By Seth Watkins
Well, the San Francisco PRIDE Celebration has come and gone once again, but this time, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community also leaves behind a millennium of intolerance, bigotry, hatred and suffering as well. What better way to have entered the 21st century for our community than through this year's "Stand Against Hate" rally? Alongside our straight allies, we've proclaimed ourselves united against hatred and worthy of uniting together in remembrance of the thousands of victims lost to Hate Crimes over the last 1, 000 years, both in our own community and society in general.
Our struggle for equality around the world was lessened by the visibility of the "Stand Against Hate" rally and those that participated in it or attended it. The next century brings with it, a hope that the brutal murders of our brothers and sisters (in fact, our entire queer family) will become less frequent as the majority of people around the globe realize the pain and the anguish, which arises from these killings. Every time a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person is murdered the rest of humanity suffers a great loss of the human spirit and realizes that our struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is their own.
What better place than "The Gateway to the Western World," San Francisco, and what better time than on PRIDE weekend and the 30th anniversary of the modern queer civil rights movement (the Stonewall Riots of 1969), to herald in this triumph?
This year's rally was the second ever, the first being last year two weeks after the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, TX. The "Stand Against Hate" rally of 1998 was the brainchild of the honorable Reverend, Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. So, who better to start this year's rally than Rev. Williams himself and the uplifting songs of the Glide Memorial Ensemble? Both Rev. Williams and Glide took to the stage and lifted the audience into a utopia of spiritual compassion and remembrance honoring the fallen and both received a thunderous applause.
Still, it was the Mayor of San Francisco himself, the Honorable Willie Brown Jr. and his guests, six human-size Tinky Winkys designed by none other than Gilbert Baker ("the gay Betsy Ross" and designer of the Rainbow Flag), who stole the show. DaMayor has charisma that's for sure, but it was Tinky Winky who even upstaged Brown himself. It is an election year nonetheless and even though Brown is seen as the top contender right now for re-election, Tinky Winky still has until August 6, 1999 to throw his purple triangle into the ring.
Then Tom Ammiano openly gay President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, along with the other out Supervisors, Leslie Katz and Mark Leno took to the stage next. Tinky Winky shared the stage with the three Supervisors and with Willie Brown as well, which brought cheers from the crowd. Both Brown and Ammiano have had trouble sharing the stage with each other in the past, but were united on this issue.
No matter how amusing the political antics of the rally were, it was the music and performances of local-gay pop duo, Mark & Dean and Randi Driscoll from San Diego, CA that kept the crowds coming back for more. Mark & Dean performed the songs "Walking Into Freedom," "Underwear Queen," and "Savannah," all from their debut CD "Walking Into Freedom" named after their number one hit. Randi Driscoll shared the story behind her hit song, "What Matters" with the audience. A song dedicated in memory of University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard (who was brutally attacked and strung up on a split-rail fence last October in Laramie, WY in freezing degree temperatures before being taken to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, CO where he died on October 12, 1998). GLAAD and The Matthew Shepard Foundation itself endorsed the song, and all proceeds from the single go to anti-violence organizations.
Also present for the "Stand Against Hate" rally were friends of Matthew Shepard, Walt Boulden and Alex Trout. Boulden and Trout spoke about their friendship with Matthew and the impact his death had on themselves and their lives. Boulden isolated himself for eight months because of the tragedy while he finished work on his dissertation, "Growing Up Gay in Wyoming." He'd just finished interviewing the subjects of his dissertation around the time of Shepard's murder and plans to return to Wyoming later this fall, one year after his death and re-interview his subjects to see what impact Matthew's death has had on them before turning it into a book. Alex Trout meanwhile, has been busy for the past eight months sharing the story of his friend's death with others. He even testified in front of the Missouri State Legislature in support of a Hate Crimes law, which that State just passed in May of this year. Trout plans to continue fighting for Hate Crime legislation and would like to get more involved with the Human Rights Campaign and other national LGBT civil rights organizations in the near future.
Boulden summed it up best when he said, "I especially remember the way Matt smiled sometimes because when he smiled his whole body would light up and he'd have a bounce in his footsteps." Such was the case with the "Stand Against Hate" rally, everyone's face smiled and lit up.
Also speaking were James Green of FTM International, a female-to-male transgender organization speaking about the brutal murders within the transgender community. Lawrence Wong, President of the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees who spoke about Hate Crimes within the Asian Pacific Islander community and other minority communities. He invoked the story of Victor Chin, who was murdered in the mid-1950 for the color of his skin after being beaten with a baseball bat and called a "Gook!"
Finally, it was Nicole Murray-Ramirez National Co-chair of LLEGO the Latino/a civil rights organization for LGBT Latinos who invoked the unification of all minorities. "We are Latino, we are Asian-American, and we are African-American and we are seen as the minority, but soon enough, we will be the majority."
Then came the finale, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence led by Sister Kitty Catalyst invoked a blessing entitled, "A Rosary in Time of Hate Crimes against Queers." In the ritual, she startled the crowd with firecrackers emulating gunshots and spoke of the queer youth in Massachusetts who had the word; "HOMO" carved into his back in five-inch letters by two classmates. The Sisters also spoke out in support of California Assemblywoman, Sheila Kuel's "Dignity for All Students Act," AB222. A law that would end discrimination against LGBT students throughout all of California who skipped school 22.2% of the time because they don't feel safe and are threatened. The bill missed by one vote earlier in June because of an anti-gay ad campaign by religious conservatives who targeted newly elected Latino and Latina Democrats in marginal districts. They then closed by throwing rainbow-colored streamers out into the crowd.
All in all, the "Stand Against Hate" rally was a major success though long at times and starting off late, it was definitely worth being there. The event was also video-taped for those that missed it and copies of the video tape can be purchased by contacting the San Francisco PRIDE offices or by ordering it from "Stand Against Hate" Rally 1999 c/o Seth Watkins 651 Natoma Street San Francisco, CA 94103. They sell for $19.95 plus $5.50 for shipping and handling. All proceeds will go to benefit the international Hate Crime anthology, "Remembering The Fallen" and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.