In a typically rare occasion, I had to cross "The Orange Curtain" last weekend to attend two major LGBT civil rights events in Los Angeles, Equality Summit and Camp Courage. And even though I hardly got any sleep Saturday night, I'm glad I did both. One helped me understand what went wrong with the No on H8 campaign in California last year, while the other helped me realize what needs to be done to make it right in 2009 and 2010.
On Saturday, I attended Equality California's Equality Summit in Downtown LA. I didn't quite know what to expect when I first stepped in the Convention Center. But once the summit began, I quickly realized what this was becoming.
When the leaders of the No on H8 campaign began speaking, anxiety was already beginning to fill the room. And when some of them didn't really want to answer the questions on what went wrong, the anxiety quickly turned into anger. The election may have been nearly three months ago, but that doesn't mean LGBT people aren't still hurting after losing fundamental rights at the ballot box. People wanted accountability, but the campiagn leaders still seemed afraid to own up to what happened.
Well, not everyone was afraid. Some, like EQCA's Geoff Kors, actually seemed open to learning from mistakes. And better yet, the folks from Marriage Equality USA seemed ready to undo the damage. However, others just preferred to shift blame to someone else. Fortunately, the lovely Eva Patterson of Equal Justice Society was able to calm the crowd after a storm of fury. She broke to us the hard fact that we'll eventually need to forgive and move on if we intend to build a strong coalition.
After the venting was done, we were then able to engage in some constructive dialogue. David Binder, one of the Obama Campaign's pollsters, gave some definitive answers on what went wrong in the Prop H8 vote. Also at the summit, I was able to meet with local leaders to talk about preparing a winning plan for OC. All in all, I found good use out of Equality Summit.
If Equality Summit was about dealing with the past, then Courage Campaign's Camp Courage seemed all about preparing for the future. I could feel something different in West Hollywood yesterday as I stepped in the auditorium. Instead of the soul searching and frustration I had witnessed the previous day, this event would be more upbeat and action oriented. But hey, what should I have expected from an event modeled after Camp Obama?
I'll be brutally honest, the "Fired Up! Ready to Go!" and "Yes We Can!" chants seemed a little creepy at first. As someone who supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary (before moving to Barack Obama for the general election), I was starting to feel uncomfortable. But once the program got rolling, I was blown away... In a good way.
We had "old school" civil rights activists, like Lisa Powell and SEIU's Liz Moore, train us on telling our stories and persuading voters. We also had newer activists, like Calitics blogger & Courage organizer Julia Rosen, train us on new tools like Courage's Equality Hub. All in all, I felt like I was actually being empowered to undo the damage of H8 at Camp Courage yesterday.
And ultimately, this is why I'm glad I did both. This is why the LGBT community needs to have both experiences. The marriage equality battle has been tough, and numerous mistakes have been made in the past, so we need to vent and scream and shout and forgive and understand and ultimately learn from our mistakes. And then, we need to move on and start figuring out what we must do now and in the future to succeed in the beautiful struggle for equality.
But hey, this doesn't come cheap. EQCA can't do this alone, and neither can Courage Campaign. We need to support these California groups that are working hard in court and on the ground to overturn H8. Oh yes, and let's not forget the local groups that are doing the same here in my area and in yours. We need to look back, look ahead, and ultimately get to work to make equality happen.