OUR BEST and BRIGHTEST ACTIVISTS: society.
Five months after her eldest son's death in Laramie, Wyo., Judy Shepard told The Advocate that it was Matthew who had been the activist in her family. "He would love to be out there sharing ideas and talking and debating the issues and trying to make a difference," she said, But since that March 16 cover story, it's been Judy who has taken the role her son could not. She has addressed the National Press Club and testified before Congress regarding the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, urged California lawmakers to pass legislation that would protect schoolchildren from discrimination, and, most recently, agreed to tape a public service announcement for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network that is scheduled to air this fall. Education is the key to her activism. "I think the general public knows so little about the issues of concern to gay people," she says today. "I wish I had known more when Matt was still around."
The Rev. Michael Piazza
For the past two decades the Rev, Michael S, Piazza has been more than an observer of the upsurge in membership at gay churches, The senior pastor at Dallas's Cathedral of Hope has led the movement--often noting the odd common ground it provides with would-be antagonists, "A lot of people, especially in the Bible Belt, say, `I'm not happy there are homosexuals in the world, but if there are, they should go to church,'" At his current pulpit for 12 years, Piazza has seen attendance zoom from around 200 to almost 3,000, with a corresponding increase in political clout, "I used to put on my collar and go out to picket," he says, "Now just about every serious candidate--among the Democrats, at least--comes to us," Piazza has marshaled that influence to challenge Texas governor George W. Bush to approve legislation enhancing penalties for antigay hate crimes--appeals that went unheeded--and to secure broadcast on national cable TV station WGN of the church's documentary, A Cathedral of Hope, paid programming that was previously rejected by producers,
In less than a decade, Leroy Aarons's baby has grown up, Yet now that he has surrendered leadership of the 1,300-member National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, Aarons is hardly pining over the empty nest, "My dream has been fulfilled," says the onetime Washington Post national correspondent and Oakland Tribune executive editor who launched the organization in 1990 after conducting a survey of gay and lesbian reporters' newsroom experiences, If taken today, Aarons says, that survey would reveal a sea change in the quantity and quality of portrayals of gay issues in the press, And NLGJA deserves credit. "We have served as resources and goads, and we've been successful at not being seen as advocates," Aarons says, In September he begins teaching at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications in Los Angeles, where he is developing a first-of-its-kind teaching and research program on sexual orientation issues in the news.
THE SWEET SIXTEEN
The very nature of their job makes activists at the national level high-profile. In the following essays, the heads of the major gay and AIDS groups describes what activism means to them.
As former editor in chief and now a senior editor at The New Republic, Andrew Sullivan has been a celebrated (and controversial) figure in Washington, D.C. And since the publication of his book Virtually Normal; An Argument About Homosexuality four years ago, Sullivan has become an outspoken advocate of gay and lesbian rights, making appearances on news talk shows such as ABC's Nightline and CNN's Crossfire, A contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, he's worked to highlight the commonalties between straights and gays, which, he says, add up to more than their differences, That approach, Sullivan believes, is the best way to bring about change leading to legal equality.
Shareholder activist Shelley Alpern has made gay-positive changes at Johnson & Johnson, Chrysler, American Home Products, and McDonald's. Working at Trillium Asset Management Corp., a socially responsible investment company in Boston, Alpern encourages corporations to add sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination clauses or face the wrath of shareholder revolt, Most companies don't want to deal with social issues at annual shareholder meetings, so they are often willing to make policy changes, "My mission with this work is to help people become aware that their fund managers may not be voting in their best interests," Alpern says, "People need to take control of the proxy vote and send corporations a message."
While many of her colleagues limit their involvement in gay and lesbian causes to wearing red ribbons, actress Judith Light has remained a tireless advocate. Light says it was her role as Ryan White's mother in the 1989 TV movie The Ryan White Story that triggered her activism, "When I learned about the way Ryan was treated [because he had AIDS], something just coalesced for me," she says. Since then she has joined the board of directors at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and has fought AIDS through her work with Project Angel Food, a Los Angeles group that delivers meals to homebound people living with HIV/AIDS; the Names Project Foundation, keepers of the AIDS memorial quilt; and as a rider in the 1995 California AIDS Ride. She's also been outspoken in her support for gay rights as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign (and she was one of the first people her TV son Danny Pintauro on Who's the Boss? went to when he came out of the closet). "It doesn't matter who you love," Light says, summing up the motivation behind her activism. "But it matters that you love."
DIRECTOR, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION'S LESBIAN AND GAY RIGHTS PROJECT
It may sound corny, but to me activism means trying to make the world a better place. An activist is someone for whom working for change is a part of daily life.
