Activists mark Harvey Milk Day with door-to-door campaign

Targeting districts that voted heavily in favor banning same-sex marriage, gay-rights activists took to the streets throughout Los Angeles County on Saturday and made personal appeals for legalization.

Organizers said they hoped to humanize their cause by having gay and lesbian couples share their struggles with residents.

"We become human when we tell our stories, that is why across the state we're going out and talking to people who aren't with us," said Marc Solomon, marriage director of Equality California, the state's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization. " Harvey Milk was an activist, a fighter and believed so strongly in personal stories as a way to make progress happen," he added. "So it's very befitting to do that."

Among the neighborhoods canvassed as part of a statewide commemoration of Harvey Milk Day were East Los Angeles, Maywood, Commerce, Huntington Park, South Gate and Montebello, where voters — primarily Latino — helped pass Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California.

Raymond Moya, 38, and Byron Moya, 32, an Inland Empire couple who married before the ban, went door-to-door talking to registered voters. They brought along their twin 3-year-old daughters.

They spoke with residents about their lives, their struggles and their battle for equal rights. All the while, their daughters fidgeted in their arms.

"Harvey Milk once said that we should be open to the world, to our friends and family so that they know who we are," said Raymond Moya. "We're just like your neighbors next door, the only difference is that we're a same-sex couple."

Standing in his driveway beneath a lemon tree, Cosme De Los Santos, 60, listened politely.

"I agree that they deserve equal rights and benefits like other couples," said De Los Santos, a devout Catholic. "But my religion prevents me from supporting gay marriages."

The Moyas told De Los Santos that they also are Catholic, but he said that did not change his view.

The canvassing event, which occurred throughout the state, was sponsored by Equality California and dozens of state and local advocacy groups and elected officials.

In Los Angeles County, the effort began Saturday with dozens of volunteers and advocates gathering at the East Los Angeles Service Center, where they heard supportive speeches from Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, state Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), and Dustin Lance Black, an activist and screenwriter who won an Academy Award for the movie " Milk."

Last year Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law the Harvey Milk Day bill, written by state Sen. Mark Leno (D- San Francisco), who is gay.

The bill designates May 22 as a day of significance in honor of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. He would have been 80 years old Saturday.

Milk was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. He served for 11 months before he and Mayor George R. Moscone were assassinated at City Hall by former supervisor Dan White.

Born in Long Island, N.Y., Milk was known as an outspoken advocate and hero to San Francisco's homosexual community. He preached a message of pride and championed affordable public transportation, low-income housing and civil rights. He was also credited for the defeat of Proposition 6, an initiative that would have prohibited gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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