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8 yrs after Prop. 8 – How one text galvanized a Long Beach protest

Activist Vanessa Romain speaks to people gathered along Long Beach's Broadway Corridor to protest and march against the passage of Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage and was passed by California voters in 2008. Photo: Charlie Gage.

Activist Vanessa Romain speaks to people gathered along Long Beach’s Broadway Corridor to protest and march against the passage of Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage and was passed by California voters in 2008. Photo: Charlie Gage.

By Dave Wielenga, Q Voice News Contributor

LONG BEACH – It’s been eight years since California voters approved Proposition 8 – which outlawed same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled, in 2013, that a lower court decision, which struck down Prop. 8, would stand, and it was overturned.  Shortly after Prop. 8 passed, one man in Long Beach was mad as hell and wouldn’t take it anymore. He sent a text to friends, and a few days later, almost 3,000 people were protesting and marching along Broadway. We catch up with him eight years later.

The back story: The election we’d all been waiting for finally arrived on November 4, 2008, at 8 p.m.  –  the moment California closed its polls and assigned its 55 Electoral College votes to Barack Obama, who suddenly was the first African-American President of the United States. He’d also earned 52.93 percent of the record 131 million popular votes. The ensuing celebration was giddy, hailing Obama’s impending presidency for its capacity to effect change — practically, historically, symbolically. The implications for equality appeared endless. But for Tom Crowe, a 34-year-old blonde, single, gay surfer and U.S. Army veteran, and community volunteer, those notions didn’t even last until the end of the night.

As other election results came in, November 4, 2008, also became the day voters in three states – Florida, Arizona and California – passed ballot measures that prohibited same-sex marriage, raising the number of states with such bans to 30.

The dichotomy was sharpest in California, where 61 percent of voters supported Obama but only 48 percent of them voted against Prop. 8 – aka Prop. Hate – which instituted a gay marriage ban via an amendment to the state constitution, not bothering to mention the status of some 18,000 same-gender marriages that occurred during the four months that gay marriage was legal in mid 2008.

Crowe was stunned, incited to respond, but baffled by what to do. He attended a small candlelight vigil at Long Beach’s Hot Java coffeehouse, but considered it insufficient. In frustration, Crow sent a text to some friends urging his fellow Long Beach residents to respond publicly – a text that just a day or two later, on November 7,  attracted some 3,000 people to a passionate and self-disciplined protest march along Broadway, between Redondo and Los Alamitos avenues.

The march itself had no definitive accomplishment, but only eight years after Prop. Hate, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states.

Eight years later, the man who was a dedicated single man has hyphenated his name through marriage to David Garey.

The question: On the eighth anniversary of Prop. 8, your simple text message took the public response into the streets to confront a multi-million-dollar campaign that funded and helped pass Prop. 8. How have you processed those events and that era into lessons learned and how have you applied them to your life?

Tom Crowe-Garey’s answer: The legend is true. One text message ignited everything. I sent it on my lunch hour. By 3 p.m. I’d already received 15 to 20 texts, as well as e-mails. By 5 p.m., (Kimberlee Woods, executive director) of The Long Beach LGBTQ Center contacted me and said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but I just got some calls, and whatever it is, you’ve sparked something.’ She’d scheduled me to meet with the police and prominent figureheads in the gay and lesbian community. She said, ‘We’re gonna see about aligning forces to make sure things go off without a hitch.’

The March on Broadway was a magical thing. I thought maybe a couple dozen people might march with us — 100 or 200 at most — because Long Beach is sort of known as the “Bedroom Community By-The-Sea.” The joke always was, ‘You go to Long Beach to nest.’ But on this night, everyone was so engaged – They wanted to be part of a historic moment.

Until then, however; I felt badly that I didn’t do more before the election. Many of us couldn’t believe we had been that stupid. But at that time, our formal LGBT leaders weren’t very visible. We weren’t having the conversations we should have. Then this piece of crap passed – and we allowed it! If I can borrow the words of Harvey Milk, it was time to ‘Get out of the bars and into the streets.’ With the March on Broadway, we finally did.

And we kept it up. People were getting involved, getting lit up. We considered California the battleground for what was going on throughout the nation. But then we saw Iowa and Vermont, places like that, start to get motivated and pass laws. And here we were fighting to overturn Prop 8.

It was interesting to see how the changes in our attitude started to impact the public’s perception – They began to listen and to actually get to know us. And that has increased again since the Supreme Court ruled that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional and legalized gay marriage throughout the nation. There are still people out there who don’t like our community, but that’s partly because they don’t know us – and we do tend to live in the ‘gay ghettos’ of the nation’s metropolises.

The next step – and I’m living proof — is to get out of our bubbles and live in communities that don’t necessarily have a defined gay community. Within the next few months my husband, David, and I are moving to Michigan – to a town called Jackson, that calls itself the birthplace of the Republican Party. Except for a few organizations here and there, there’s nothing very visible or vocal for the gay community. That’s what we hope to help build. Someone told me it was almost like going back into the closet. Well, I closed that closet decades ago, and I’m not about to go back in.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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