Renowned Activists Kick Off Pride Week
LGBT Legends Reflect on Stonewall
by Delaney Smith
It’s been 50 years since the Stonewall Riots of 1969 — which were ignited when police raided the gay-friendly Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village — sparked the modern LGBT movement. While much ground has been gained in terms of legislation and equality for gays, there is more to do.
In celebration of Santa Barbara Pride Week, the Independent interviewed two influential LGBT activists: Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the landmark 2015 Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, that legalized same-sex marriage; and Ellen Broidy, cofounder of first Gay Pride March in 1970 and member of Gay Liberation Front. Both Obergefell and Broidy are speaking at the upcoming Pacific Pride Festival and the panel Perspectives on Pride: Stonewall to the Supreme Court & Beyond.
Jim Obergefell Talks Changing Policy
Activist Helped Make Same-Sex Marriage Legal
Jim Obergefell Talks Changing Policy
Activist Helped Make Same-Sex Marriage Legal
For the most part, Jim Obergefell’s life was a quiet one. He and his partner of more than 20 years, John Arthur, lived and worked in Cincinnati, Ohio, and had what Obergefell would describe as an “average, everyday life.” As such, he had no idea he would become a famous civil rights activist and public speaker, that his and Arthur’s fight for marriage equality would become a landmark Supreme Court case, or that his name would appear in history books for years to come. “I’m still in awe emotionally, even four years later,” Obergefell said in an interview with the Independent. “It still doesn’t seem possible that I could be a part of this.”
In 2013, Arthur was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. His dying wish was to be married to Obergefell and live out the rest of his days as husband and husband. At the time, gay marriage was legal in certain states, but not in their home state of Ohio. The two flew to Maryland in July 2013 and married inside a medical airplane on a Baltimore airport tarmac because Arthur was already too weak to walk. He later passed away from the disease on October 22, 2013.
“In the weeks that followed, we didn’t say a single sentence that didn’t use the word ‘husband,’” Obergefell said, laughing. “We would say things like: ‘Would you like another drink, husband?’ We were ecstatic; we really never thought we would be able to say ‘I do.’”
It wasn’t long, though, before Obergefell was told their marriage wouldn’t be recognized by the State of Ohio and that he wouldn’t be recognized on Arthur’s death certificate as his surviving spouse. It was then that Obergefell knew he had to fight. He sought to sue his home state, and he won.
He became the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that changed history; justices ruled 5-4 in favor of nationwide marriage equality on June 26, 2015. Although Arthur had already passed from ALS at the time of the ruling, Obergefell said he knew in that moment that his husband was finally able to rest in peace. “The only reason I was a part of this is because I was lucky enough to love John,” Obergefell said. “Because of that love, taking this on was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.”
After the ruling, Obergefell’s life changed drastically. He went from being an Ohio Realtor to an activist in Washington, D.C., where he has spent the past three years continuing to fight for LGBT rights at the federal level. Just recently, he’s moved back to Ohio to continue the work at the state level.
When he was in D.C., he sat on the Board of Directors for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). He said his work mostly involved protecting older LGBT folks from discrimination in care facilities. For example, many rural areas of the U.S. only have religiously affiliated senior care facilities, many of which exercise their “religious freedom” by not taking in LGBT elders. “Some of these places force seniors back into the closet,” Obergefell explained. “These seniors have to ask themselves, ‘Where will I be able to age gracefully?’ and depending on where they live, there isn’t anywhere.”
In Ohio, Obergefell said his main goal is to get nondiscrimination policy passed. Although same-sex marriage is legal, many LGBT people who wed may still be unfairly fired from their jobs. “It’s like a gay person could get married, go on their honeymoon, and then come back to their job to be fired for who they married,” he said. “I also am fighting for our transgender siblings. We need to ban gay and transgender conversion therapy — it’s nothing but child abuse. … Although it’s banned in many cities, it isn’t at the state level, so there is no protection for LGBT kids living in rural parts of the state.”
Interview with Ellen Broidy
Cofounder of First Gay Pride March
Interview with Ellen Broidy
Cofounder of First Gay Pride March
Reporter Delaney Smith sat down with Ellen Broidy, co-founder of the first Gay Pride March in 1970, member of the Gay Liberation Front, and former member of Lavender Menace, Daughters of Bilitis, Mattachine Society, and Radicalesbians. In the interview, Broidy reflected on how the gay rights movement has evolved since the Stonewall Riots of June 28-July 1, 1969. Broidy, who grew up and lived in New York but was not at the Stonewall Riots, is now living in Santa Barbara enjoying retirement with her wife.
