eight years old.) 28 years ago he was editor of the emerald echo, his school newspaper – experience he’s sure is evident here.

last sunday afternoon, as i stood among the thousands of people corralled into the closed-down southbound lane of 6th avenue between 45th and 47th at new york city’s rally for marriage equality, i glanced around and realized i was experiencing an emotion i hadn’t felt so strongly since i first walked into a gay bar back in the early 1980s. and i’m not talking about an overwhelming sense that my hairstyle is five years out of date.

that first gay bar was actually in san francisco, california. cliché? maybe. but for a small town wisconsin boy, fresh out of high school, that was going some. my good friend kevin and i had finally taken that long-planned trip to california – (was it late 1979?) – something we’d been dreaming about for years. like millions of other kids, we’d told ourselves we would drive across the country in a beat-up volkswagen van, making pit stops along the way to camp-out. as with most “drive a van to california” schemes, reality eventually set in (where were we gonna get camping gear, much less a beat-up volkswagen van?) and we opted to fly.
we stayed with a friend

who’d moved to the west coast from southeastern wisconsin the day after his high school graduation, a couple of years prior. after a long day of travel and a quick dinner, we dropped our bags and our california buddy, eager to show us the town, looked us in the eye and said,“now: do you really want to see san francisco?”

somewhere deep down i knew what he meant. i’m not sure kevin did.

we walked a couple of blocks to a corner bar – nothing special. far from seedy, but certainly not fancy. neighborhoody, like the kind of place my dad hung out after a ballgame. (go ahead, make that leap.) fifteen or so minutes and a beer and a half later, kevin leaned in to me and whispered, “shit tony, i don’t think there are any girls in here.” and he was right. scanning the bar, we sort of giggled to ourselves, finished our beers, and moved on to “safer environs.” kevin was uncomfortable. i pretended to be.
before we left the bar, however, i’d taken notice of a late 20-something year-old man playing a game of pool. by himself. he was dressed modestly – worn-out blue jeans, work boots, a brown hooded sweatshirt – and had an intense, but warm, open face. no one spoke to him, no one approached him, yet he was anything but alone. there was a solace, a confidence. i caught his eye at one point, and something subtle passed between us. nothing sexual, but awelcome, if you will. as if he knew something i didn’t, and was telling me everything was going to be okay. at the time i wasn’t sure what it was, but i remember it vividly to this day.

after his pool game he perched in a corner, still by himself, and pulled out a small, silver harmonica. a harmonica. what a fantastical place this san francisco is, i thought. no one seemed to care or even notice when he began to play. the tune was sweet and simple, but it was a bluesy, haunted sound that filled the echoy openness of that quiet barroom, interrupted only by the muffled whistles and dings of a lone pinball machine in a back room somewhere. and eventually the jukebox playing the stones’ “miss you”.
it wasn’t the absence of straight folk that i found intriguing about that neighborhood bar, or even the mysterious harmonica player in the corner. it was the stunning sense of freedom. of being at home. it’s not something you feel as a gay person growing up in a small, rural town. it’s not something you know enough to miss, either. without realizing it, you carry with you a sense of staying hidden, keeping quiet, no matter who you’re with or where you are. you must never let your guard down, not for a moment, for fear of not only the shame it could cause your family, your friends, you, but of the physical harm that might follow. even in this bar, thousands of miles from home, that new taste of freedom – palpable as it was – wasn’t quite complete because my friend kevin was always present. i couldn’t completely embrace it, savor it. as much as i loved kevin and was enjoying our trip together, i longed desperately for him to leave for a hour or two so i could be completely unencumbered by any fear of judgement or ridicule. not so anything could happen, just so i could…be.

sunday, at the rally, i looked around and took in some of the people near me – three couples in particular. two older men, probably mid-70’s, standing side by side, one gently rubbing the other’s neck. every so often they would share a look that i don’t ever remember seeing between my parents.

behind me were two women standing one in front of the other in an easy, casual embrace. now and again the woman behind would rub her nose in the other woman’s hair, and they would both smile a gentle, peaceful smile.