You may not have heard of Hencey Clark, but she was my idea of the consummate activist. She did the things you would expect: She marched for the Equal Rights Amendment, folded newsletters for the National Organization for Women, and stuffed envelopes for the Women's Cancer Resource Center.
But when Hencey opened a business, she also had the equipment and the pathways designed for disabled workers, at considerable expense. Not because it was required--it wasn't--but because that was the way things should be.
Activism should be more than something you do once a year at a conference. Making the world a better place should be part of the way you think about everything important to you. When you renew you membership, ask your local American Automobile Association office if it recognizes domestic partners. Get your kid's school board to adopt a nondiscrimination policy. People with no training or history in politics have done it in unlikely places.
You don't even have to be that upfront. If you know people who ate struggling with being gay, you can help them find themselves. And you can teach acceptance of people who are different by living it yourself.
We will remake society only if lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people become activists like Hencey Clark. Only when working for change is a part of the fabric of our lives win we change the fabric of our society.
What do you do for an encore when you've taken on ultraconservative Utah state legislators, been featured in a documentary about gay rights, and seen yourself proclaimed as a new-generation spokeswoman for equality? If you're 21-year-old Kelli Peterson, you keep doing what you've been doing, even if the spotlight is an uncomfortable place. "I like that the work I do has a positive effect on people, but I hate that I've lost my privacy," says Peterson, who travels across the country "educating people about being gay," While she says she is worried about a growing conservatism within the movement, she is encouraged by gay youth who, she says, "are as rebellious as I was."
Jon and Michael Galluccio
For most gay men, Father's Day signals the arrival of annual pride festivities--with a passing thought about Dad, For Jon and Michael Galluccio of Maywood, N.J., however, the holiday is about their activism: fatherhood, In December 1997 the couple won a landmark decision from the New Jersey supreme court allowing them to jointly adopt, "Four years ago we were just two queens with a fabulous apartment," says ion, who legally changed his last name from Holden to match his partner's, Today, Michael and .Ion are raising three children: Adam, 3, and Madison, 2--both of whom the Galluccios have legally adopted--and Rosa, Madison's 16-year-old half sister, whose adoption should be final this fall, Since access to adoption has opened up in the state, Jon points to a 30% increase in adoptions, "Our whole thing all along has been the best interests of the child," he says.
Like Cher, Ellen DeGeneres's mom, Betty, has become a role model for countless other parents by sharing the simple message that she loves her daughter, her daughter can't change, and she wouldn't want her to, DeGeneres's book, Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey, shares the story of how she came to that simple message, And thanks to her role as the first nongay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign's National Coming Out Project, she's a trailblazer herself.
A leading authority on I gays and money, Lee Badgett shows how far homo economics has come since the days rogue activists stamped pink triangles on dollar bills, "Yet we still don't have a good idea about how to use our economic power effectively," says the assistant professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Badgett's career includes directing the Amherst-based Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, Building on her landmark 1995 study that found that gay men suffer an 11%-27% income gap with heterosexual men, Badgett in 1998 issued a report called "income Inflation," which challenges depictions of the gay community as a wealthy market flush with disposable income, "I think there's too much boosterism," she says.
Getting kicked out of the Boy Scouts for being gay seems an odd route to becoming a celebrated poster child, but James Dale has done just that, The Manhattanite and Eagle Scout is awaiting a final ruling any day from the New Jersey supreme court about his right to be a Scout leader, The Scouts are appealing a lower court ruling that Dale was unfairly discriminated against under the state's 1992 gay civil rights law, "When I think about all the money I spent on uniforms, camps, and merit badges, I get really upset," Dale told The Advocate in 1998, "There are often these drives for kids to go to camp who can't afford it. If [the Boy Scouts] stopped suing people for being gay, they could afford to send a lot more people to camp."
Most journalists would cringe at the idea of being called an activist, so when it comes to Katie Couric, coanchor of NBC's Today show, it's probably best to just hail her good common sense, Couric received well-deserved praise this year for her compassionate interview with Matthew Shepard's parents on Dateline NBC as well as her tough questioning on Today of a leading figure behind the "ex-gay" ads, This September she will be a keynote speaker at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's annual conference, Says NLGJA president Karen-Louise Boothe: "She brings an understanding and certain level of sincerity without the sideshow treatment [that] issues important to our community often receive."
