They marched forward, dignified and determined, willing to put it all on the line for equality. “I am somebody!” The crowd around them full of supporters and media. The flash of cameras blinded people nearby as police moved forward to get rid of the nuisance.
Almost since its inception, I was privileged to work as part of the media outreach team for GetEQUAL, an organization created two years ago this week “to empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take bold action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way.” Helping to create a media buzz so that the important work being done would not be lost or hidden by those who would silence the voices for equality.
The roots of GetEQUAL can be found in one simple philosophy, we are human and we are the same. Nothing more complicated than that. Yet in today’s world that isn’t quite the legal or political reality. Robin McGehee found out first hand that it wasn’t necessarily true when she was asked to step down as head of the PTA at her son’s school.
This was the first of a series of blows that affected the family that she loved so dearly. Why was this happening? Did her children merit some sort of animosity because they had two moms?
“The LGBTQ movement stands at a turning point,” said McGehee. “In the 30 years since the Stonewall riots, our lives have changed immeasurably. We have Gay-Straight alliances in schools across the country, gay characters in movies and on television, affirming communities of faith, and openly gay public officials. However, the core of our movement remains unrealized. We are still not equal. At every level of society, LGBTQ folks face rampant and unacceptable discrimination.”
When they began to receive national attention, GetEQUAL made sure that they were targeting those who said they were on the side of LGBT rights as well as those opposing our equality.
“We are following her advice to ‘make her (Pelosi) do it,’ and to ensure that she and the rest of the House see that people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line here,” said Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, in July 2010. “As we head into the August recess, we will take the energy of today’s Rotunda action out into the states, and look forward to building popular support for the legislation in coalition with other LGBT organizations. We will concentrate on the districts where Representatives and Senators have not yet found the courage to step forward to support ENDA — both Republicans and Democrats.”
In March of the same year they organized a shut-down of the Las Vegas Strip last week targeting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and several rallies at Speaker Pelosi’s district office in San Francisco.
GetEQUAL released a timeline showing years of broken promises and excuses from elected officials that have led to the stalling of any federal protections being in place for LGBT workers. In the timeline, Speaker Pelosi is quoted numerous times promising that a vote on ENDA “will be soon.”
From there it escalated to the momentous protest where 13 activists chained themselves to the White House fence in November 2010.
Three generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans and advocates went back to the White House fence to call for the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Obama to make good on their promises to secure the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the abbreviated, lame-duck session of Congress.
Of those arrested in the protest were:
- Five veterans (Lt. Dan Choi, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen, Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, and Cadet Mara Boyd) who were arrested back in March during the GetEQUAL organized “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” act of civil disobedience at the White House fence demanding President Obama show leadership on repeal.
- Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL, and Dan Fotou, former action strategist for GetEQUAL.
- Former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom, who was discharged in 1976 for declaring and admitting she was a lesbian. She became the first-ever LGBT servicemember reinstated to her position in the U.S. Military, by a U.S. Federal District Court. On July 30th, 1993, Miriam and 26 other protesters were arrested at the White House fence for protesting then-President Bill Clinton’s broken promise to repeal the gay ban – instead signing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bill into law.
- Former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Elzie who, in 1993, became the first Marine ever investigated and discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. Elzie was also the first soldier to be discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to fight his discharge and win – resulting in his service as a Marine for four years as an openly gay man.
- Former U.S. Army Arabic Linguist Ian Finkenbinder, who was discharged from the Army in December 2004 after announcing to his superiors that he was gay. Finkenbinder is an Iraq war veteran and was about to return for a second tour of duty when he was discharged.
- U.S. Army Veteran and Repeal Advocate Rob Smith, who was deployed to both Iraq and Kuwait before being honorably discharged after deciding not to re-enlist in the U.S. Army due to the added pressure of living under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
- Father Geoff Farrow, a Catholic priest who spoke out against the church’s official stance in support of California’s Proposition 8, removing the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Because of his courageous stance against Prop 8, Father Geoff Farrow was removed as pastor of St. Paul’s by his bishop and suspended as a priest.
- Scott Wooledge, a New York-based LGBT civil rights advocate and blogger who has written extensively on the movement to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at Daily Kos and Pam’s House Blend.