the third couple was my partner rob and me. look at us, i thought. we are so stronghappy. together. a team.

and then there was a young man, 17 maybe, standing with friends. he glanced at me, our eyes met briefly, and i smiled. he did too. everything’s gonna be okay, i said.

i had to force myself to think, for a moment, about how uncomfortable this scene might make some people feel. to me, we were all beautiful human beings, loving each other, supporting each other, caring for each other. the mystery, the solace, the confidence. it was all quite wonderful.

kevin would still probably be uncomfortable, i thought to myself. thank god i don’t need to pretend to be anymore. we don’t need to pretend.

we are at home.
we are free

Dr. George Tillers death: A violent reminder.

Posted by willow On June - 2 - 2009

Yesterday, Dr. George Tiller was shot down and killed at his church in Kansas.  George Tiller had been scrutinized for his practice in later term abortions, and has been under the fire of many Pro-Life groups across the country for decades.  His clinic, like many similar ones across the country, was subject to vandalizing and protests.   However, he continued his practice because of the beliefs and freedoms he advocated, despite the daily and bitter backlash he received.  He was an active member of his church, and their statement regarding his death can be found here.  A suspect has been taken into custody, and the investigation has begun.

While this is abhorrent and extreme, it is a reality that exists all across the country.  Just like LGBTQ people face discrimination and violence because of their lifestyle, people like Dr. Tiller are slain purely because of personal beliefs.  Dr. Tiller believed in a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, and he lost his life for it.

A startling article in the Huffington Post mentions the trends of terrorism against the people working in abortion practices under different presidential administrations.  It poses the question of what could happen in the remainder of the Obama Administration as conservative extremists become angrier with the liberal direction the country is headed.  Read it here.

Pro-life and pro-choice Americans are mourning this act of terrorism, and events have been planned across the country to come together to recognize this injustice.  Click here to see a list of these events, and it will be updated as more come along.

Yesterday’s murder is a shocking reminder of what people can justify with their beliefs.  It can happen at any angle, and our community needs to be poised to handle that.  Our community also needs to pledge complete non-violence in every aspect of our activism.

Americans need to pledge non-violence in every aspect of our lives.  What has violence given us?  Heartbreak and social distress.  It has deteriorated our country in ways that may not be reparable.  It’s in our media, in our homes, and it’s on our streets.  It’s in our dreams.  Regardless of whether or not our country is in a state of rapid transformation, and opinions are more passionate than ever – we all hold one thing in common.

Violence will only hurt us.

Nik, the author of this post, is an organizer for Join the Impact Chicago, which has been holding events, forums and rallies since the group’s creation after the November 15th protest against Proposition 8.  Visit their website to sign up for their mailing list and stay tuned in on their upcoming actions!

In the movement for LGBTQ rights, specifically that of legal recognition of same sex relationships, activists and others place heavy emphasis on “marriage” being the only possible title to achieve full equality.  Equality can’t exist until LGBTQ and straight people alike fill out the exact same form for the legal binding of two people.  However, how do we handle the gray area of actually attaining equality?  For states that are working for legislation through the house and senate rather than by winning a lawsuit, civil unions may be the bill that gets the opportunity to become a reality first.  This is the case with the current battle for civil unions in Illinois.  To some, this is a half defeat.  To me, it’s a path to marriage equality that could potentially revolutionize the way every American chooses to define their relationships.