Bishop John Shelby Spong
The Right Rev, John Shelby Spong, the Episcopal bishop for Newark, N.J., has authored 16 books but is best known for his frank and uncompromising stands in favor of gay rights, "When religious voices claiming to speak for Christ suggest in their prejudiced ignorance that homosexual people are sinful, abnormal, unclean, or subhuman, we do nothing less than to sow the seeds that are used to justify hate and even murder," Spong said after the death of Matthew Shepard,
Elected president of South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela helped make his country the first and only nation to have protection for gays and lesbians written into its constitution, In a country that was fraught with prejudice of various kinds just five years ago, Mandela has ensured the equality of all groups, Since then, apartheid-era laws banning sodomy have been struck down by the nation's high court, Although South Africa now has a new president, Mandela's stature as the world's conscience for battling bigotry assures that he will remain one of the world's most powerful leaders for gay rights.
Since 1979, when the Gay and Lesbian Labor Alliance was formed, Nancy Wohlforth has been working to bring gay issues into the labor movement, Now the organization is called Pride at Work and is a full-fledged constituency group in the AFLCIO, National cochair Wohlforth and the newly hired executive director, Kipukai Kuali'i, will fight for domestic-partner pension benefits, greater employment protection, and transgender inclusion, They also want gays and lesbians to understand the power and benefit of unions, "Frankly, a lot of people still see the union as a bunch of old white boys who want nothing to do with their interests," Wohlforth says, "Clearly that's not the case."
Mel White ghostwrote the Rev, Jerry Falwell's autobiography, But then he came out of the closet, Now the Rev, Mel White is trying to reform the gay movement, "Protest can no longer be on Saturday, with a dance at the end of the day," says White, who is often asked to wear a bullet-proof vest when he speaks at religious colleges, As cofounder of Soulforce, an organization dedicated to gay activism in the tradition of Gandhi and King, White uses old-fashioned nonviolent direct action, "[Pat] Robertson and Falwell are the victims of misinformation, and we must figure out a way to change that through pressure of love," he says.
JULIE DORF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually respond that I'm a "professional activist"--that is, I have the privilege of being paid (although I'm certainly not getting rich) for making progressive change in the world. Yes, I'm a manager, a fund-raiser, a budget-watcher, a strategist, a public speaker--all of the things that a successful executive director of any nonprofit is. But, at the heart, I do this work because of my passion to help create safe places for sexual minorities and people with HIV--not because of a career plan in the nonprofit sector. Maybe it's just my perspective from my cluttered E-mail in-box or from growing more seasoned, but it seems everyone in the United States has less free time--and this is one of the ways activism is changing at the end of the 20th century: less time to volunteer, to work with or against organizations or movements. There will always be some degree of burnout. But in combination with the increasingly fast pace of our lives, this can be deadly for social change movements. Despite these challenges, anyone can be an activist, and the movement needs everyone. Last year our group helped mobilize thousands of letters to the city government in Rome about its refusal to recognize World Pride 2000. The mayor's office was so overwhelmed by the campaign that it immediately met most of the organizers' demands. We are not powerless when we act. Whether you are an Internet activist, a media activist, a letter writer, a donor, a demonstrator, of a professional (paid) activist--do whatever works for you to participate in the movement for social change.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu's stand on equal rights for Days and lesbians is well-known, But to hear the winner of the Nobel peace prize breathe life into those ideas can be an experience like no other, "The man has an aura of goodness about him that is magnetic, and it was very clear that we were in the presence of someone treasured and special," says David Smith, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, about the archbishop's speech at an HRC fund-raising dinner this spring, In his speech Tutu reaffirmed his commitment to helping Days and lesbians secure their civil rights', "I want to oppose, with the same passion, the discrimination of people because of their sexual orientation."
Surabhi Kukke, and the other members of the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association became well-known in 1992 when they fought for inclusion in the India Day Parade, Typical of many ethnic pride celebrations, India Day is run by conservative members of the community who aren't fond of their queer cousins, "There was an uproar," remembers Kukke. Besides offering support to gay men and lesbians from the South Asian subcontinent, SALGA's extremely active fighting fundamentalists here and abroad.
Comic Robin Tyler has been involved in each of the marches
on Washington, D.C., since 1979, with the only controversy generated coming from those opposed to the very idea of queer liberation, But as executive producer of the Millennium March on Washington, scheduled for April 30, 2000, she's finding divisions within the movement as to whether there should even be a march. "This march must happen because we're still not free," she says.
In a time when the gay rights movement is becoming increasingly fractured, Chastity Bono doesn't mind the mainstream. In fact, she says, it's essential that the gay rights movement embraces a more corporate direction, "I'm much more of a moderate, politically, and I think the change we're seeing is positive," says Bono, whose own comingout story, Family Outing, is to be released in paperback in October. Bono is also working with Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple on a film examining the roots of homophobia and how the comingout process affects families.
