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Robin Tyler, Frances Collier, Angela V. Shelton, Diane Olson
"I felt compelled to make these PSAs," Robin Tyler reflects in an e-mail after a long day on the film set where, at her urging, a parade of celebrities spoke out on-camera against Proposition 8. "We have allowed the radical right to brand 'saving marriage for men and women' as a religious issue. We have to rebrand the issue for what it is. This is not spiritual. This is about hate, and it definitely will not hurt our side to tell the truth."
True to her longtime feminist allegiances, Tyler's homegrown ad campaign will be a collaboration among women, including Peg Yorkin and Katherine Spillar of the Feminist Majority Foundation. A couple dozen actors and activists were already on board for an August 17 shoot organized by the FMF at the Beverly Hills offices of Ms. magazine. The goal? To film a series of ads supporting pro-choice and pro-immigrant positions. Thanks to the volunteer efforts of Tyler and the lesbian organization POWER UP, which provided the crew, pro-gay also made the cut.
Nobody was sure whether all the actors showing up for feminism -- including Tyne Daly, Christine Lahti, and Camryn Manheim -- would do the same for gays. But everybody did, with Tyler behind the reception desk banging out speeches to suit each individual. Yet each one, even those as short as one line, ended with Tyler's slogan: "Stop the hate. Vote no on 8."
Right out of a protest rally, the phrase is a long way from the purposely vague "What if you couldn't marry the person you love?" message in recent TV spots crafted by Let California Ring, a project of Equality California Institute. That public service announcement, which hit the air last week at a cost of at least $4 million, is so careful it's not even gay: A conventional bride is blocked on her way to the altar by such major obstacles as a scattering of tin cans tied to a car in the parking lot outside. Who's waiting for the bride? Another bride? Nah. A male groom who doesn't run to her rescue, possibly because he's having second thoughts about marrying a woman who can't sidestep a flower girl clutching her in the aisle.
"I do not believe that de-gaying the issue will win it for us," Tyler says. "Not being direct in other states, i.e., Hawaii" -- whose voters in 1998 made it one of the first states to ban gay marriage -- "definitely did not help us. We pay millions to these pollsters to tell us how to win these initiatives, and despite the failure of these campaigns, we keep following their advice."
Speaking to me at the August 17 shoot, the hetero talent had no problem relating the gay issue to their own lives.
"If some of us don't have civil rights, then none of us do. At least when we got rid of Jim Crow, I thought that was the goal," said Angela V. Shelton -- one half, along with Frances Callier, of the Air America duo Frangela. "As two black women, we feel that it's really our responsibility, because we have a platform in terms of the radio, to go out there and speak out about it," Collier chimes in.
Tyne Daly briskly notes that she's speaking out "because I'd like to see us return to some form of representative government in the United States of America. I think that would be joyful." Daly cites her friendship with out Judging Amy costar Jillian Armenante, who later taped a spot with partner Alice Dodd and their baby. More than that, Daly remembers her own past experience as the wife of African-American actor Georg Stanford Brown.
"When I got married my marriage was illegal in seven states in this country," Daly says. "If indeed you believe that government should get out of the bedroom, which I do, then we have to change it law by law. Civil rights changed by law. Government can't dictate hearts and minds. But it can decide law, and when laws changes, other things change."
Legendary organizer Dolores Huerta -- a Catholic mother of 11 children and partner of Cesar Chavez, cofounder of the United Farm Workers of America. In a sleeveless dress edged with a Mexican cross-stitch pattern, she projects an island of calm as the shoot swirls around her.
"I think we can defeat it," she says when asked to size up Prop. 8's chances on November 4. "I think the forces of hate are going to be overcome by forces that believe that every individual has a right to determine their own life. One of the most important decisions that one makes in life is, Who am I going to live with? Who am I going to marry? How anyone could even entertain the thought that you can interfere in somebody else's life is just totally outrageous.
"When I speak to Latino audiences in particular, I always refer to our great president of Mexico, Benito Juarez. He had a saying: Respecting other people's rights is peace -- as individuals and in nations. And when I repeat that phrase, people understand."
Besides, she says, "every single family has someone gay or lesbian or bisexual in their family. Everybody does. I can say that about my own family."
Lisa Thrasher, Robin Tyler, Camryn Manhiem
On camera, Sara Ramirez -- now playing lesbian(ish) on Grey's Anatomy -- invoked justice: "Fundamental rights are exactly that. They should neither wait for popular acceptance nor be revoked when it is lacking."
Christine Lahti's message: "I am married to a man -- the same man for 25 years. If we got a divorce -- which we won't, but if we ever did -- I promise you it would not be the fault of the same-sex couples who have been getting married this summer and showering California with love."
Young gay stars like Heather Matarazzo and Wilson Cruz showed up; so did hetero up-and-comers like Melonie Diaz, who's gone from playing gay in last year's Itty Bitty Titty Committee to wrapping an upcoming movie with Alfred Molina, Debra Messing, and John Leguizamo.
On camera and off, Tyler's slogan was repeated all day. But how will it reach the voters? She hopes to see her Prop. 8 spots on YouTube and in e-mail queues on college campuses. She'll offer the ads free to any interest groups who want it as the election nears. "We're gonna edit it and send it all over and see who picks up on it."
Whatever happens, she won't be falling in line behind a strategy that soft-pedals the fact that marriage equality means marriage for actual gays and lesbians. "Our greatest weakness," she told me as the shoot wrapped, "is our desire to be liked."