Getting Obama to Repeal DOMA, One Postcard at a Time

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Twenty-four-year-old Tanner Efinger felt he had to do more after Proposition 8 passed in California, where he works as a bartender. After reading an article encouraging people to write to the new president about LGBT rights, Efinger decided to go one step further and encourage others to write the White House as well. His project, dubbed “Postcards to the President” aims to keep the energy up after last year’s protests through the simple act of licking a stamp.

QUEERTY: What’s? the basic concept behind “Postcards to the President?”

Tanner Efinger: I started Postcards to the President as a way I could stay involved in the fight for marriage equality and then I began to realize that a lot of people have the same desire. So the concept is to create a movement that everyone can own and everyone can be involved in.

What inspired you to do a postcard campaign?

I was inspired to do postcards by an article on Advocate.com that suggested sending a postcard urging for the repeal of DOMA–and I suppose that’s why I am focusing my efforts on DOMA, too. Really, people can write whatever they want, but I think it’s important to try and streamline a message.

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How did the project begin? You’ve had events in L.A. and New York and it must have taken some work to get it to become so big so fast.

It kind of got big on its own, you know? I had the idea to kind of do something at my bar [Here Lounge in West Hollywood] first, so I called the promoter for Sunday nights, Tom Whitman, and he was down to do something. Then I was like, “How do I get postcards?” I had no idea about how to go about getting postcards. I’d never done this kind of thing before. Very naively, I thought to myself, “Oh, I can walk into City Hall and see if someone in City Hall will donate some cards.” And I don’t know anything about any office’s in City Hall or anything like that– I can barely pay a parking ticket on time.

Randomly, I bumped into a friend–literally bumped into–who I had not seen in several years that I had met once in New York– and he happened to be a board member of LGAB, the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board to the West Hollywood City Council, and I told him this idea I had and he said, “Come to a meeting tomorrow night and see if it’s something we can do.” So I went to a meeting the next night and gave kind of a quick public announcement and from there it started to begin looking like an idea that could be much larger than I had anticipated. Everyone was really enthusiastic about it. Members of their board gave their unanimous support to the movement, so that was really exciting.

From there, it just kind of grew and grew and grew. It just took off from under me. I really didn’t expect all of this.

“I’ve never been a proud American. I’ve never played into politics.”

Why do you think it’s taken off?

I think it’s because it’s a really simple idea and it’s an idea that everyone can own as their own movement. When I talk with people about doing it, I tell them that I can give them my suggestions about what I think they can do, but there’s no set protocol, because this is everyone’s movement. This is really the heart of grassroots. People are doing all kinds of different things all over the place. Some people are throwing parties where to come to the party, you have to bring five stamped postcards. I think people are doing that up in the Bay Area and then, some people, their band is hosting a big event. And some people are doing it through their school and some people are making postcards. It’s something that everyone can do on their own. It’s a really simple idea and everyone can feel like they’re a part of this movement.

What would you say to people who argue that the postcards won’t have much of an effect?

I don’t know I’d say to those people. I haven’t talked to anyone whose said that yet! I don’t really think it’s about having an effect– it’s about staying involved. It’s about always staying active. I don’t think this is how laws get passed or things get overturned – I’m not a lawyer – but what this is doing is just creating a voice, creating a very loud voice that says, “Something needs to happen. Something needs to happen in the right direction for the LGBT community.” And that’s what I’m trying to do.

Why send postcards to Barack Obama?

We’re sending postcards to the president because he is what is inspiring us. He’s the one that has placed the importance of his campaign on Change. Will this change the future of our country? I don’t know what effect it will have. I think we stand a better chance of making an impact if the press is covering us and on our side (sites like Queerty help!) but we are making our voice known. We are not allowing our voice of equality to sit on the back burner.

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You had two kick-off events in L.A. and NYC. How’d they go? Any plans to take Postcards to other cities?

The kick off events were great. Since Inauguration Day we have sent almost 1000 postcards, but this grows larger and larger everyday. I think the official count is movement in 17 different states now, but soon you’ll start to see events all over the place. Bands in Richmond Virginia, colleges in Kentucky, religious groups in North Carolina. I think when I had the New York event, that’s when I realized this could be a nationwide movement. If it’s so easy to set-up a few parties, it can’t be too hard to get a few more people involved and get them to get a few more people involved.

Have there been any people who you’ve met through this that have really stuck out in your mind?

Yeah, there’s this 17-year-old boy in Oklahoma whose come out of the closet because of this. He sent me a really quick email–it’s been hard to get back in touch with him– and he said, he came out of the closet to his family and wants to send postcards from his town.

Wow. That’s pretty amazing.

Yeah, it’s really crazy. There’s a guy named Adam in Kentucky who is on a full-ride to the University of Kentucky or West Kentucky State or something like that. It’s a very conservative campus and he’s always looking for a way to spread some more LGBT activism there — and now, it’s going to be a huge presence on the campus. He’s now building grassroots strategies in four-different states and just connecting with other like-minded people. You know, he’s now doing more than I am out in those states. It’s pretty insane. I just met with a high school GSA out here in Massachusetts and they’re going to do it at their high school and they’re going to bring it to a teacher’s conference on February 22nd. And I’ve talked to Matthew Shepard’s mother about it, because she’s touring around doing stuff against hate crime. People are talking. People are really excited about it.

You’ve said that before Prop. 8 you weren’t all that political. This may sound really obvious, but what changed?

Barack Obama changed me. I didn’t even vote before Barack Obama. He got me involved in politics. He got me to pay more attention. I wasn’t a political person at all. He just tapped into the same tools that we’re using now. You know, Google and Facebook and YouTube and stuff and I was on anyway, talking to friends, and suddenly his face was popping up as well. I don’t know. I guess it’s the whole political atmosphere. You drink the Kool-Aid and do it.

What’s so inspiring about him? I’ve never been a proud American. I’ve never played into politics. Every time I’ve heard people talking about this country, it’s always complaining about this or complaining about that and since I wasn’t too interested in the first place, it didn’t sound like a thing I wanted to get into. It seemed like nobody cared that much. But suddenly, people did and suddenly people think, “Okay, this thing can really turn around and our country can change and there’s a lot of stuff we can do.”