What was your first introduction to a gay community or group? How old were you? Where was it? That’s actually a difficult question to answer because I knew I was a lesbian and felt a part of that group my entire life. My mother claims she knew prenatally. The first group that I actually encountered was called the Daughters of Bilitis. The name came from a poem called “The Songs of Bilitis” by a French poet named Pierre Louÿs. I must’ve been 18 or 19, maybe even younger. Those women scared the living daylights out of me. They seemed imposing. I was also in a more male-oriented group called the Mattachine Society, which was also active in New York at that time in about 1967 — I’m dating myself. I’m an artifact. You don’t always get to talk to an antique, and now you are.
You were the president of the Student Homophile League at NYU, too. So the Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society preceded that? Correct. A man named Craig Rockwell opened up something called the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop a few blocks from the main NYU buildings. Craig and my partner at the time, Linda, became close friends and we talked a lot about politics. Shortly thereafter, we formed the second or third chapter of the Student Homophile League. The university hated us from the get-go. That was in like ’67, ’68, and ’69.
What was the atmosphere like for students in the SHL those last couple of years before Stonewall? I love to tell this story because it’s hilarious and captures the times. I went to pick up the SHL mail one day and ripped open the envelope, not bothering to see how it was addressed. It was from the YMCA saying: “We would welcome members of your organization to come and use our facilities. It’s clean and you can use the pool. Just come and join us.” They went into this whole thing about how safe it was at the YMCA and if anybody got hurt and was bleeding, there were people who could help us. It was very, very odd. I flipped the envelope over and found it was addressed to the Student Hemophiliac League. That was literally the atmosphere. Nobody knew who we were. Shortly after that we changed our name to the Gay Students Liberation, which eventually morphed into my involvement in the Gay Liberation Front. That was basically my New York trajectory of gay and lesbian liberation groups.
That’s hysterical. Times really have changed. I’ve never noticed any gay bars or hangout spots in Santa Barbara, come to think of it. Do you know why that is? Is there just not a need for it anymore? I’m 73 years old, I don’t drink, and I’m married. I could not answer that question. This is a pretty progressive town, but it’s also a very expensive town. You need to get the space and pay the rent; that would be my guess. But even in New York, there are more gay neighborhoods than there are bars. The lesbian bars have all closed there far as I know. Santa Barbara is too small for a separate gay neighborhood like New York.
Let’s get into your role in the march. Looking at the original language you used in your 1970 proposal, you called it “an annual demonstration.” Nowadays, it’s more of a pride parade and celebration than a demonstration. Do you feel like the roots you put down are lost, or do you think it’s just a sign that there’s less oppression of the LGBT community? Yes, the roots are a bit lost. We’ve come so far, but if you would ask my 23-year-old self or any of my comrades in the Gay Liberation Front in 1969-1970, “What do you think about serving in the military? What do you think about gay marriage?” we would say “Not important. We don’t care.” We were interested in a revolution that would change gender dynamics and racial dynamics in this country. We practiced intersectionality before it became a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be married for lots of reasons, a number of them having to do with how the government looks at me. But we were anti-military. We couldn’t imagine why anybody would want to serve in the military. I have matured a little bit around that. Stonewall gave us a convenient date and it gave us something concrete to commemorate and memorialize, but the energy for it and the impetus for this march came from a ragtag group of radicals who wanted to be in the streets in their own name, in our own name.
You’ve covered the differences in what you were marching for then versus now. What about the physical differences? How much were the floats and costumes a part of the original march? Not at all. In fact, there were two competing marches in New York this year, on the same Sunday. One was Heritage of Pride, which is larger — there were 150,000 marchers and floats from the police department, Wells Fargo, American Airlines, you name it. Then there was another one called Reclaim Pride. No floats, no police presence, no marching bands. It tried very hard to recapture the spirit of the original march, which literally was taking to the streets. I was very conflicted. But the Gay Liberation Front had been selected as one of the five grand marshals for the Heritage of Pride parade, so we sent some representatives to Reclaim Pride who spoke at the rally, which actually replicated the route of the original 1970 march. The rest of the GLF was at Heritage of Pride.