Frank Rich, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, has impressed many with his principled progay stands. For example, he satirically suggested that the poster child for the "ex-gay" ads should be Heaven's Gate cult leader Marshall Applewhite, because he cured his homosexuality through castration and suicide. Rich says his years as a drama critic opened his eyes to "a whole other dynamic to American social and political life."
KEVIN CATHCART EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LAMBOA LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND
Elena Picado breaks the law every time she and her girlfriend make love. Now, their Little Rock, Ark., bedroom, with pink-and-white curtains and a flowered comforter, is at, the center of a pitched hattie to overturn the sodomy law in that state. A mother of two who teaches Spanish at a local public school, Picado also is a lesbian whose private sex life could result in arrest, jail for one year, and a fine of $1000. Picado's is the face of activism today. Although never arrested, she volunteered to help challenge the discriminatory law in court. As soon as site and six other brave plaintiffs stepped forward with this case, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette published their nantes and addresses. As the lead challenger in Picado v. Bryant, Picado's name remains in the news. Picado took the personal risk of being a named plaintiff because she was tired of living as a second-class citizen in her own state. But this case is not only about Picado. It's about seven people staving as personal examples of courage and determination and taking the lead for their entire state. As plaintiff's, they put themselves, their families, their jobs, and their privacy on the line for the common good. When this case is won, all lesbians and gay men and every American who cares about civil rights will be in their debt. We at Lambda couldn't do the work we do if people like Picado weren't willing to come forward. Challenging injustice and inequality and demanding recognition and respect for our families and our rights, this is the face of activism today.
While some have derided her passion for self-improvement and societal change, no one can deny Oprah Winfrey's impact, Few, if any, in the United States have the ear of as many people as Winfrey does, And when it comes to gay and lesbian rights, she's been unafraid to confront the issue without the freak-show theatrics of her talk-show brethren, That's why, when Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche came out on national TV, they did it on Oprah, And when Chef made her first public comments about her daughter's sexuality, she and Chastity made the trek to Chicago, where Winfrey's show has become, at times, a national town hall for rational discussion about gay and lesbian issues.
When Romaine Patterson heard that the Rev. Fred Phelps and his hatemongers were going to show up at the trial of Russell Henderson--one of the two men accused of killing Patterson's friend Matthew Shepard--she knew she had to do something, Patterson and some friends came up with a brilliant plan: They built giant angel costumes, drove up to Laramie, Wyo., and on April 5, along with a diverse group of supporters, silently blocked Phelps and his band from view. Activists elsewhere now plan to repeat the "Angel Action."
The Rev. Troy Perry
From his excommunication from the Church of God of Prophecy to his founding of the Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles, the Rev, Troy Perry has been a leader in proving that Christianity and homosexuality coexist, After 30 years of activism, Perry remains in the spotlight with his emphasis on continued expansion of the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, Perry also remains a booming voice of conscience among gay men and lesbians, speaking out on issues ranging from Senate majority leader Trent Lott's antigay remarks to the death of Matthew Shepard,
"If you say somebody ought to do something, take a hard look--because it should probably be you," says Richard Seward, director of Alaska's AFLCIO chapter. The Fairbanks resident has forced debate on several gay issues since he came out of the closet in 1982. In 1998, when state voters blocked same-sex marriage, Seward saw the pride flag flying near his front door burned. Rather than look to lawmakers to snuff the flames of prejudice, he points to collective action and cogent negotiation at the workplace and in the community. "Many Americans enjoy sexual orientation protections as a result of contracts," he says, "not the liberality of legislators."
Tim Gill has given new meaning to the hip-hop injunction to "give it away now." Gill, founder and chairperson of software maker Quark Inc., has disbursed millions of his wealth to grassroots organizations. Gill and his Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Gill Foundation have given credibility--and $13 million--to such groups as the gay rights organization Equality Colorado; North Carolina Lambda Youth Network, an alliance for teenage gays; and the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Organization. "If you should be out as a person," Gill says, "then when you give away your money, you should be out too."