- Michael Bedwell, long-time LGBT civil rights advocate, close friend of Leonard Matlovich, and administrator of the site www.leonardmatlovich.com.
“On the White House fence today, and in a jail cell this evening, are thirteen American patriots,” said McGehee. “Included in the thirteen arrested are veterans and advocates spanning three generations of brave and courageous Americans, who sacrificed their careers and lives to see the day this discriminatory ban on openly gay and lesbian service in the military finally goes into the history books. Today, we have sent a loud and clear message to the U.S. Senate and President Obama that we expect them to make good on their promises to end this inhumane law this year, during the lame-duck session of Congress.”
That was said two years ago and we are seeing the organization and the activism within the LGBT community grow. GetEQUAL now has chapters in many states and is able to be an “on the ground” force to be reckoned with. Standing up to inequality around the country and effectively remaining at the forefront of a fight that is far from over, yet far from the dark ages that grew out of the 1990’s.
While most would call those who headed up GetEQUAL leaders, I think they would prefer the term stepping stones, allowing each of us to be leaders of our own equality. Each of these amazing people, who have revitalized a part of this movement that was lacking for a long time. We are privileged to profile many of these boons to our fight for equality.
Happy Birthday GetEQUAL and thank you from each and every one of us!
PROFILES IN COURAGE
Information courtesy of GetEQUAL website:
Heather Cronk, Managing Director
Heather joined GetEQUAL in May 2010. Prior to GetEQUAL, Heather was the Chief Operating Officer at the New Organizing Institute, overseeing operations and expanding programs. Heather has also worked with organizations such as mySociety in the U.K. and with Idealist.org in the U.S., always focused on building community and pushing for tangible social change. A native of Lexington, KY, Heather holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in religion/philosophy from Berry College in Rome, GA, and a Master of Divinity degree from Wake Forest University Divinity School in Winston-Salem, NC.
Robin McGehee, Director and Co-Founder
Robin is a transplant from Jackson, Mississippi, who received her M.A. in human communication, with an emphasis on public speaking, interpersonal and intercultural communication, from California State University, Fresno. She is on sabbatical as an instructor at College of the Sequoias and believes strongly that “When we speak, we shape the world!” In 2001, Robin was honored with the Martin Luther King, Jr. award for her work with Youth Empowerment, and worked for four years with the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and Fresno’s REEL Pride Gay and Lesbian film festival. Robin helped organize Meet in the Middle for Equality in Fresno, CA, a statewide reaction to the passage of Prop 8. She then was asked to co-direct the largely successful National Equality March in October 2009 in Washington, DC. Those experiences led to her co-founding GetEQUAL with Kip Williams in March 2010. In her free time she enjoys traveling and spending time with her family.
GetEQUAL Board Members
Dr. Jillian T. Weiss (board chair)
Dr. Jillian T. Weiss has a J.D. and a Ph.D. in Law, Policy & Society. Currently Associate Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College of New Jersey, she has conducted research involving hundreds of companies and public agencies that have adopted “gender identity” policies. She publishes a popular blog on the subject of Transgender Workplace Diversity, and has numerous research publications on the subject of gender identity.
Dr. Weiss is also Principal Consultant for Jillian T. Weiss & Associates, a consulting firm that works with organizations on transgender workplace diversity issues. She has trained hundreds of employees at corporations, law firms, universities and governmental organizations, including Harvard University, Boeing, HSBC, KPMG, Viacom, and the New York City Department of Homeless Services. Her work has been featured in news stories by the New York Times, Associated Press, Fortune Small Business Magazine, the Society for Human Resource Management, Workforce Management Magazine, and HR Executive Magazine.
Richard is a 19 year old queer Latino; born and raised in Los Angeles. Richard first began his activism during his freshman year of high school by attending the 2006 student walkouts in Los Angeles. Since that day, Richard has become a street community organizer and is known for his chants. He then went on to organize with the Bus Riders Union and GSA Network, both in Southern California. Richard is now a sophomore at St.Olaf College in Northfield, MN. He’s a double major in Social Work and Queer Studies. He plans to start his own nonprofit organization that addresses harassment and discrimination towards LGBTQ youth in Minnesotan Public Schools. After college, he plans to run for state senate in Minnesota.