The Illinois House is voting today on HB 2234, “The Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act,” which will hopefully move onto the Senate. Organizations that avidly believe in marriage equality have jumped behind the bill, despite the fact that activists across the state will have to start the whole process over again once Equal Marriage legislation begins to go anywhere in Illinois.   Although equality will not be won in a single stride, civil unions would be stepping forward in a direction that provides options for queer and straight couples that have nothing to do with marriage.  Many senior citizen couples choose to not marry because their social security benefits would be slashed.  Civil unions are not federally recognized and avoids this cutback in much needed income.  Couples who simply do not identify their relationship as the modern social conception of marriage have the option to make their union what they desire.  In a community that is massively based on how one identifies, we need to look more into how our relationships with one another can identify as well.  For centuries, American’s have had one choice in defining their relationship.  Is marriage the only battle we have to win, or will we choose equality but also choose freedom to choose?  Will you want your relationship to be bound by an institution that was founded off of beliefs that may directly go against your lifestyle?  Personally, I may prefer the secular but equal union, even it is separate.  This preference does not take away my passion for true marriage equality, as I believe it is a necessary step to change the collective consciousness of Americans and their comfort level with same sex relationships.

Aside from the fact that civil unions, if allowed, could re-define the way all Americans identify their
relationships with the government, it could serve as a stepping stone for states who deal with a more powerful opposition.  Will it be easier to sway opinions of those who were against marriage equality once they see that the sky has in fact remained intact?  Once the “movable middle” can see that their children are not coming home gay, will it be an easier victory?  There is disagreement among this question, but I feel if done correctly and with the right organization, civil unions can in fact be a catalyst for marriage equality.

Right now the “movable middle” seems very confused.  In the eyes of many, states are passing marriage
equality out of nowhere.  The opposition is growing more visible and exponentially more angry. Organizations working to preserve the “sanctity” of marriage by blasting campaigns based off lies and propaganda (i.e., National Organization for Marriage) are instilling fear in the communities in which we need to be talking the most.  As we know from American history, fear is hard to ease.  Even with the surge of victories in the marriage movement, some states can barely see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for some its still pitch black.  Civil unions may be the lantern that lights the path to equality, and will allow basic, state given rights and protections along the way.  Afterwards, they can remain and be an option for any American who is looking for an alternative to marriage but still want their relationship legally recognized.  How this in fact will happen is still undetermined, but its an issue that will only gain more attention if other states begin the battle that is happening in Illinois.

The queer community has come miles in the past half-century, and are making gains at light speed with the insurgence of pro-LGBTQ activism since the passing of Proposition 8.  Instead of focusing on the vernacular of the movement, activists need to start paying more attention to what our community actually needs at the current moment in time.  In Illinois, I have seen endless dialogue over the morality, so to speak, of supporting civil union legislation when it isn’t full equality.  In my opinion, there was no conversation to be had.  I was supporting it because it would be supporting my community and those who need help now and cannot wait the undetermined time for equal marriage legislation to make it through.  It may not be exactly the type of legislation I had hoped for, but as we all know, we need to take what we can get, and then keep fighting for more.  When looking at the potential the Civil Union system could hold once developed on a more national level, I realized that I could care little about the word that describes my relationship, as long as in the fine print we are exactly equal.  In a way, I would be rejoicing in the fact that my union wasn’t founded by religious institutions, and doesn’t have a “50 percent chance of failure” bubble hanging over my head.  But again, thats just me.  I never said I wouldn’t cry at every same sex marriage ceremony I attend in the future.

Nik Maciejewski, who authored this post, is among the founders of Join The Impact Chicago who led 15,000 people in the streets of Chicago on November 15, and has continued work in their state to raise awareness and keep people involved. Their most recent work has been towards passing the Civil Unions Bill in IL & a Federal Fully Inclusive ENDA. Nik also serves as the North Central Regional Liaison for Join The Impact. Willow thinks he’s a brilliant example of what can happen when a barrista finds their calling in activism.

Prop 8 Decision announced tomorrow!

Posted by willow On May - 25 - 2009

In November, over 6 months ago, we were devastated by the passing of California’s Proposition 8. Since March 5 our community has awaited the decision from the California Supreme Court on the validity of Proposition 8 and whether the 18,000 Marriages, JTI’s co-founder Amy’s among them, would stand.

Wanna get involved? Wanna help? Wanna know the moment the decision comes down?

