Jennifer McGuire, of Visalia, joined three others from California’s vast Central Valley, driving 250 miles to attend the now-annual Valentine’s Day protest at San Francisco City Hall. Since Proposition 8 took away the right to marry the individual of their choice, members of the LGBT community have taken part in “right-to-marry” protests each year. Jennifer posted this to her Facebook today, and it is reprinted here with her permission.
Am I Willing to Look Down the Nozzle of a Fire Hose?
Yesterday I was detained by the SFPD at the County Courthouse with fifteen other peaceful, nonviolent protesters as part of the annual marriage equality Valentine’s Day protests nationwide. The day, like the courthouse in San Francisco, was beautiful; the rally and protest were well attended, well organized, well covered by the media, and well laced with powerful speeches and voices for LGBTQ equality.
The experience was amazing. I drove up the from the Central Valley of CA, one of the most conservative areas of the country, with 3 friends to participate in the action in San Francisco, one of the most liberal, gay-friendly cities in America. We knew we were driving 8 hours to be arrested, yet our conversation centered around organic farming, relationship status’, and ensuring cupcakes were being delivered to children’s Vday parties we were missing.
We were welcomed at the courthouse by other activists, clergy members, even the police, and for me, I knew I was doing something meaningful. Marriage equality is very important to me. My partner, who served over 13 yrs active duty in the USN, and I have been together over 8 years, 7 of those under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when we had to use code words for “I love you” to avoid her being prosecuted in military court. We are actively planning our wedding, Save the Date cards are being ordered. The denial of benefits, the denial of our relationship by law, by family, by society has been, and continues to be a very painful reality for us. Yes, I have a vested interest in marriage equality. And more importantly, I have a vested interest in Full Federal Equality.
After the speeches, after the choir sang, after the clergy offered blessings, we marched to the clerk’s office. We passed heterosexual couples in tuxes and wedding dresses filling out marriage license applications, congratulating them on their nuptials, anticipating what we knew was an already planned confrontation with the police. Our same-gendered couples asked for licenses and were denied. We read quotes from our foremothers and forefathers on the power of civil disobedience. We sat. We were handcuffed. We were led to a room in the basement. We had our backgrounds and identifications checked. We had citation paperwork filled out. We laughed and shared stories; we bantered with the police officers; we talked about lunch plans. We were released without charges.
This morning, I am realizing how privileged I am. The rally room was pre-staged with a sound system, visuals, and a program. The speeches were pre-written, most of us in the room able to anticipate the next words because we have been listening to these speeches for years. The signs and stickers were pre-printed with the slogans we’ve been using for decades. The songs were pre-rehearsed, sung beautifully by the choir. The arrest action was pre-arranged, pre-mapped, and waivers pre-signed.
This morning I am questioning my strength. The incredible power of civil disobedience in the country has been proven over and over—Emancipation, Suffragettes, the Labor Movement, the Civil Right Movement, the Peace Movement, the Women’s Movement, the Farm Worker’s Movement, etc. I also understand the work is not “done.” My decision to take part in this action was easy, there was very little risk and wondrous opportunity. Would I have been as eager knowing I would be beaten and strip searched; would I have participated knowing I would lose my job, my family, my home; would I have been smiling knowing batons, dogs, and tear gas awaited me; would I have risked death? Am I willing to look down the nozzle of a fire hose?
This morning, I like to believe my answer is, “Yes,” but until that happens, I do not know. I look at the women and men who were willing, who did get beaten, who lost their livelihood, who cried from tear gas, who died, and I have an indescribable admiration. And I hope that in a similar situation I would be as courageous, that I would take that stand, or sit at that counter, or put that flower in the barrel of a rifle. I hope I would stand in front of the tank. I hope I would keep singing and writing in a prison cell.
For over 13 years, LGBTQ people have been conducting county clerk office protests: asking for marriage licenses, being denied, sometimes singing, sometimes crying, sometimes completing actions of civil disobedience resulting in detention and arrest. I helped organize such an action last year in my home city, Visalia, CA, where we had over 30 participants, 7 couples asking for licenses, and scarce media coverage since our local news outlets told me the event was NOT news worthy, and maybe they were right – no one was tear gassed, no one was beaten, no one died.
Yet, how many years do we have to struggle to gain the same rights as other Americans? How many sit-ins, how many letters to the editor, the congresswomen/men, the president, the courts; how many lawsuits have to be filed and argued? How many school boards challenged; how many organizations, businesses, elected officials, movie stars and sports heroes have to be called “out.” How many youth have to end up prostituting on the streets because their families and churches disown them?
How many Matthew Shepards? How many murders and hate crimes? How many Eric James Borges’? How many kids have to die from suicide? How many parents have to lose their children through custody cases? How many people have to lose their jobs and their homes? How many life partners have to be separated, for the rest of their lives, through immigration discrimination, through placement in care facilities by their “families,” through legal inequality? How many marches on Washington DC? How many Stonewall Riots have to occur? Give me a number, please!
Until then, I will continue in to participate in the non-violent vigils, protests and actions as a housewife from Visalia, CA, a “nobody,” really. But Rosa Parks was a “nobody” until she refused to give up her seat. Martin Luther King Jr. was a “nobody” until he had a dream. Susan B Anthony was a “nobody” until she called for equal pay for equal work. Dan Choi was a “nobody” until he handcuffed himself to the white house fence. Mother Teresa was a “nobody” until she fed the poor. Harvey Milk was a “nobody” until he ran for Supervisor. Matthew Shepard was a “nobody” until he was beaten to death. So, yes, today, I am willing to look down the nozzle of a fire hose, and yes, I hope I never have to; I hope that injustice, inequality, unconstitutionality are enough to ensure Full Federal Equality Now!
Jennifer asks if she would be brave enough to stare down the business end of a fire hose. I know Jennifer, and I’m pretty sure she is, and would.