Demanding Equality

After the passage of Prop 102 and California's Prop 8, protesters march and launch coalition-building efforts

When Bruce Cameron was 16 years old, he didn't feel like he fit in anywhere--until he discovered the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But that feeling of inclusion would not last.

"I joined the church when I was 16. I was a nerd and not very popular. They put their arms around me. I got married, played the game, went on a mission, and eight kids later, I'm saying, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" Cameron recalls.

Cameron accepted the fact that he was gay by the time he reached his 30s. After a failed suicide attempt in 1982, Cameron says, he decided he needed to leave his marriage and his religion--but only after waiting until most of his children were grown, and he was financially able to support two households.

Cameron finally left at the age of 42, and now, 10 years later, he finds himself with a unique perspective on the LGBT outrage regarding all of the money poured into Arizona's Proposition 102 and California's Proposition 8--including millions from the Mormon community.

Prop 102, which amended the Arizona Constitution to say that only marriage between one man and one woman is legal, passed with about 56 percent of the vote. The proposition led to one of the more expensive campaigns in Arizona history, with supporters raising about $8 million.

Cameron says he wanted to see for himself if the Mormon community did indeed bankroll Prop 102, as many critics claimed. Using the Arizona Secretary of State's Web site, Cameron says, he found a list of contributors that read like a who's-who of Mormon culture. A former bishop who now lives in California gave $10,000; people he was once friends with donated $1,000 here and $500 there.

It was a $5,000 donation from his dentist's wife that fueled several sleepless nights. For 30 years, Cameron has gone to the same dentist; even after coming out of the closet, he continued to go to the same Mormon dentist. After one final night of tossing and turning, he found peace.

"The next morning, I fired my dentist of the last 30 years," Cameron says.

Cameron says he finds the Mormon bankroll hypocritical and a sign of deeper issues within the Mormon church--an organization that works hard to win political approval, because it is often looked at with suspicion by other Christian denominations. Cameron points to polygamy, for example, which has never been formally renounced, just suspended, by the Mormon church.

While it felt good, Cameron says he doesn't expect firing his dentist to shake the foundations of the Mormon faith.

"Me against the Mormon church (is like) David versus Goliath. Nevertheless, a practical application of a principle I taught for so many years in seminary (with youth) and gospel-doctrine class (for adults) is: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' Well, they have done unto me. Now it is my turn," Cameron says.

Election Day proved to be bittersweet for many in the LGBT community, watching Barack Obama win the presidency only to see gay marriage revoked in California and Prop 102 pass in Arizona.

Protests broke out in front of Mormon churches and temples nationwide, as Prop 8 and Prop 102 opponents claimed the Mormon bankroll was an attack on civil rights. The Catholic church was also criticized, as were Hispanic and African-American voters, who voted in large numbers for the initiatives.

The anger has also inspired discussions on coalition-building. Locally, Wingspan, Tucson's LGBT advocacy organization, unveiled the next step at a march on Friday, Nov. 14.

More than 200 protestors, gay and straight, showed up to march from El Presidio Park to La Placita Village, carrying handmade signs with messages like, "Yes We Can--Unless You're Gay," "God Bless Everyone--No Exceptions," and "El Amor Es El Amor: Igualdad Para Todos (Love Is Love: Equality for Everyone)."

Diane Dowgiert, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church, stood with several congregants holding a banner. She said her goal in participating was to remind the LGBT community that there remain many people of faith who support LGBT civil rights.

"I think what happened in this election (led to) the mistaken idea that religious people all vote the same way," Dowgiert says.

Dowgiert, however, also had a message for people of faith who continue to use the Bible to attack the LGBT community.

"The Bible has been used historically to deny women equal rights and to support slavery. ... Hopefully, a day will come that it will no longer be used as a tool to oppress people, but as a tool for justice that liberates and frees people."

Standing with the only sign in Spanish, Chris Lopez said she came to the march to demonstrate that many Hispanics do support LGBT civil rights.

"It's the reason my whole family joined me tonight," she said. "We need to create a united front where we all come together to tell the truth and knock down these walls of lies that continue to be told as an excuse to deny the LGBT community equal rights. I am married, and being married offers me certain rights in this country. Those are rights we can longer deny to other people just because of who they love."

Wingspan executive director Jason Cianciotto, who led the march, addressed the crowd about a next step for coalition-building in Southern Arizona: Families You Know, a video project showing that LGBT families are not as different as the religious right purports.

"Remember this as the day our community came together hand in hand to say: We're not going to hide who we are for the sake of political expediency," Cianciotto said.

Cianciotto reflected on Prop 107, a different anti-gay marriage prop (which also would have banned government recognition of domestic partnerships, gay or straight) that Arizona voters defeated two years ago. During the campaign against Prop 107, Wingspan produced Neighbors You Know, a series of videos that showed different LGBT community members with jobs, families and lives.

"Now we need to rescue the definition of 'family,' which has been hijacked from us," he said.

Cianciotto showed the first Families You Know video, featuring Tucson City Council member Karin Uhlich and her partner, Shannon Cain, with daughter Brennan. The Internet-based project allows LGBT families to post videos at Families can also post photos and stories in an effort to show that "families" can't be defined by supporters of Prop 102.

"We will no longer be invisible," Cianciotto said.