The 53.7% Factor: Conversations on a Long Train Ride to a (Gay) Wedding

When I tell you I live in San Francisco, you may think being gay here is just a done deal.  And most of the time, you might be right: I don’t worry about who I am or whether I am or seem “out” to anyone else. My wonderful wife and child and I can simply exist.

Then I remember the irony of the train ride on the evening of Tuesday, November 4, 2008. A group of us took the F-Market train from the No On Prop 8 headquarters down to the democratic campaign headquarters at the St. Francis hotel, all decked out in our No On Prop 8 shirts, carrying No On Prop 8 signs and generally excited though uncertain about what was to be a long roller-coaster night of heartbreak ahead.

We were taunted on the train.  A group of kids were seething slurs at us, and the slurs were not at all pretty.  We were, basically, publicly humiliated.

It’s true so much has changed even just since then. Five years later we’ve not yet seen the repeal of Prop 8, but other states have managed to overcome the barrier to popular vote for the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.  We feel the tide turning.  But we still have a long ride ahead.

Last week we took the Amtrak Coast Starlight up to Seattle and back for Loret and Aimee’s beautiful wedding on Saturday, April 6.  The thing about these long rides on Amtrak trains is that you’re not just traveling – you’re dining, watching movies, squeezing through tight corridors, and generally hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know.  For an entire day.

When you go into the dining car for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, unless you’re a party of four already, you’re placed together with others who fill the table.  Each time, you try to have conversations.

“Where did you get on the train?”
“Where are you headed?”
“Oh you’re going to a wedding – how wonderful!”
“Is your daughter going to be in the wedding?”
“Who’s getting married?”

Conversations with strangers are wonderful – even when one is badly slept and unshowered on a rocking train.  Conversations about our gay families though – even in 2013 – are still risky.  Here’s what it’s like:

“Who’s getting married?”

All in a split second, you consider the 2012 election result that approved same-sex marriage in the state to which the train is heading, stick the fact in your back pocket that 53.7% approved the marriage you’re going to witness, and by proxy your own marriage, and come up with the figure that roughly 1 in every two you meet, were they Washington voters and did they vote in this particular election, are going to be thusly supportive of the conversation you’re about to consider having.

And you try to evaluate: which one is this?

Not everybody gets this opportunity to have their relationship status a subject of national debate.  Usually this is considered a good thing – a matter of privacy – but we’re global citizens, sharing the same world, the same country, the same dining car table – and marriage is nothing if not about a societal conversation and recognition.

I don’t always succeed in taking the opportunity to represent who I am, even in the face of a 53.7% chance of being met with frank approval.

On the train, I failed at the first meal, with the couple from Imperial County in California.  Somewhere my mind made a judgment from within the context of the 2008 Prop 8 verdict of their home county, and I answered the dining questions vaguely, for which I felt like a deceptive and bad global traveler.

The rest of the conversations would go differently.  With the mom and her kid, who seemed almost mirror images of my daughter and me and were returning to their home city near Seattle — with them we talked freely, and I thanked them for approving R74 – even though I had no idea how they actually voted.  They reacted supportively – almost like this wedding thing is just a given.

Then there’s an entire other end of the spectrum.  My wife Leanne was practically jumped upon by a self-professed conservative Republican who wanted to apologize for his party and wish us well whatever the hell we wanted to do. Eventually for Leanne it became a matter of choice NOT to keep talking to this fine fellow — she had other things to do on the train, after all.

What a difference indeed the five years – the ten years – the knowing of one out of every two – makes. I should represent like every other person who is alive today can, but I get this extra chance – to represent in the face of a flying social issue.  I do try, and not always very well.

The flip-side of the 53.7% factor is the 46.3% factor.  For this good reason and many better ones, conversations on our journey, still risky, are more and more important, rewarding, and hopeful — every day.

Dear Charles Cooper: We could be friends

Dear Charles Cooper;

I think I started to like you when Leanne pointed out your cuff links at yesterday’s trial.   To watch the trial, I was sitting in the overflow room behind a personal hero of mine, Kate Kendell, executive director at National Center for Lesbian Rights, and I know she has been known to sport some pretty excellent cuff links as well. I, too, like cuff links. It’s really silly, I know, but I get excited when I think: This is something we all have in common!

Sitting behind Kate Kendell and Melanie Rowan of NCLR

Sitting behind Kate Kendell and Melanie Rowan of NCLR

When we left the overflow room shortly after the hearing ended at noon, we walked up the hallway to the real trial room to just peek inside.  At that exact moment you were walking out of the room. You looked tired – you had obviously been working hard.  We ran away to sort of hide – then we were concerned we might be in the same elevator as you on the way down.  You instead went to the Men’s room first so we were spared that situation.

My view of Charles Cooper on the video from the overflow room

My view of Charles Cooper on the video from the overflow room - terrible phone picture I know

Afterward I felt guilty:  running away is silly.  I wonder what it would be like to talk with you.   I would have tried to shake your hand and I would have asked about your cuff links and probably found some nice things to say.  Maybe we’d later have a drink together.  I could show you San Francisco from some of my favorite views. You’d meet our beautiful daughter…

I’ve dreamed this sort of thing before.  I just wanted to dream it out loud a little longer.  For the sake of my daughter’s future — our future. It could happen.