The Annual Reminder is the only other gay march, or picket actually, that existed before you helped form the Annual Gay Pride March in 1970. How much did it influence you? It influenced us tremendously. We wanted to build on it but change it markedly. The activist community in those days was not that large, so I knew Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny and Foster Gunnison and all the people who arranged the Annual Reminder in front of the White House.
I have to take ownership, though, I had been very disparaging of the Annual Reminder publically before. My negative comments about it are what suddenly got the four of us [three other co-founders: Linda Rhodes, Craig Rodwell, and Fred Sargeant] talking about how we could change this. This was pre-computers, so Craig ran into the other room and came back with a pad and a pen and said, “Let’s write something. Let’s propose something.” We all started talking at once and he took notes. We read the mess back to ourselves, we cleaned it up, and we prepared to go to Philadelphia.
How did the four of you decide that you would be the one to read the proposal? Craig was very active in the New York Mattachine Society, but he had clashed with Dick Leitsch [president of the Mattachine Society]. We were concerned that if Craig stood up and made the proposal, people would not hear the message and only concentrate on the messenger. So, we decided that I would do it because I could wear two hats: the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Students Liberation president. I stood up and read the proposal that we had prepared, and it was unanimously approved, except for one New York Mattachine member did not vote in favor and we suspect it’s probably because they saw Craig’s fingerprints somewhere on this.
You’ve seen some drastic changes in the LGBT rights movement the past 50 years. What work still needs to be done, and where do transgender rights fit into this, particularly in light of the current presidential administration? Now what we’re trying to do is not lose ground. Given the makeup of the Supreme Court, the clear attacks on Roe v. Wade, I mean, all they need is a case to come forward that could challenge it. Roe v. Wade was “settled law,” but now it’s not. So we have that issue to worry about. We have Trump’s entire attitude toward the trans community, to come back to the issue of serving in the military. So yes, we’ve made tremendous strides, but we’re on an extraordinarily slippery slope. Who’s here to save us?
I listened to one and a quarter of the debates and I didn’t hear any conversation about choice. The moderators were more concerned with getting the candidates to fight amongst themselves than ask questions about where they separate themselves from chronic government policy. We heard nothing about reproductive rights. We heard nothing about LGBT rights. We heard nothing about personal liberty. So, you know, it’s kind of a scary moment.
And I was thinking too, we were frightened at the first march. We had no idea whether the people lining the streets were there to cheer us on or to do us harm. And when I think about the millions of people watching the Heritage of Pride March and the 150,000 marchers, and then think about what happened in Gilroy, I probably should’ve been more scared in 2019 than I was in 1970. The degree of damage that could have been done and the degree of hatred and vitriol that’s out there is huge. People didn’t like us in 1969 and 1970, but they didn’t have a cheerleader in their distaste for us.
Pacific Pride Events
Week-long Events to Celebrate Pride
Pacific Pride Events:
Perspectives on Pride: Stonewall to the Supreme Court & Beyond
Jim Obergefell and Ellen Broidy will speak alongside Fielding graduate and transgender scholar Aiden Hirshfield and 14-year-old Anaiya Boutan, the 2019 Pacific Pride Foundation Youth Advocate Leader. Independent columnist Starshine Roshell will moderate a Q+A with the multi-generational panel from 5:30-8 p.m. August 23 at Santa Barbara City College’s Fé Bland Forum. See tinyurl.com/PridePerspectives.
2019 Pacific Pride Festival: Stand with Stonewall
This all-day LGBT festival will include live music, a wine and beer garden, nonprofit booths, and other activities for a crowd of more than 4,000. Join the party from noon-7 p.m. at Chase Palm Park, 223 East Cabrillo Boulevard. See tinyurl.com/2019PacificPrideFestival.
Pacific Pride Festival After Party
The party doesn’t end at 7 p.m. Keep the pride celebration going after hours at The Bobcat Room (11 W. Ortega Street) with performances from Pepper MaShay, Angel De’mon, your 2019 Queen of Pride Bobbi Something, and more. Performances go from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Ages 21+. See tinyurl.com/2019PrideAfterParty