You Gotta Fight for Your Rights

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I remember the first time I learned that someone I loved was (is) gay. I was a 14-year-old freshman in high school & dating Sergio, who was 17 & a senior. During a phone call with my aunt, she asked how the relationship was going, & I confessed that I wondered whether the age difference was an issue. "Alvarez is older than I am," she told me, "and we still work!" Until that point, it had never occurred to me that there was only one bedroom in my aunt & Alvarez's house. "Roommates," my family had always called them. When the phone call ended, I stood at the top of the stairs & called down to my mother. "Mom?" I asked. "Is Aunt Joan a lesbian?"

As easily as that, I began to identify as an ally. I went on to intern at the Family Equality Council & worked a legislative assistant on civil rights, including LGBT equality, during my time at the Religious Action Center after college. I've served as managing editor of Fusion, an LGBT issues magazine, marched in a pride parade, & have just generally done my best to work for equality whenever possible.
I have a really difficult time respecting differences of opinion when it comes to civil rights. I do my best to be respectful of other people's views, but it's really hard for me to see any other side here. As I see it, it's as basic as treating people fairly, & I just can't see any other side to that.

When I learned this month that my hometown gym, the city-owned Natatorium, is discriminating against same-sex couples in their membership options, I quickly signed onto a petition asking them to change their policies. Then, I shot off a Facebook message to Shane, the guy behind the petition, asking how I could help. Shane attempted to get a couples pass for himself & his new husband & was turned away, told their marriage "isn't real" despite the fact that they were legally married four months ago in Washington, D.C. His husband, Coty, is a disabled Iraq Wat veteran who uses the Natatorium for water therapy; Shane is his caretaker.

Calling upon my limited PR experience, I sent a few informal pitch emails to popular LGBT blogs & news outlets, & I was beyond thrilled to see sites like Bilerico Project, Huffington Post, and The Advocate pick up the story. Shane's hard work went viral, & his petition received so many signatures that our hometown's City Council members blocked emails from because they were receiving an email every time someone signed! (By the way, that's the lamest response action ever.) Many of these supporters have written on the Natatorium's Facebook wall to express their disappointment in the gym's policies.

Since then, big things have been happening in our little hometown: The mayor made asinine statements, comparing same-sex couples to LeBron James (yes, really). The Ohio ACLU got involved. The city government sought legal counsel. The local newspaper published my letter to the editor. In discussing next steps, Shane & I decided to organize a call-in day to ask supporters to bombard our mayor's office with calls. So far, about 200 people have RSPved for our Call-In Day to Ask the Nat to Recognize All Families, & we hope to recruit a few more by Tuesday, the big day.
It's truly amazing to watch so many people mobilize for a cause they believe in. I can't help but be proud of my friends & neighbors, who have spread the word, signed the petition, & asked how they can help. I'm proud to call myself a civil rights activist, & I feel fortunate to have a background in policy work & communications that allowed me to lend valuable support to Shane's already-impressive efforts. And though I can't say for certain whether the Nat will change its policies to be fairer, I do know that the heat is on - & we're not planning to turn it down anytime soon.

Start around the 10:00 mark to see our local PBS station go to town (no pun intended) against the Natatorium regarding its current policies.

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