Thank you,

-m

PS: Here are the rulings from the trial, out today (the following day). You lost on both counts. How I wish I could help you know it’s going to be OK.

This Week in Video and Politics

I’ve been working on an internal video sharing platform at work for over a year, and now everything from music to politics to diversity to news to family and more directly seems to relate to video sharing platforms.

This week, two videos in particular have caught my interest at the intersection of Video and Politics. Let’s start with Charlie Crist:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4k13LmlcUE%5D

A colleague passed along the news story behind this to me: Crist, Byrne settle lawsuit over campaign song.

We know a bit about the potential issues of music copyright infringement through our work on our video project, so it’s surprising that this video was ever made. Charlie Crist should have known better when he used the Talking Heads’ song Road To Nowhere in his campaign ad, but in the realities of political campaigning he (or likely his campaign) could well have realized a “cease and desist” order might not have even taken effect until the campaign was long over.  Seems anything goes in the fast lawless heat of political campaigns.

On the other hand, Prop 8 proponents are targeting Judge Vaughn Walker over his public use of videotapes from the trial in the long long journey of Prop 8 through the courts. Seems back on February 18, at an event on courts and new media in Arizona, Judge Walker delivered a session called Shooting the Messenger: How Cameras in the Courtroom Got a Bad Wrap, and during that session he showed pieces of the videotaped trial, including testimony from a Prop 8 proponent.  C-SPAN was there to record it, which amounted essentially to “broadcasting the testimony on TV,” which is of course what the Prop 8  folks never wanted in the first place.  Since a stern motion about this apparent “illegal” release of videotape was delivered today, you should watch it there while you can (I can’t get a version with embed strings but will come back and embed if I find one).

The Ninth Circuit Court later had no problem showing the Prop 8 trial live on C-SPAN. You can watch it in its entirety to this day:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tO_HoF1EBfw%5D

Beyond Walker’s district court however there are no live witnesses to testify. All records of people’s motivations are preserved back in the district court.

For the moment let’s ignore the the obvious question “What do Prop 8 proponents continue to want to hide?” I used to think that The Law was one of the next biggest areas of disruption in the “Web 2.0” space. Now that I’m involved in a video project, naturally I think video is the current huge disruption in politics.

Of course — none of these things are new, but whereas Law seems to be purposefully designed to be slow in a fast-media world, Politics is far from it.  A quick campaign ad released the day before an election can change its course.  Thankfully, checks and balances are however still in tact. A targeted attack on a meticulously prepared, thoroughly researched and fairly tried case (or the relevance of the case’s judge’s sexuality) will amount to nothing except passing fancy in the “court of public opinion.”

Video however? Video can reveal to anyone who cares to see the real motivations behind Prop 8 as revealed in the courtroom from its proponents under testimony, and you can try to pull it down, but the record is cast. The Internet will continue to remember. And we’re here to see it.

Prop 8 ruling: When law goes viral

August 4, 2010; Castro at Market

August 4, 2010; Castro at Market

It was cold, foggy, and even a bit drizzly all day, but yesterday was a beautiful day in San Francisco. I paced around the Federal Building on Golden Gate Street awaiting Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger case on the constitutionality of Prop 8. Judge Walker had announced the ruling would come down between 1 and 3pm on Wednesday, August 4, and it would be delivered via the court’s Web site as well as in hard-copy at the Clerk’s office in the Federal Building.

But as I waited in line, sometime after 1pm my Twitter stream told me that Jeremy at Good As You got to it first.

Members of mainstream media channels (Reuters, KCBS) were waiting with me in line and scrambled around a bit disbelieving when I read from the pages that Jeremy had posted onto Scribd. Scribd was quick to confirm that this document had become its most viral document ever posted.

Although it’s wise, as a rule, to not take anything for “true” at first glance on Twitter, I don’t think anyone can say as a result which “official” broadcast called the decision first. I have a collection of tweets and text messages, but no real “announcement.” Sometime after 2pm, a cardboard box arrived at the Federal Building, and the handful of us still left in line got our copies of the Prop 8 opinion, still warm from the copier. It’s a great thing to have and hold, but the City was already partying by then.

This is what “viral” looks like. PS: This is also what “beautiful” looks like.

Prop 8 Trial Closing Arguments: What really separates you from me?

Charles Cooper and Judge Vaughn Walker: view from the overflow2 room

Charles Cooper and Judge Vaughn Walker: view from the overflow2 room

My wife and I arrived at the Federal Building an hour before the closing arguments began at 10am, but by then we were already number 30 in a line waiting to get into the overflow room. We were told the overflow room was full and only press could reserve passes. By 10am, the line to get in looked to be 150 people at least – and luckily they had opened an additional two overflow rooms.

