SAN DIEGO -- Throughout the Republican National Convention in San Diego August 12 - 15, LGBT VOICES '96 (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Voters Organized in Coalition for the Elections) made its presence known, exposing the true extremist agenda of the Republican Party which attempted to portray itself as moderate.
The platform adopted by the convention delegates, however, was anything but moderate. The platform opposes "the distortion of anti-discrimination statutes to cover sexual preference," opposes same-gender marriage, states that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service" and fails to substantively address AIDS issues. The platform also opposes affirmative action and opposes a woman's right to reproductive choice.
VOICES' agenda for the week began Sunday, August 11, with a street protest (co-sponsored by NGLTF) at Patrick Buchanan's pre-convention conference. On Monday, the opening night of the convention, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender march was held in downtown San Diego.
An estimated 2,000 participants then filed into the Free Speech Zone across the street from the Convention Center for a rally featuring local and national LGBT leaders, including Melinda Paras, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Elizabeth Birch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign; Donna Red Wing, Director of Community Affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; Patricia Ireland, President of the National Organization for Women; Martin Ornelas, Executive Director, National Latino/a Lesbian and Gay Organization (LLEGO); Urvashi Vaid, former NGLTF Executive Director and author of Virtual Equality; HRC spokesperson Candace Gingrich, sister of House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and others.
Tuesday afternoon several hundred LGBT youth gathered in the Free Speech Zone for a Queer Youth SpeakOut, and Tuesday night an AIDS march and demonstration was held, with an estimated 1,500 participants, including former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor. Rally speakers included representatives from the AIDS Action Council, Mothers Voices, Gay Men's Health Crisis, ACT-UP, and the Human Rights Campaign. Wednesday night, a special "Honoring our Voices" reception recognized local and national LGBT leaders in town for the convention-related activities followed by a "Politics of Dancing" party at Rich's nightclub.
On Thursday, the final night of the convention, about 2,500 people participated in a "Voices for Justice" progressive communities rally in the Free Speech Zone, followed by a candlelight march along the Martin Luther King Promenade, arriving at the Convention Center just as the delegates were exiting the hall. In addition, press conferences and spontaneous protests (such as one at the Christian Coalition rally) were held throughout the week in an effort to expose the intolerance of the right wing extremists who have taken over the Republican Party.
VOICES' campaign was an unprecedented collaborative effort by national gay and lesbian organizations for a national political convention. Nowhere was that more evident than at the Gay & Lesbian Media Center operated throughout the week at a location directly across the street from the convention where organizers from VOICES '96 and the HRC, NGLTF, GLAAD, AIDS Action Council, Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and other organizations gathered in a cooperative space to organize activities and interface with the national media covering the convention.
LGBT VOICES '96 is a San Diego-based nonpartisan grassroots coalition of local and national organizations brought together to coordinate political action, educational forums and cultural arts prior to and during the GOP convention. In addition to over 20 local participating organizations, coalition members include the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Human Rights Campaign, Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, and National Latino/a Gay Organization (LLEGO). Almost a year of planning went into the making this week a success. VOICES '96 will continue its voter registration and public awareness work locally during the upcoming election season.
VOICES '96 sponsored a series of educational forums prior to the convention, and was one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit that successfully blocked the Republican National Committee from forcing the Free Speech Zone to be moved several long city blocks away. That legal decision is one of the legacies of VOICES' work, setting a precedent that will allow the voices of dissent to be heard at future national political conventions.