1. KNOW THE RESULT- The court could issue the ruling as early as 10am. Be the first to know the decision with text alerts:
From National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) at

From Credo Mobile & Courage Campaign by texting DECISION to 27336

2. RESPOND- Whether we celebrate or protest, Day of Decision events have been organized throughout the US & Canada 90 cities & counting. To find the rally nearest you go to or text RALLY + your zip code to 27336

3. GET INVOLVED- Whether we win or lose Proposition 8, there is still much work to be done to get full equality under the law. We must engage communities that are reflective of Middle American values. In California this means heading to the Central Valley- which is why every Californian who is passionate about being involved in the fight for full equality in their state will be heading to Fresno for Meet In the Middle the Saturday after the Prop 8 decision.

Join The Impact has endorsed Meet In the Middle because we believe strongly that when we envision the necessary work in the LGBT movement we MUST take our stories beyond progressive states, cities and neighborhoods. We must do the work where it is hardest. We hope you’ll join us in the fight.

Cleve Jones, Dustin Lance Black, Michele Clunie, Charlize Theron and 70 plus endorsing organizations will be there. Will you?

If you’re outside California or can’t make it to Meet In The Middle you can support by giving a small donation, even $5 helps, to Meet In The Middle at

In my family, our history is a sacred part of our lives.  The stories of my ancestors were the stories I heard at bedtime; not Little Red Riding Hood.  In my mind, I can see the dewey morning that my great, great, great grandparents Frank and Sarah Martin set off from Indianapolis in a covered wagon 160 years ago much more clearly than I can see pigs building houses.  I’m actually embarassed to admit that before last November, I didn’t know who Harvey Milk was.  The tragedy of my generation of LGBT activists is that we have little ties to our roots.  LGBT history is not taught in public schools, or even at a college level unless you very specifically seek it out.  I studied business in college and never sought the history of our community; and so, I embarked on my journey into activism without ever hearing the name of one of our greatest heroes.

Over the course of the last several months, I have sought an education on Harvey Milk.  The movie MILK was gut-wrenching and uplifting at the same time, and formed a basis for my understanding.  Later, I would meet Cleve Jones, one of Milk’s interns during the late 1970s.  I watched The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and gained more insight. Harvey Milk was born 79 years ago today in New York, and before his entrance to activism he was a math geek.  This makes me smile — it’s nice to know that someone else has made the (sometimes rocky) transition from number crunching to community organizing.  What I also learned about Harvey Milk was that he served in the Navy right here in San Diego.  It wasn’t until he was 40 years old and had moved from New York to Texas, and then back to California, that he decided to stay in San Francisco.
If there is one moral that I take away from my new understanding of who Harvey Milk was, it is never too late to make a difference.  Harvey Milk truly lived an active life once moving to San Francisco.  He built coalitions with organized labor and showed that he wasn’t a single-issue organizer.  Milk respected and engaged youth in the movement, showed love and compassion for all of the people he represented (not just LGBT), and remained unphased by the cacophony telling him that he could not succeed.  And he did it all while remaining truly fabulous.  In 1999, TIME magazine honored Harvey Milk as one of the Most Important People of the Century, saying,

“There was a time when it was impossible for people — straight or gay — even to imagine a Harvey Milk. The funny thing about Milk is that he didn’t seem to care that he lived in such a time. After he defied the governing class of San Francisco in 1977 to become a member of its board of supervisors, many people — straight and gay — had to adjust to a new reality he embodied: that a gay person could live an honest life and succeed. That laborious adjustment plods on — now forward, now backward — though with every gay character to emerge on TV and with every presidential speech to a gay group, its eventual outcome favoring equality seems clear.”

(The excellent bio that TIME wrote of Milk can be found in full here.)

Here in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the opportunity to honor Harvey Milk last year, and declare May 22nd Harvey Milk Day in California.  The legislature overwhelmingly supported this.  Instead, the Governator chose to veto the bill, claiming that Harvey Milk was a historical figure of local importance only.  This year, San Diego was proud not only to recognize Harvey Milk in our city by declaring today Harvey Milk Day in San Diego, but we also hosted the Inaugural Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast.  We recognized Milk for his great contributions not only to the local area of San Francisco but to the broad issue of equal rights.

