Rally outside City Hall on Saturday will be one of hundreds nationwide over Proposition 8
It was an unusual mix of people inside Crossroads Market on a rainy Monday night, Nov. 10.
Billed as an organizational meeting for an LGBT equality rally outside City Hall this weekend, the gathering attracted some familiar faces, including Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink and Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Jesse Garcia.
But Fink and Garcia weren’t running the show, and they appeared to have come to keep tabs on the situation and offer guidance more than anything else.
Among about 25 other people in attendance were Laura Martin, LGBT community liaison officer for the Dallas Police Department; Jimmy Lee Dean, the victim of a recent anti-gay hate crime in Oak Lawn; Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for the Resource Center of Dallas; Paul Tran, a board member for National Stonewall Democrats; and Matt Goodman, president of the local bisexual group.
But most of the rest of the faces were relatively new, including those belonging to the two people standing front and center, lead organizers Etta Zamboni and Blake Wilkinson.
As it turns out, the meeting at Crossroads was a microcosm of the grassroots movement that’s sprung up across the nation in response to passage Nov. 4 of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California.
Having been formally relegated to second-class status in the nation’s most populous and culturally influential state, the LGBT community appears united and energized in a manner not seen, perhaps, since the AIDS crisis.
This Saturday’s protest, set for 12:30 p.m. in the plaza of City Hall, at 1500 Marilla St. downtown, will be one of hundreds of similar and simultaneous rallies planned in cities across the country, including Austin, Houston and Denton.
Zamboni, a 41-year-old California native who’s lived in Dallas since 1998, said by Thursday she was expecting as many as 5,000 people to attend the rally from all over the region — which would be totally unprecedented in the city’s history.
"We as a community have sat quietly for the most part, and we’re not going to stand for it anymore," Zamboni said. "I really think that this, across the country, is going to be huge.
"It’s not just our community," Zamboni said. "The straight people are coming out with us. The politicians are coming out with us. Celebrities are now coming out and standing with us. I think it’s trying to wake up the country — ‘Hey, you guys, this really is not right.’"
Zamboni, a newcomer to LGBT activism in Dallas, said she started planning the event last weekend, after she attended a gay-rights demonstration outside First Baptist Church of Dallas.
Planning for the Prop 8 rallies, both in Dallas and elsewhere, has relied heavily on the Internet, including e-mail and social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. And Zamboni said the movement is being fueled by a new generation of young activists.
"They want to become involved. They don’t know how to do it, and for us to be able to harness them in a positive manner such as this and lead them into the next generation of activism and getting involved I think is really key," Zamboni said.
Zamboni added that she hopes after Saturday, the newfound energy will be channeled behind existing LGBT groups. And those who are tentatively scheduled to speak at the rally include several members of the old guard, such as Fink, Resource Center Executive Director Mike McKay and Human Rights Campaign national governing board member Steve Atkinson.
But the process of planning the rally hasn’t been without its pitfalls. Monday’s meeting was dominated by debates about things like to what degree the LGBT community should attack the Mormon church, whose members accounted for a large chunk of the financial contributions in support of Prop 8.
There was also a lengthy discussion about how people attending the rally should dress, with some warning against gay Pride-style fashion displays that could be picked up by the mainstream media.
Later in the week, a public e-mail feud erupted between Zamboni and Wilkinson, as Wilkinson appeared to want to turn the rally into a more militant, in-your-face style protest march.
But the bottom line is, because the movement is charting new territory both locally and nationally, nobody really knows what to expect.
After Monday’s meeting, Fink said she was pleased to see the enthusiasm but somewhat concerned about the types of messages that would be sent.
Fink also declined to make any predictions. She recalled one local LGBT rally after the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the state’s sodomy law. Despite extensive preparations, the event in the parking lot of the Resource Center saw a "dismal turnout."
"Just the people in this room could show up or it could be as far as the eye can see in every direction, or anything in between," Fink said.
Martin, the police department’s LGBT liaison, said no matter what, law enforcement will be prepared.
"We’re coordinating with the group to make sure things remain peaceful," Martin said. "We have no idea how many people will show up."
For more information about Saturday’s rally, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.facebook.com/pages/Join-the-Impact-Dallas/44853483775.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 14, 2008.