Outside Boston's Avalon nightclub on Monday night--where the largest event for GLBT Democratic convention delegates was being held--a small group of gay protesters formed a picket line and called Democratic nominee John Kerry and running mate John Edwards "antigay" for their stance against equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.
So much for "Unity '04," as the event was billed. The gathering was supposed to show how this year's GLBT Democrats were unified in support of their party and of removing George W. Bush from office.
The protesters, who numbered 18, were also angry over the decision of the gay group Human Rights Campaign and other sponsors to disinvite comedian and headliner Margaret Cho from the party for fear she would say something inflammatory during her act. In light of the criticism that the Kerry campaign weathered after comedian Whoopi Goldberg's high-profile comments during a New York fund-raiser, organizers of "Unity '04" decided that rather than censor Cho's act, it was better for her not to perform. The National Lesbian and Gay Task Force subsequently pulled its support of the event.
Although the protesters outside Avalon referred to the decision regarding Cho as "shameful," their sharpest criticism was clearly aimed at Kerry, Edwards, and those community organizations, such as HRC, that endorsed the Democratic ticket without demanding more of the candidates. "As long as the community doesn't make demands of candidates, we are going to get squat," said Andy Thayer, national action coordinator for DontAmend.com, the organization that spearheaded the protest. "It is shameful that our national organizations would endorse anyone who is not for our simple legal equality."
Kerry and Edwards do not favor equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, but they favor civil unions and are outspoken opponents of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would enshrine a heterosexual-only definition of marriage in the U.S. Constitution. While Thayer praised Kerry for his position against the FMA, he slammed the candidate for endorsing a statewide constitutional amendment in Massachusetts to ban same-sex marriage in favor of civil unions. "Kerry wants to take away equal marriage rights in the one state where we have them," said Thayer as protesters were stapling protest signs together. "If we lose those rights in the one state where we have them, then we've lost."
As attendees started arriving for the event at around 8:30 p.m., protesters took to the other side of the street, in the shadow of Fenway Park, holding a large banner reading "Marriage is a human right" and chanting slogans such as "Kerry, Edwards antigay, civil unions aren't the way."
Organizers of the event recognized the protesters' right to speak their minds but urged all GLBT people to unite in the quest to unseat George W. Bush. "Our community is a family, and every good family has to learn to agree to disagree about some things," said Cheryl Jacques, HRC president, once inside Avalon. "But there is one point that we agree on, and that is that we need new leadership in the White House, someone who will not use the U.S. Constitution to discriminate and divide Americans."
As far as the decision to "disinvite" Cho, Jacques applauded the comedian for her support of the GLBT community but added, "We thought it important that nothing overshadow or upstage the message of electing John Kerry and John Edwards." When asked about booking Cho in the first place when she is known for incendiary material, Jacques said, "I don't know. It was a coalition decision," referring to the 20 or so groups that cosponsored the event. She noted, however, that NGLTF, which pulled its sponsorship, supported the decision regarding Cho, "they just chose to handle it differently." Incidentally, Jacques will be addressing the convention on Wednesday.
The crowd attending the event outnumbered the protesters outside. Over 200 people paid $35 a ticket to attend the VIP reception. That number grew once the gay and lesbian delegates arrived, well past 11 p.m., after the day's convention activities wrapped up with Bill Clinton's address.
Among those in attendance at Avalon were Chrissy Gephardt, the lesbian daughter of Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri; Chrissy's mother, Jane Gephardt; and rocker Joan Jett. Singer Ben Jelen performed in lieu of Cho. Those inside Avalon didn't seem to mind that Cho was not there. In fact, the biggest responses from the crowd were directed at the large-screen TV that showed C-SPAN's coverage of the convention in the FleetCenter, about three miles away.
And as far as the protesters having an impact on the crowd, those interviewed as they waited to get into Avalon either disagreed with them or were unsure what they were protesting. "There is no such thing as a perfect candidate," commented Robert Lamarche, 32, of the city's Dorchester neighborhood. "Kerry's not ideal, but he's the best option. And he's much better than George W. Bush."