The genius of Harvey Milk was not that he had any special perception of the problems facing our community. We all – given the time and inclination – can enumerate any number of problems that we would like to see addressed. Rather, what Milk saw differently was the need for new solutions.  He saw that change was coming too slowly when it came at all, identified the need for a new angle on creating that change, and then took the all-important step of acting personally to make it happen.  Milk didn’t just open up the opportunity, he also created a standard against which we can and should measure ourselves.  By refusing to accept the establishment position on slow, plodding, non-disruptive “progress,” he set the bar to which our entire movement ought to be holding itself.

Tonight, as I light a candle in honor of the 79th birthday of our great hero Harvey Milk, I am thankful for the way in which he lived his life without apology, and the legacy he left for each of us to follow: a legacy of hope, of coalition, and of not being afraid to be who we are.

Sara Beth Brooks, who authored this post, is the Western Regional Liason for Join the Impact.  She helped organize San Diego’s November 15th protest which had 25,000 people in attendance.  She is the Executive Chair of the San Diego Equality Campaign.  In her day job, she is a bookkeeper.  You can contact her at

Our History: White Night Riots

Posted by willow On May - 21 - 2009

On May 21, 1979, 30 years ago today, the White Night Riots erupted in San Francisco as Dan White was given the most lenient sentencing possible for the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, the first elected openly gay politician in U.S. history.

When Milk’s friend Cleve Jones heard White was sentenced to only 7 1/2 years and could be out in as few as five years he hit the streets.  With bullhorn in hand he led 500 people around Castro shouting, “Out of the bars and into the streets!”  As people spilled out of the bars the crowd grew.  Jones led approximately 5000 people to San Francisco City Hall where people called for the death of Dan White.

The crowd continued to grow as other gay neighborhoods led marches to city hall.  After three hours of angry but otherwise peaceful chanting, the San Francisco police turned on the crowd with black tape covering their badges so they could not be identified. They beat the protesters with batons and tear gassed the crowed.  Tired of years of violence against their community, they fought back using whatever they could find as a weapon, including tree trunks and even chunks of the street blow their feet.

Watch for yourself here:

The physical damage to the city cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the strong voice the LGBT community gained was priceless.  When reporters were searching for a gay leader to apologize for the riots they were surprised to find no one willing to turn on their community.  Instead Supervisor Harry Britt (Harvey Milks replacement) said, “Harvey Milk’s people do not have anything to apologize for. Now the society is going to have to deal with us not as nice little fairies who have hairdressing salons, but as people capable of violence.  We’re not going to put up with Dan Whites anymore.”

30 years later and our equality movement has come a long way.  We are at a tipping point in history when equal rights are shining over the horizon.  5 states grant same sex marriage. National polls indicate growing support for marriage equality with a strong majority young voters on our side.  Our opponents are finding little to no support any more, as their old allies realize Americans see them for who they truly are, Dan Whites.

Harvey Milk’s famous saying, “Hello, I’m Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you” still rings true. Cleve Jones pointed out an important change in the new voices in our movement.  No longer are LGBTs alone, but straight people are standing with us. They showed up by the thousands on November 15th when the world shouted “No More Hate!” at rallies protesting Proposition 8. They will continue to stand with us all the way to equality and beyond.

It has been 30 years since the White Night Riots.  30 years of bloodshed and struggle, marching and fighting. 30 years of conversations and courageous coming outs. 30 years of wins and losses.  We have come a long way and the end is within reach.

30 years ago today, gays and lesbians said enough is enough. Because they did, today is a peaceful day. The sun is shining and the dark shadows of the past are growing short. There is little doubt, if Harvey Milk could see us now he would be smiling.

Joe Mirabella, who authored this post, is the Washington State Community Organizer for Join the Impact. He and his fiance Joe Brokken are engaged to marry in their home state Iowa this summer. Joe works as a professional writer and content developer for an online retailer.