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Commentary : Protesters Hope Irvine March Will Close the ‘Open Season’ on Gays

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Lesbians and gays will gather at Irvine City Hall at noon on Saturday to begin a peaceful march through the city. This march for lesbian and gay rights is a response to the controversial vote in November in favor of Measure N, which removed lesbians and gays from Irvine’s Human Rights Ordinance. In effect, the voters of Irvine decided that the civil rights of lesbians and gays did not warrant protection.

While statistics are unavailable, anecdotal evidence indicates that since the vote, there has been an increase in prejudicial incidents directed against lesbians and gays in Irvine. One recent example is the decision by the chancellor of UC Irvine to prohibit lesbian and gay couples from living in married students’ housing. Just last weekend, an elected Orange County official, in referring to a group of gays and lesbians picketing a meeting he was attending, used a highly derogatory term in public to refer to the sexual orientation of the pickets.

In my opinion, the passage of Measure N allowed much pent-up bigotry against lesbians and gays to surface, in effect giving people “permission” to vent their true feelings against us.

While many of us in the lesbian and gay community are still angered and frustrated by the results of the Irvine vote, the voters of Irvine are not entirely to blame. In fact, I would contend that they were duped by a scurrilous campaign led by a small group of people who, for whatever reasons, have selected lesbians and gays as the target of their hate.

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These people were willing to go to any length in the Irvine campaign to ensure victory. They distributed campaign literature that was filled with misconceptions, half-truths and outright lies. They showed a video on Irvine public-access TV that equated lesbian and gay civil rights with child molestation, intentional transmission of the AIDS virus, bestiality and a wild-eyed plot to gain control of the U.S. political system. They stated that allowing the words sexual orientation to remain in the Human Rights Ordinance would eventually mean hiring quotas for lesbian and gay teachers, as well as rampant same-sex couplings in Irvine parks and streets.

The information they chose to impart to Irvine voters in a smear campaign of hate and fear would be laughable were it not done in so deadly serious a manner and had it not elicited the response from the electorate that it did.

Irvine voters were not alone in being fooled by right-wing demagoguery against lesbians and gays in November. In Akron, Ohio, and Tacoma, Wash., lesbian and gay rights measures similar to Irvine’s were also repealed, after like-minded campaigns appealing to voters’ basest instincts.

In Contra Costa County, Concord voters repealed an AIDS anti-discrimination measure, and San Francisco voted to prevent its City Council-passed “domestic partners” measure from going into effect. The literature distributed in each of those campaigns bore remarkable similarities to that used in Irvine.

But lesbians and gays do not need to compare hate-filled campaign literature to know that we are the targets of a sophisticated, well-financed and coordinated campaign to prevent us from exercising our civil rights. We are feeling the sting of discrimination keenly all over the United States, and it hurts.

From gay killings in Maine to gay-bashing judges in Texas, and on to the ballot boxes in California, the right wing has made it clear that we are public enemy No. 1.

We are attacked by bigots cloaked in the guise of so-called “Christian” morality, who claim that we will seduce children and destroy value systems. They say we are anti-family and against “traditional” values. Do they forget that we came from families, that we are children, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents? Can they deny that we respect the most important traditional values in America: justice, love and peace?

In fact, we want nothing more than to be left in peace--with our rights.

When we petition for our civil rights, or demand inclusion in measures such as Irvine’s, we are not asking for special rights, or anything that other Americans do not enjoy. We are asking for protection of our civil rights because they are at risk. Because there are people who would deny us our civil rights, we need protection.

For a variety of reasons, many people find lesbians and gays very threatening, so they have made us a target. And their tactics have worked well. Many of us are so afraid of the consequences in housing, employment, medical care and family life that we are unwilling to come out of our closets. Who can blame us when we are greeted by people who remind us that we are better off dead?

We have also been targeted because we are at our most vulnerable today, with millions of us affected by the crisis of AIDS, a crisis that we have been made scapegoats for, even as we alone have cared for our sick and dying when no one else would help. At the same time, in California, we have had to fight punitive measures targeted against people affected by AIDS, such as Propositions 64, 69, 96 and 102, which have drained us financially and emotionally. We have been attacked time and again by politicians seeking to raise money and garner followers.

Indeed, we are singled out for hate: No one would dare circulate petitions to have African-Americans or Asians removed from a human rights ordinance. No self-respecting minister would consider attacking any other minority from a church’s pulpit. But, when it comes to lesbians and gays, it’s open hunting season.

When we gather on the steps of City Hall in Irvine next Saturday, our actions will not be directed against the voters of Irvine. Many of them--more than 10,000, as well as the mayor and members of the City Council--offered their support. Our actions will be directed at the mentality that finds lesbians and gays worthy only of contempt, hate and fear.

We will be marching for our rights and against a small minority that successfully manipulated the electoral process in November. The voters of Irvine, Concord, San Francisco or any other electorate cannot take our civil rights away. We have our rights. They are not negotiable.


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