John started in GLBTQI activism soon after he came out. He was fifteen in FL, and was lucky enough to get started with an organization called True Expressions, a nonprofit youth service organization focused on creating a safe space for the St. Petersburg metro area LGBTQI youth to come out, grow, learn, and get empowered. Through this organization, he got involved with Safe Schools work for Equality Florida. He co-founded Montana Equality Now, a direct political action organization dedicated to the full equality and inclusion of the GLBTIQ community in Montana, out of the momentum of the National Equality March (2009). He is a senior studying political science at the University of Montana. He served as the past Board Co-Chair of the Western Montana Community Center, and volunteers his time to various projects as they spring up. Doing this work is what makes his life worthwhile.
Tanya Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches human rights in Eurasia. Domi served 15 years in the U.S. Army enlisting in 1974 as a Private and rose to the rank of Captain, before her honorable discharge in 1990. Prior to joining Columbia, Domi worked more than a decade in a dozen countries on democratic and economic transitional development, political and media development, human rights and gender issues. Domi became a nationally known LGBT rights activist in the early 1990s as director of military freedom initiative at the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, where she worked to repeal the ban on lesbians and gays serving in the military. Domi is a widely published author and blogger on human rights for LGBT persons and women. She has appeared on hundreds of media outlets in the United States and throughout the world, speaking about human rights and current affairs.
Father Geoff Farrow
Father Geoffrey Farrow was born in the city of Camaguey in the Republic of Cuba in 1957. His family moved to the United States in August of 1961. He entered St. John’s College in the fall of 1978 and received a BA in Philosophy in 1981. He received a Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Seminary in 1985 and was ordained a Catholic priest on June 1st of that same year. He served various churches, campuses, and the U.S. Air Force from 1987 to 2008. On October 5, 2008 Fr. Geoff delivered a statement at the end of the 11 AM Mass at the Newman Center at CSUF, explaining that he could not comply with a directive from his bishop to direct parishioners to vote “yes” on Proposition 8 in California. Later that week, Fr. Geoff was removed as pastor of St. Paul’s by his bishop and suspended as a priest. He worked throughout the month of October with the “No on Prop. 8” campaign.Currently, Fr. Geoff is engaged in public speaking to advance the cause of LGBT rights, and has received commendations both from the City of West Hollywood and the California State Assembly for his civil rights work on behalf of the LGBT community.
Aj Kruth and his husband of 18 years, Aaron, live in Fresno, CA, and are helping raise their 2 young children. Aj became involved in activism over 20 years ago as a board member and media spokesperson for the Fresno chapter of the ACLU. Aj also served as Treasurer and then President on the Board of Fresno REEL Pride, the 6th oldest LGBT film festival in the US. In 2009, Aj managed security for Meet in the Middle for Equality in Fresno, CA, a statewide reaction to the passage of Prop 8. He also assisted later that year with backstage operations at the National Equality March in Washington, DC. A vice president for JPMorgan Chase for the past 9 years, Aj is also serving a two-year appointment as a member of Chase’s Diversity Council.
Eric Nakano was born and raised in a conservative Christian family in Southern California. His father worked for Focus on the Family and Eric himself was a rising youth leader at his Christian school and church. After graduating from high school, he went on to study Political Science at Penn State Mont Alto and was elected Student Government President his sophomore year. But after experiencing bullying and antigay harassment from other students, he transferred to the George Washington University and graduated cum laude with a BA in Political Science and Public Policy. In 2007, Eric relocated back to Los Angeles where he worked in fundraising and development at UCLA and volunteered for LGBT causes in his spare time. It was on the campaign trial to defeat Proposition 8 that he found his true calling and decided to pursue a career in public service. He is currently earning his Masters in Public Policy at Duke University in preparation for a career that will enable him to one day establish and grow an LGBT service center and work on policy issues that affect the LGBT community. Eric is proud to serve on the board of GetEQUAL and believes the organization represents grassroots action at its best.
