Submitted by Sean Watkins, GetEQUAL Ohio Organizer
On September the 15th, 2012, at approximately 12:00pm, 7 GetEQUAL activists entered the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington D.C. to protest the Values Voter Summit. This event is sponsored by Family Research Council Action (FRC Action), which happens to be a recognized hate group for its anti-LGBT rhetoric. This summit played host to many conservative politicians from across the country who seek to use religious morals and the cover of political conservatism to spread hateful, violent, and intolerant rhetoric against the LGBT community. These activists sought to bring attention to the fact that political support of these hateful values and rhetoric directly contribute to an intolerant and poisonous climate in our schools and our society that directly leads to the exponentially higher suicide rate among LGBT teens in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts. The protestors came peacefully, seeking only to expose the truth behind FRC Action and the results of their work, and to implore the attendees to stop promoting twisted values that kill our youth. These activists were met swiftly with violence and hatred. FRC Action and those who support them upped the ante and turned their already violent rhetoric into action. I had the distinct privilege of walking side-by-side with some of the fiercest activists in this country into the Omni. This is my perspective.
Firstly, I cannot say enough about the people with whom I had the honor of taking action. These grassroots activists devoted time, energy, money, and ultimately their own bodies in order to ensure that FRC and their hateful “values” did not go unchallenged at this year’s summit. When doubt as to whether or not this action was appropriate arose, the response was resounding — that we as a community could no longer stand idly by and allow this hateful rhetoric to continue unchallenged. Indeed, rhetoric such as this is costing the lives of our youth and to do nothing would be no less than a sign of consent. These activists could not allow this event to go unnoticed, and the responsibility fell upon our shoulders to ensure that that the light of truth was shone brightly upon the reality of this event and the cost in lives to our community. From planning to action, these brave people never wavered in their resolve to speak the truth and I am forever in awe to be included among them.
The diversity of this group is a tribute to people working together to create change in our world. From school teachers to counselors, gay and straight, men and women, local and from other states, these activists joined in because they believe in a cause, and that cause is justice and equality for all. I will never forget the excitement that I felt as we met that morning to rehearse, nor the trepidation when we learned that a speaker at this event had, just an hour before we entered the event, encouraged attendees to “beat up” any demonstrators that they may encounter. Yet, knowing that the stakes had been raised and that the risk was high, these brave people refused to let intimidation and bullying prevent them from making a stand. We had come with a message and we intended to deliver it.
Inside the hotel, nerves were on edge as we prepared to take action against hate. As we walked past security and down the stairs, anxiety gave way to determination. As we passed by Rick Santorum with Jan Brewer right ahead of us in the hall, we took a stand for those who could not stand for themselves, we gave a voice to those who could not speak, and we held accountable FRC President Tony Perkins — reading verbatim some of the quotes that directly led to FRC Action being labeled a hate group. The response was swift and violent as security and attendees alike began dragging and pulling, pushing and shoving, yelling and screaming, elbowing and kicking a group of peaceful demonstrators who were doing nothing more than quoting the sponsor of this event. I was told at one time by an attendee to “get out of my country” — the same country that I risked my life for in the Armed Forces. In the end, the true nature of these folks was brought to light and the video of the encounter will bear testimony that, while FRC and its supporters may claim that they love everyone and that they are acting on Christian “values,” in the end they are nothing more than hateful bullies — the adult version of the schoolyard bullies that so often drive our youth to take their own lives due to the intolerable climate that people like this create.
Looking back on that day, I will be forever reminded of the courage that it takes to stand in the face of oppression and I will never forget the people who risked their safety to take a stand, or the people who we took a stand for. I will also never forget that GetEQUAL was the only organization that was willing to put themselves on the line to send a message that our community will not lay down in the face of hate — rather, we will stand proudly, shoulder-to-shoulder, and take up the cry, “I AM SOMEBODY, AND I DESERVE FULL EQUALITY!” The wheels of change are turning and we will stay the course. In solidarity, I will stand with my brothers and sisters until we are equal.