Equality Camp: BarCamp style unconference takes on Marriage Equality issues

BlogHer Original Post

EqualityCamp—held January 3rd in San Francisco--was a pilot event to bring Web 2.0 geeks who know the lessons of the Web well together with activists for marriage equality and equal rights for gays.

So, if you’re straight, do you care about marriage equality? Do you want the gay and lesbian couples you know to be able to make the same civil, legal commitment to get married that straight, heterosexual couples can? Or are you afraid supporting marriage equality will lead to marrying too many same sex couples in your church, or a general decline in cultural values?

If you’re not straight, are you a woman who can't marry her partner because you both share a specific sex/gender, or a trans-person who cannot marry as the gender you really are, as opposed to what you were born with?

These were moot questions in the Bay area for a while, as California law loosened up and allowed same-sex couples to marry, but with the passage of Prop 8, all that stopped. You see, the new law changes the California state constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman—eliminating gay marriage. This means that my friends who are gay can no longer make the same legal commitments to one another that heterosexuals can, and that if I fell in love with a woman and wanted to marry her, I couldn’t. Furthermore, this was a law that—with all the activism going on to support its defeat—many people thought would not pass.

But pass it they did, so now the discussion in California has become “What’s next?”

Believing that "the No on 8 crowd didn't take advantage of the online/grassroots world, and they didn't show the face of gays,” some folks came up with another idea—to apply the Bar Camp principles of an open, day long un-conference to marriage equality activism and organizing and do a one day event to plan next steps to change. Social media and product folk Cathy Brooks, Tara Hunt, Adina Levin, Hillary Hartley and Heather Gold banded together with sponsors, friends and supporters to plan a put on EqualityCamp SF on January 3rd, perhaps the first BarCamp specifically devoted to a social/political issue.

So this past Saturday morning at 8:30, I finished walking the dog, grabbed my computer, got in the car and drove across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco to take part in the first Equality Camp. I went because it seems to me that being able to marry whomever you want to (assuming you are an adult) is a basic human right, and, since I had not been involved in organizing against 8 before, the time was right.

Inside the loading dock space at the CitizenSpace building, 75+ people were milling around, drinking coffee as the organizers simultaneously checked people in, handed out t-shirts, posed for photos and made sure the sticky notes, pens and scratch pads were out. By 10:30, the un conference planning was happening and by 11:15, the first set of 20 (simultaneous) sessions was underway (see schedule here).

The first two questions everyone was asked were “Why are you here?” and “What would you like to see happen?” What we learned from the answers was that the group was a mix of straight, bi-, queer and gay, with people coming from as far south as San Diego and as far north/east as Sacramento who all felt strongly that marriage equality—or gay marriage, as some put it, was a fundamental right Americans had to claim/reclaim.

One woman made much of her value as a straight(and married) supporter of what she saw as a primarily gay issue; many others describe themselves as present because they thought civil marriage was a right for all (I fall into that camp), still others shared their personal experiences around marrying their partner (or not, and supporting marriage equality anyway.) The crowd was impressive in its diversity-- Though there were (way) fewer people of color than one might hope, there were many people from the tech community who had never been involved in any marriage equality political actions before (again, I fell into that camp).

I was thrilled to see David Hornik, Tantek Celik, Shannon Clark, Melissa Gira and Chris Heuer (who was photographing)among the Bay area progressive tech/media folk who showed up to talk with the very diverse set of marriage equality and gay rights activists who attended.

Discussions were held simultaneously; I attended service as a way to unify communities, mapping & data, tech platform for organizing, organizing in communities of color and Oakland, East bay and local--next steps. Throughout each discussion, there were themes that kept repeating:

  • How do we mobilize the grassroots?
  • How could we convince fundamentalist religious Christians that same-sex couples have a right to marry they can support? What are the best ways to do outreach and education with this community?
  • We know communities of color were NOT the actual reason 8 passed—but how do we do a better job engaging people of color in this movement?
  • How do we reach out to and keep straight people involved?
  • How can we keep activists fresh and working, not burnt out?

At the same time, there was tremendous energy and connection generated. The gay rights activists and tech progressives were both meeting people from outside of their usual sphere of experience; straights, gays and everyone in the middle were not being defined by sexual preferences, but by shared beliefs. The women-led team created a safe space, warm and supportive, that was no less purpose-driven for its charm (and good food) and there was a sense of momentum, of coming together, that is going to drive more actions and organizing beyond this one day.

It rocked!

Some of the outcomes from the BarCamp to be aware of:

  • Keep the web site and wiki open and make them into an aggregator for Marriage Equality activities around the state
  • Support other Marriage Equality Bar Camps in other states
  • Hold an Equality Camp meet-up in Oakland, CA (message me if this interests you)
  • Continue activities in the Bay area and around the country

Final takeaway: I’m not gay and not planning to get married to anyone anytime soon, but this feels like a great cause to be involved in because it safeguards and affirms some basic human needs—to connect and to be legitimized—that bring people together. There is so much fear and mis-education about what passing a marriage equality law would entail that this is a great area to get involved if you care.

Groups to consider include Courage Campaign, Marriage Equality USA, the Marriage Equality wiki (see the action page for groups) and Stop8.org.

Equality Camp and Marriage Equality Blog posts to check out

Lwu’s blog: EqualityCamp, a story from
“After a brief introduction from some of the organizers, we introduced ourselves to each other and got to work self-organizing to break up into theme-based sessions. As the EqualityCampSchedule shows, attendees both wanted to learn from the past--"Secrets / Lessons from the Obama Campaign", and look to the future with technology platforms for organizing (Mobile, Geospatial Mapping, and modern Social Networks). We also discussed service as a way of unifying communities, how to work with Youth / Allies / liberal communities of faith, and how to organize in communities of color and the (Oakland) East Bay.”

California Now: One Small StepToward Marriage Equality
“The Name Equality Act of 2007 was signed in 2007, and finally becomes effective next week. It allows couples who marry or enter a domestic partnership to change either or both last names. Interestingly enough, this law mandates gender-neutral marriage licenses and domestic partnership certificates, one of the things that Prop. 8 supporters complained about.”

Chris Crain, Citizen Crain:
Change I Hope I can Believe In
“Of course the new president and Congress can't simply "pass marriage equality rights," and Obama does not support gay marriage anyway. But they can either repeal DOMA (idea #3) or they can enact federal civil unions, extending all the rights and benefits of marriage under federal law to gay couples who enter into marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships.”

Please don't divorce us, pictures collected by Courage Campaign.

 

 

 

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