A Lesson Learned
Anyone who knows me knows I run at a pretty high pitch–lots of energy, passion and intensity. You also know how much I love and honor this work. It is a privilege every day to do work that advances the dignity and protection of LGBT people. I am almost always thinking about this work and how to do it better and faster. I’ve always seen these attributes as a plus, and they almost always are. But on the Wednesday morning of the rulings knocking out Prop 8 and striking down section 3 of DOMA, my passion trumped my common sense.
As I stood in the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, having been asked only moments earlier if I would emcee the press conference about the rulings, I was flooded with emotion. City Hall was packed. There were 3,000 people wildly cheering, plus every key dignitary or elected official was there. I had been in San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s back office when the rulings were announced, crushed into this small room with Phyllis Lyon and many of our city’s past and present leaders. When we heard the news about DOMA and then Prop 8, the room erupted. I cried, Phyllis cried…it was a moment I will never forget.
Knowing Prop 8 was dead healed a gaping wound in my psyche. NCLR worked long and hard on the case that won marriage in California on May 15, 2008. That day was the best day of my life as a lawyer. Six months later it was all taken away by Prop 8. I was devastated; our community was shaken. And yet you all, joined by so many across the nation, roared back. Prop 8 galvanized our community and our friends and allies like nothing I had ever seen and that reaction fed and led to the incredible victories at the U.S. Supreme Court. But at some deep, unacknowledged level, I never recovered from the bitter taste of Prop 8.
So as I stood in the rotunda of City Hall on the morning of these historic rulings, utterly blind to the fact that we were on live television, those emotions I had shoved deep made an appearance and I said the first thing I thought: “F*** you, Prop 8”. Now, everyone who knows me knows I can be profane. But I don’t swear on national TV. When I heard later that we were live, I was sick. I know lots of people loved it and I really do appreciate the support of so many who felt I was giving voice to their own feelings. But, as my Mom would have said if she were still alive: “Honey, I love you and I understand why you said it, but I wish you hadn’t.” My Mom would say that because she knew, as I do, that you reach people you need to reach by engaging them in language that elevates you and the issue. I missed the chance to do that and I’m sorry. I take very seriously my role as a representative of both NCLR and our movement, and this moment reflected poorly on me as that person.
We have fought so hard to get to this day, and we have so much yet to do. I am very ready to approach the next chapter of our work. We know that in most states LGBT people are living with the same feelings of vulnerability and fear they have always lived with. We are determined to change that. We will be there for you and for them. We are ready for prime time, and after my lesson learned, so am I.