We Don’t Need Any More ‘Silent Nights’

After a weekend in which Prop. 8 supporters moved to invalidate the more than 18,000 gay marriages in California, and Pastor Rick Warren told everyone how much he loves the gays so long as they know their place, we’re very conflicted about this weekend’s “Light Up the Night” vigil for equality. As we mentioned previously, making an impact seems especially difficult when organizers tell you not to stand silently, but also not to hold signs or chant slogans. The video above of the San Francisco event is a case in point: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is brilliantly sung and all those people out there holding candles look great, but if I were just passing by, I’d assume it was a Christmas concert.

The event was designed partly to show the “nice side” of Prop. 8 protesters, but I think it misses the point. We’re not trying to be liked, we’re trying to win our rights.

Assuming that Ma or Pa Hetero did find out that the nice people holding candles were doing it to support marriage equality, it seems unlikely that it’s going to do much to change their mind. I don’t want to belittle the well-meaning efforts of those who came out– and certainly, any visibility is better than no visibility, but nobody’s awarding points for politeness. As San Diego’s Rex Wockner put it:

As this was a “silent vigil,” there was no chanting — and participants were told not to bring protest signs. That’s all good and well as long as passersby have some inkling what you’re silently doing. Unfortunately, that did not seem to be the case here. People kept asking. The pretend nuns in face paint likely added to the confusion.

Fortunately, not everyone was so inclined to make it a silent night. In New York, the scene looked more like this:

And in San Jose, Californa, it looked like this:

Perhaps what’s so troubling about the Light Up the Night event is that it seems like a tacit admission that the criticisms made by Prop 8 supporters about the louder, abrasive protests in November were somehow justified. Frankly, if I were a Prop. 8 supporter, I would rather have the gays stand quietly than shouting and marching about how Prop. 8 is bigoted and wrong. I’m not sure we should be doing the homophobes any favors, or, at the very least, allow ourselves to literally become less vocal about our rights.

Take for example, Paula Tupper’s account of what happened at the San Diego vigil:

“Approximately 35 people, carrying electric candles, wearing signs that read “I am a 1st Class Citizen with 2nd Class Rights.” They were aged from teenagers to very senior citizens. They were men and women, gay and straight. At least two of the women were over seventy, one looking closer to 80. Two persons were physically frail. They were all dressed neatly, and no one wore anything outrageous. And, as advertised, they remained quiet, and nonconfrontational.

First, a woman approached, and said “I know you can’t talk back, so I am going to talk to you! You are abominations. You are sinners and must stop polluting yourselves and others. Hell awaits you. You lost this ballot, and you should not fight us any longer. Give up and recognize that you are not wanted here. You do not deserve the right to speak. Go home and give up your filthy practices. You offend god.”

The end of the mall where we stood silently was also where the Santa pictures were set up. We were told by our organizers that Santa would not be open until seven o’clock, and that we would leave that area before that time because we did not want to affect the pleasure the children would have visiting Santa. As that time approached, we were trying to collect ourselves to make a single file walk through the rest of the mall (remembering the aged and handicapped with us). “Santa” came up and ordered us to move. When told we would be gone in a few minutes, he angrily said “NOW!” Again told we would be gone in a few moments, he angrily shouted “NOW! Or I will call security!” (We had already cleared our vigil beforehand with the mall. Remember, this was a nonconfrontational vigil.) He was told to do what he thought he had to do. “Santa” then proceeded to make an obscene hand gesture to several of the teenaged females. His vulgar behavior in front of peaceful elder ladies and young girls was ignored, and the vigil continued on its walk.A young man in his early twenties came up to the marchers and began to do what could only be described as a macho strut. He loudly barked “Know what I think of liberals? This is what I think of you!” and turned to reveal the back of his tee-shirt, which showed Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes expressing a stream of urine on the word “liberals.”

Didn’t the gay community used to say that “silence equals death”?