In 2000, in the days after the passage of California’s so-called “Knight Initiative,” I remember getting an e-mail that included this quote: “Failure is just success that hasn’t happened yet.” I can’t remember who those words were attributed to, but I do remember, in the freshness of that defeat, that they didn’t make me feel particularly hopeful.
This year, even in defeat, I see a lot of reason for hope. Yes, our entire community is hurt and angered by the passage of Proposition 8. Add to it the defeats in Arizona, Arkansas and Florida, and it can feel like LGBT folk have been singled out as a kind of national punching bag. Even so, the poll numbers show that Americans’ recognition of our rights is growing. Just eight years ago, Californians denied our right to marry by a whopping 23 percentage points. This year, the margin was just five points. None of this year’s anti-LGBT initiatives even came close to the 70 and 80 percent approval we suffered in 2004. American attitudes toward recognizing the civil rights of LGBT people are changing, even if we aren’t winning elections — yet.
Already our community has shown that we aren’t going to take these defeats lying down. Seeing LGBT people and our straight allies taking to the streets to protest — in California and across the country — is inspiring. Yet, there is still more work to do. After the protests are over, we need to get back to the work of building on the progress we’ve achieved, so that the lessons of this year’s failures ensure our future success.
Here are three things we can do — NEED to do — if we’re going to reverse the damage done by these initiatives:
1. Talk it up!
When it comes to LGBT rights, nothing changes people’s hearts and minds more effectively than an actual lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person telling their own story in their own words. If a coworker, neighbor or acquaintance knows your story and the impact it will have on your life if they vote to take your rights away, they’re much less likely to do so.See the Changing Hearts and Minds section for more information.
2. Join a campaign (or start one)!
Protests are a great way to draw attention to an issue, but once the post-election anger dies down, there’s more work to be done. Coalitions need to be built. Funds need to be raised. Envelopes need to be stuffed and voters need to be called. Use the Find Local Groups tool on our home page and contact your local LGBT rights group or ACLU affiliate to find out what’s going on in your area.
If there’s no campaign nearby, get a few people together and start one! The Organize section of Get Busy, Get Equal has a detailed toolkit to help you get started. Whether you petition your local school district to pass an anti-discrimination policy, work with your city council to establish a domestic partnership registry, or push your legislators to extend partner benefits to state employees, a successful campaign in your community not only helps LGBT people now, but lays important stepping-stones to marriage equality.
3. Spread the word!
If there’s one deficit that this election did show, it’s this: we need more people in our movement. To secure legal recognition of LGBT rights, we’re going to need more of our supporters — gay and straight alike — to get involved and start taking action. Help us spread the word by letting your friends know about this website. If you’re on Facebook, become our fan and ask your friends to do the same. If you’ve got a blog, link to us. Heck, shout about us from a hilltop if you think it’ll get your neighbors moving.
Anyone and everyone who cares about LGBT equality — whether in California or Arkansas or Idaho or New York — needs to get to work if we’re going to recognize the goal of marriage equality in our lifetimes. So, wherever in the country you are, get busy and let’s get equal!