Mark Reed and his partner, Dante Walkup, are owners of Wiedamark LLC, a specialty LED lighting business in Dallas, Texas. Mark served on the Executive Steering Committee for the National Equality March. He was responsible for the social networking efforts that were successfully deployed to promote the march. Mark was an early active supporter of GetEQUAL and participated in several Washington D.C. actions including getting arrested at the May 5th DADT protest at the White House. In addition to activism, he also recently served as Vice President for the Cedars Neighborhood Association in south Dallas. Mark attended the University of Pittsburgh on a debating scholarship and received a master’s degree in communication in 1984. He and his partner live in Irving, Texas, and have been together 10 years. They married on 10/10/2010 via Skype with their feet firmly planted on Texas soil with an officiant in DC. After their marriage was annulled by DC, Mark and Dante made the trip to DC to be married in person, but continue to advocate for “e-marriage” as a way for same-sex couples to be recognized as full American citizens.
Autumn Sandeen is a transgender activist living in San Diego, born in Northridge, CA, as the son of a motion picture/television industry costume supervisor and a homemaker, and raised in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. At fourteen a flashbulb seemed to go off in her head, and the reason she’d felt “off” for most of her childhood became clear: her body started to develop in a manner that didn’t match her female gender identity. Like many “late transitioning” (midlife transitioning) transsexuals, she gravitated to a “testosterone driven” career; she served in the U.S. Navy from 1980 to 2000 as a Fire Controlman, retiring as a First Class Petty Officer. After retiring from the U.S. Navy, she was awarded a Veteran’s Administration Disability rating. She explored her gender dysphoria with counselors in the San Diego’s Veterans Administration (VA) medical system, and began transitioning as a male-to-female transsexual on February 6, 2003. Autumn is currently retired from the military, and disability retired as well. So, to fill her days she writes, and does other activism work. Besides serving on multiple boards and steering committees, Autumn is a barista on Pam’s House Blend, which means she’s a “front page” new media reporter/blogger there.
Special thanks to those who have believed and supported GetEQUAL from the beginning who are often the unsung heroes of many actions:
March 15: GetEQUAL’s official launch
March 16: Call to pledge with Will Phillips
March 18: Simultaneous sit-ins at Pelosi’s offices in DC and SF
March 21: Partnered with local Mississippi activists to counter-protest Fred Phelps
June 17: Partnered with local Missouri activists to demand apology from Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO)
July 20: Shut down Las Vegas Blvd to target Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
July 24: Staged interaction between Harry Reid and Dan Choi at Netroots Nation
July 24: Supported National Organization for Marriage counter-rallies across the country with Freedom to Marry
July 28: Staged sit-in at Capitol Rotunda
September 8: Interrupted Rep. George Miller (D-CA) campaign event
September 9: Shut down Castro and Market in SF
September 16: Targeted Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in Senate Armed Services Committee hearing
September 17: Presented signed combat boots to Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA)
October 1: Launched email to support anti-bullying rallies/vigils across the country
October 5: Launched “We’ll Give When We GetEQUAL” campaign
October 11: Staged protest by air, land, and sea in Miami at Obama DCCC fundraiser
Mid-October: Staged protests at Democratic fundraisers across the country
October 19: Supported Omar Lopez and Dan Choi, both discharged under DADT, as they attempted to re-enlist in the military
October 27: Supported local organizers in Indianapolis in securing an LGBT liaison in the police/fire departments
November 3: Joined coalition of progressive groups to call for bolder action from elected leaders
November 5: Supported local organizers across the country planning Veterans Day events/actions
November 15: Organized a vigil at Sgt. Leonard Matlovich’s grave
November 15: Supported 13 activists to take arrestable action at the White House in protest of inaction on DADT
November 16: Organized a protest of the White House’s secret “Common Purpose” meeting in DC
November 17: Met with Brian Bond of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement and released notes about it via blog and an open media call
December 14: Featured in Newsweek (link)
December 17: Held protests at four of Senator Hutchinson’s Texas offices to hold her accountable for DADT vote
December 18: DADT repealed
December 22: Attended bill-signing for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010
February 3: Organized “Breakfast Without Bigotry” outside National Prayer Breakfast in DC with Faith in America and the Unitarian Universalist Association
February 4: “Breakfast Without Bigotry” covered by CNN
February 14: Organized marriage counter actions across the country in partnership with Marriage Equality USA
February 14: Top-line media coverage from marriage counter actions included ABC News, L.A. Weekly, and many local outlets across the country
