Guest Commentary by Billy Bradford, Castro Valley Pride
What in the world does this to people? Why do they hate us so much? I asked myself these questions in November 2008, the day Proposition 8 — the ballot measure to outlaw gay marriage — was approved by California voters. Months before the election, as I stood with my “No on 8” lawn sign at the corner of Redwood Rd. and Castro Valley Blvd., I was berated by a self-professed Christian woman holding up her own hand-made “Yes on 8” sign. It was just the two of us. She yelled at me, she prayed to her God, and at one point she seemed to be speaking in tongues. I could only make out the words “Satan” and “burn in hell.” She told me I would never be able to get married because I was a homosexual. She raised her voice to the sky, beseeching her God to help her. She demanded I leave. I stayed, but I was dumbfounded.
I vowed to myself to fight back against that kind of faith-based intolerance. But when Prop 8 passed I realized she had won – for the time being – and I had to work even harder. Bruce Springsteen’s “No Defeat, No Surrender” became my battle hymn. A group of high school students and I joined together to found Castro Valley Pride in 2010 to raise awareness and promote equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
There is much to celebrate. Last year California’s Prop 8 was repealed, the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, and right now we have 35 states where gay couples can get married. Soon, perhaps within two weeks but at least by next Spring, it will be 50. That’s a win, but that’s not enough when gay people in 29 states, married or not, can get fired just for being gay. That’s not enough when in many of those states businesses can safely say “we don’t serve gay people” and there’s no law against that. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t include gay folks.
And it’s not enough when right here in Castro Valley we have churches that spew their hurtful anti-gay rhetoric right on their website and will tell anyone who asks about the moral failings of being gay. I challenge those churches (and many others) all the time, but typically I get no response. They refuse to answer when I ask them what they tell gay kids or the parents of gay kids who come to them for advice. They refuse to put their hurtful views in writing because they afraid of being exposed for the homophobes they are.
On the good news side I recently had two great responses, both from Baptist churches I had contacted. One is in Pleasanton, and the other in Portland – and both really mean the ‘Welcome’ that is posted on all church websites and reader boards. That is huge for a Baptist Church, and it gives me hope for the future.
And the 2014 Castro Valley Pride celebration — our fourth such event celebrating our town’s LGBT residents — opened with an entire contingent of faith leaders there to show support. Do I get discouraged by the silence and responses like the “you-are-an-abomination” invective I got from a church on Oahu when Hawaii embraced marriage equality? Sure.
But then I listen to the sermon that Pastor Matt Blevins of Castro Valley’s First Baptist Church gave against me and marriage equality a few years ago, and I get fired up again.
My anger and concern for the lives of LGBT kids is an engine that drives me forward.
Seventeen-year-old Leelah Alcorn’s suicide drives me forward. Twelve-year-old Ronin Shimizu’s death drives me forward. Matthew Shepard’s murder drives me forward.
I am not Harvey Milk or Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, but in each of them I see what one person can do if they just keep going.
If they don’t back down from a well-established religious institution that is confident it cannot possibly be wrong. When moderates said “perhaps you are pushing too hard,” Martin Luther King pushed harder. Harvey Milk said, “don’t be silent,” so I am not silent. I am loud.
In her suicide note, Leelah Alcorn asked whoever was listening to “fix society” so more kids wouldn’t kill themselves just because they were L,G,B, or T.
I am listening. I am working on it. No retreat, no surrender.
Valley Voices is a series of guest commentaries featuring Castro Valley’s community leaders. Feel free to submit your own story, or suggest others whom we should contact for a submission.