So we had plenty of time while standing in line to talk to people around us.  Though we were mostly too full of nerves to talk, we did meet one really nice guy behind us in line and talked about the trial, and about how my wife and I wish we could just invite the people who don’t want us to marry over for cocktails so we could really talk to each other and see how we are alike and how we are different. He told us he’d also be honored to have us over to visit him and his wife.

We finally all got in to overflow room nr. 2 and Leanne and I tweeted the entire way till the trial concluded at 4pm.  (There were brief breaks — we rode the elevator UP with David Boies; we rode the elevator UP with Cleve Jones and Dustin Lance Black; we got to talk to the many great NCLR folks there… we felt starstruck).

Charles Cooper - speaking after intro from Andy Pugno (to his right) and before Ron Prentice (to his left)

Charles Cooper - speaking at press conference after intro from Andy Pugno (to his right) and before Ron Prentice (to his left)

There’s obviously much of record there and much to say about what Olson and Cooper and Walker said during the trial — and there’ll be much written elsewhere, now and for a long while to come — but to me the most amazing thing happened after the trial so I want to write this now.

Thanks to Marriage Equality USA’s Molly Mckay, we got into the press conference right after the trial. We immediately met the smiling man we had shared the “nr. 30” spot in line with before the trial, and he gave us a big hug.  I then asked him what his interest was in being there — “I work at the California Family Council and with Ron Prentice at Protect Marriage,” he said.  To my other side was Kate Kendell, tireless and amazing director of NCLR, and to this side was “the enemy.” And we were already friends.  It was an amazing and bizarre moment.

Olson: "Our clients - they're not plaintiffs, they're human beings who stand for everyone"

Olson: "Our clients - they're not plaintiffs, they're human beings who stand for everyone"

As I listened to “his side” talk at the press conference about the wrongs people like us were doing to people like my daughter, I kept receiving pictures on my cell phone of my daughter, who was at that moment twirling with a friend in the playground in the brilliant light. And he and my wife and I kept talking about our families, and re-extended the invitations to visit. We shared pictures of beautiful family. I thought about the truly thin line that separates “our side” from “their side” and what in the end we are really fighting for.  I felt like the future is a bright light toward which we run, and one day none of this will matter anymore.  We’ll be beyond.

When shall we learn what should be clear as day

We cannot choose what we are free to love

W.H. Auden

Where I Stand

Tomorrow at 10am, the California Supreme Court decides the fate of the legal challenge to Prop 8 and the fate of our marriages. I will be standing by the Court, waiting.

august 12, 2004

august 12, 2004

Where I stood five years ago:

six months ago tomorrow we were married in san francisco. yesterday, thanks to the california supreme court, we were unmarried. our baby girl is due to arrive in just over a week. our lawyer told us to run, not walk, down to register as domestic partners should our marriages become invalidated. we spent an excruciating and ultimately fruitless few hours today, nearly as much time as we spent getting married that valentine’s day, trying to second-class our union by registering as domestic partners (more)…

may 15, 2008

may 15, 2008

Where I stood one year ago:

On Thursday, May 15, it’s true, Bette Midler’s particularly brassy-voiced version of “Chapel of Love” was ringing through my head as I was running down Market Street trying to get to the California State Building by 10am, in time for the Supreme Court’s decision on In Re Marriage. (As you may remember,) It was a very hot day, and I was panting and sweaty by the time I reached the Supreme Court — not in good shape for my photo opp with Kate Kendell — but I was feeling surprisingly hopeful about the immediately pending decision on marriage (more)…

november 5, 2008

november 5, 2008

Where I stood six months ago:

Much has been written and discussed since November 4, 2008 in the attempt to sort out why our efforts in California against Proposition 8 failed to actually beat the proposition. We should of course study hard and learn from mistakes, and above all move forward with this momentum. But what continues to impress me the most is the collective spirit of giving — of all of your stories — that has taken place as a result of this profound effort (more)…

Where will I stand the day after tomorrow?

Where do you stand?

You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate.

You don’t have to help it, you don’t have it applaud it, you don’t have to fight for it. Just don’t put it out. Just don’t extinguish it. Because while it may at first look like that love is between two people you don’t know and you don’t understand and maybe you don’t even want to know. It is, in fact, the ember of your love, for your fellow person just because this is the only world we have.

— Keith Olbermann

GO Equality California!

One of the biggest and most painful complaints levied against the No On Prop 8 campaign is that the campaign failed to use images of real gay people and their families in the official ads.

As sad as Prop 8’s passage was, what a sea-change there’s been since then. After so much pain and real harm by its passage, we’ve had a national dialog like never before. With now five states on the side of marriage equality, “the arc of  moral history” appears to continue to bend towards justice — even as we speak.

And we’ve learned — a lot.  And shared — a lot.  Equality California, in a major evolution in campaign messaging, has just announced that they are featuring *real live gay people* and their families in their newest ads.  They listened and they got it.

Thank you Equality California, and come on everyone: Take a look at last. Don’t be afraid to find out there’s more in common between “your lifestyle” and “my lifestyle” than you might have thought.

Read more about Equality California’s campaign at http://www.eqca.org/winmarriageback.