Gov. Center filled by Prop. 8 protest

by Beacon Staff • November 19, 2008

Love was a battlefield on Saturday when more than two dozen Emerson students joined thousands of demonstrators in Government Center to protest the passing of California's Proposition 8, which amended the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

The ballot question has drawn sharp criticism from gay rights advocates across the nation, and has drawn the ire of countless protesters since its passage on Nov. 4.

On Nov. 19, California's Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to legality of the new rule, according to news reports.

The Nov. 15 rally was organized by JoinTheImpact, a group which seeks to encourage the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community to fight for equal rights. The group arranged for simultaneous protests against Prop. 8 in 300 cities around the country. Similar bans were passed this year in Florida, Arizona and Arkansas.

The referendum came months after the California Supreme Court authorized same-sex weddings in May 2008, leaving thousands of couples in confusion. JoinTheImpact launched on Nov. 7 and, by Nov. 10, JoinTheImpact went international to include 10 countries worldwide.

"Election night was one big step forward for gay rights in particular," said senior Brendan Davis prior to the protest, referring to the election of Barack Obama, who supports civil unions. "Yet on that same night, four different states passed propositions taking away gay rights, which is disgusting. I think we live in such a progressive day and age that this shouldn't even be an issue anymore. People should have equal rights no matter what."

Emerson students gathered near the Boylston T stop in preparation to walk together to City Hall, led by writing for film and television major Davis and junior Dylan Joffe, a political communication and marketing double major. The group of at least 25 students chanted in unison, "gay, straight, black, white marriage is a civil right," their voices echoing between buildings as they marched through rain puddles toward the larger throng.

Jenn Barry, president of Emerson Alliance of Gays, Lesbians and Everyone, a student organization which promotes the acceptance of queer culture throughout the Emerson community, marched alongside the smattering of students. She said she learned of the event through Joffe, Davis, and Facebook groups.

"I think it's important even in Massachusetts where we have gay marriage still to show that this isn't enough," the sophomore political communication major said. "We need it to happen federally and the rally is the perfect opportunity to do it."

The crowd converged around a stage constructed for guest speakers to address the crowd, a list which included Massachusetts State Representatives Michael Capuano and Niki Tsongas, in addition to Gunner Scott, director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

Chanting broke out between speakers: "What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want them? Now!"

Despite the large turnout against the proposition, dissent was not absent. "Bible" Bob Whetstone, a popular evangelist pamphleteer, slung a sandwich board across his chest: "You will burn in Hell."

He and a few others were booed by the crowd at Government Center with chants of "No more hate."

DJ Hatfield, a professor at Berklee College of Music and a member of The Berklee Union of Gays, Lesbians and Everyone Else, a student group at the college, was among the group heckling Whetstone.

"I become very upset to see people use religion to perpetuate injustice," Hatfield said. "Whenever I see it I just think it's absolutely wrong."

Emerson students huddled at the foot of the stage throughout the rally, offering enthusiastic responses to the speakers. Davis said he was pleased with the response, but that there is more to be done in the future.

"I think at Emerson people think that being gay is so common so that you don't have to talk about it," Davis said. "I think it's important to open up a dialogue in a school that is considered so liberal and so 'gay friendly.' Emerson is accepting but people are from other places besides this little bubble on Boylston Street."

Freshman Rob de la Teja, a member of EAGLE, said he was disappointed by the small number of Emerson students who showed up to the pre-rally meet-and-march.

"I think we had a surprisingly low turnout for this school," the print journalism major said. "I feel like calling people and saying, 'You need to get out here, I don't care if it's raining.'"

Both Davis and Joffe said the balloon the Emerson community has created doesn't need to be popped; rather, it needs to expand to include the rest of the world.

"People are having their rights taken away from them and for once they are starting a fight. We hear about Stonewall and all of that and people in our generation have never really had to fight for their rights," Davis said."We're starting to do so and it's awesome."