March 9: Staged petition delivery, sit-in and arrests at Boehner’s district office over defense of DOMA, in partnership with CREDO Action and the Human Rights Campaign
April 15: Presented Maggie Gallagher with “First Annual Anita Bryant Award for Unbridled and Unparalleled Bigotry” at a DOMA hearing on the Hill
April 19: Staged “Tax Day” actions to protest marriage/tax inequality in partnership with Equality Florida and Marriage Equality USA
April 19: Protested Obama fundraiser over inequality for gay binational couples in partnership with Marriage Equality USA and Out4Immigration
May 5: Staged rally outside hearing for gay binational couple in partnership with Stop the Deportations, All Out, Courage Campaign, Garden State Equality, Immigration Action Fund, Marriage Equality USA, Out4Immigration, Princeton Equality Project, and Queer Rising
May 6: Celebrated temporary reprieve (which was later changed to full reprieve) of Josh and Henry
May 6: Organized actions across the country to draw attention to Chick-Fil-A‘s anti-LGBT policies
May 10: DADT protesters appeared in court again, drawing parallels from the judge to Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham
May 10: Protest outside Ugandan Embassy in DC over “Kill the Gays” bill
June 2: Staged arrests at NC State House over putting marriage on the ballot in NC (link)
June 8: Launched online petition and delivered petition to Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, in partnership with Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Believe Out Loud, Faith in America, Human and Equal Rights Organizers (H.E.R.O.), No Longer Silent, Soulforce, Truth Wins Out — resulted in meeting with leadership of SBC
June 15: Featured in blog post by Tanya Domi and Clinton Fein about the LGBT movement
June 18: Coordinated with local activists in Minneapolis to “glitter” Michele Bachmann at Right Online conference, resulting in huge national press (link)
June 23: Protested outside Obama LGBT fundraiser in NYC in partnership with Queer Rising and Join the Impact, resulting in huge national press
July 13: Held rally outside an immigration hearing for a gay binational couple, which resulted in a reprieve from the judge, in partnership with Stop the Deportations, Marriage Equality USA, and Out4Immigration. Supportive organizations included Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), Asian Pacific Islander Equality, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Asian Law Caucus, Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), Chinese for Affirmative Action, Equality California, Immigration Equality, Love Honor Cherish, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN)
August 6: Staged mock funeral procession outside Rick Perry’s “The Response” prayer event in Houston, resulting in major local, LGBT, and national press
August 19-21: Held organizer training in Memphis with United We DREAM for 92 activists from across the country
August 25: Organized march and protest in Ohio to call for equality in housing and employment for LGBT Ohioans
September 7: Protested outside GOP debate at Reagan Presidential Library
September 14: Called attention to the need for the Democratic Party to take a stand against anti-LGBT ballot initiative in North Carolina
September 14: Worked with individual activists, GLAAD, and the Transgender Law Center to launch “Pro-Bono” house parties for Chaz Bono’s debut on “Dancing With the Stars”
September 20: Organized protests, rallies, and marches across the country on day of DADT repeal implementation to make clear that inequality in military service still exists
October 11: Organized National Coming Out Day actions across the country
October 12: Organized rally for National Coming Out Day and SB 48 in California in partnership with Asian and Pacific Islanders for LGBT Equality, California Faith for Equality, Courage Campaign, Equal Action, Jews for Marriage Equality, Love Honor Cherish, and Marriage Equality USA – Los Angeles Chapter
October 14: Texas activists held marches throughout the state for marriage equality, resulting in major press coverage all over the state
November 15: Protested for-profit prison company in Austin for anti-immigrant policies
November 16: Supported alumnus of a Christian school in Ohio who was deleted from the school’s alumni page for being gay
November 18-20: Staged actions and vigils in coordination with many local transgender advocacy groups across the country for Transgender Day of Remembrance [for example, DC action was in partnership with DC Trans Coalition (DCTC), Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), Woodhill Sexual Freedom Alliance, International Socialist Organization (ISO), Cedar Lane UU Church LGBT Task Force, Venus
Plus X, Rainbow Response, Transgender Health Empowerment, and Gender Rights Maryland.
Growing up in Northern Ontario as a Jehovah’s Witness, Michael Talon experienced firsthand the struggle for equality. Now living in the U.S. he works with advocates for federal equality, including immigration. Michael currentlty owns and operates OnRecord Media, which works with LGBT supportive companies and organizations helping to create an economy and political atmosphere that focuses on inclusive policies and employment.
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