KATE KENDELL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR LESBIAN RIGHTS
I'm from Utah--a state where unholy words like activist, feminist, and Democrat are met with disapproving looks and muttered condolences. Even when I worked as staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and was out as a lesbian (a word they really don't allow you to say in Utah), I never thought of myself as an activist. Even as first legal director and now executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, I have not had a truly clear notion of what it means to be an "activist." I'm sure there exists a ready and pithy definition, but to me, in a movement of vast disparity where many do not seek or desire to be "led," what counts as activism must be flexible and expansive. You are an activist if you live in Fargo, N.D., and your only activism consists of objecting to antigay jokes around the office watercooler as surely as if you live in Manhattan and plan rallies, marches, and grassroots "get-out-the-vote" campaigns. You are an activist if you attend PTA meetings and soccer games as the only out lesbian couple in town as surely as if you speak about queer rights at, national conferences and berate Jerry Falwell on national television. You are an activist if you live in Brewton, Ala., and have the courage to love whom you want even as your neighbors snicker behind your back, as surely as it you passionately kiss your boyfriend in broad daylight on a Castro street corner. It all counts. We're all activists, and in ways big and small, the ground has shifted in this country with more of us being more safely who we are than ever before. There is still so much to do and many battles to fight. Fortunately, none of us are fighting alone tiecause everyone is an activist.
Coretta Scott King
Long before it was commonplace to do so, Coretta Scott King linked the gay rights with the larger civil rights movement, As Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow and an activist in her own right, King's is one voice to which the public pays heed. "I've always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy," she said in a 1998 speech given at the 25th anniversary luncheon of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, As a sign of her commitment to gay causes, King has lent her name to the cause of gay marriage and in April hosted an international conference on nonviolence whose sponsors included the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., the W.E.B. DuBois Professor of Humanities at Harvard University, has often weighed in on gay rights, A straight man, he has consistently articulated the link between the civil rights struggles of African-Americans and gay people, In the midst of the gays-in-the-military debate in 1993, he chided some black leaders, depicting them as hung up on an image of "Liberace in Rosa Parks drag," A widely published author, Gates is an authority on the works of such African-American gay icons as James Baldwin,
Celluloid, for filmmaker Dee Mosbacher, is a vehicle for change, Produced through the nonprofit media company she founded called Woman Vision, her projects---including the 1994 film Out for a Change: Addressing Homophobia in Women's Sports, 1996's All God's Children, and the upcoming Radical Harmonies: The Story of Women's Music--aim for a grassroots activist audience. "Circulation and distribution of films is still a kind of virgin territory," says Mosbacher, whose 1994 film Straight From the Heart was nominated for an Academy Award.
Jim Testerman, National Education Association gay and lesbian caucus cochair, was a leading force in 1996 in having the NEA endorse a gay history month, but his work is far from over, "The first thing we have to do is to get educators in this country to know and understand gay history," says Testerman, who will leave his position as caucus cochair to become treasurer of the Pennsylvania State Education Association in September, "Though I'm dealing with a broad agenda," he says, "I bring my activism to the table every day."
The Rev. Gregory Dell
No one could call Gregory Dell a coward. But after his conviction in March by a jury of pastors for disobedience in blessing a gay couple's union, don't look for the heterosexual minister of Chicago's Broadway United Methodist Church to simply keep a stiff upper lip. Instead, look for him to laugh. "This is really where the joy of life is found," Dell says. "A person gets into this not because it's noble but because you get a fuller experience." The dispute involving Dell, who has conducted 33 such union ceremonies, follows the trial of Jimmy Creech, a North Carolina Methodist minister who married a gay couple last year in Nebraska, and the church investigation of 68 ministers who presided over a samesex commitment ceremony in Sacramento in January. Despite the cost to him, Dell remains convinced he did the right thing. "God's plan and God's good news had to do with embracing the diversity of people," he says. "It's not a political issue but an issue of faith."
DANIEL ZINGALE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AIDS ACTION
Today, anyone with an Internet account can reach 150 million people around the world, half of whom are in the U.S. Where a decade ago there were only a handful of influential electronic media outlets, cable and satellite programming delivers hundreds of public-affairs programs with forums for nearly every political issue. As we enter the 21st century, the challenge for advocacy movements is no longer whether we have access to tools that make our voices heard--it will be whether we can use new with innovation and with messages compelling enough to get a mediasaturated public to tune in or log on. If we succeed, our effectiveness will grow as quickly as our communications obstacles are disintegrating. A carefully selected E-mail database coupled with a powerful message can reach Washington decision makers and the media more effectively than a more complicated and expensive demonstration. When AIDS Action launched the first-ever electronic march on Washington at the end of 1997, Vice President Al Gore received three times as many E-mail messages about AIDS in one day than he did on all other issues combined. Where the great social movements of the past will be remembered by organized marches that gave a voice to those fighting for civil rights and a stronger against AIDS, the success of future social movements will depend on state of the art media and public opinion strategies. AIDS advocacy, which began the modern patient empowerment movement, will continue to flourish only if we rise to challenge of political communications that have boundaries as broad as our imaginations.
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|Title Annotation:||individual contributions to the gay rights movement|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Aug 17, 1999|
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