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by Jessica Carreras
On Saturday, over 1,500 LGBT and allied Michiganders braved the harsh winter weather to be part of a nationwide protest for gay rights that spanned every state and brought people in all 50 states, over 300 cities and eight countries out to the streets to say, loud and clear, that they will not stand for inequality.
Some are dubbing it Stonewall 2.0 – the millennial version of the 1969 protests by gays and lesbians after a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York City.
This weekend’s protests were organized, visible and big. In California, the protests rang loudest, taking place in over 50 cities throughout the country – including groups estimated at over 10,000 in Los Angeles and up to 10,000 in San Francisco. Reports are calling San Diego’s protest the largest, with estimates ranging from 20,000 to 25,000.
Boston, Mass. and New York City also brought out large numbers. Estimates came in at 5,000 and 4,000, respectively.
All protests were united by a single cause: California’s Proposition 8. The legislation to recognize only marriage between a man and a woman passed narrowly on Nov. 4, spurning national buzz about what would happen to already married same-sex couples in the state, and what this meant for the rights of LGBT people across the nation.
Though Michigan’s protest numbers paled in comparison to many other U.S. cities, by some estimates as many as 400 people came out to join in the protest in Detroit. Between The Lines estimates the number at around 350, though according to Brett Beckerson of the Triangle Foundation, who was one of the main organizers, there were even more than that. Other protests were held in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.
Detroit protesters met at Detroit City Hall and marched around the area, carrying signs asking for equality and shouting phrases that garnered them car horn honks and shouts of support from onlookers.
“What do we want?” Affirmations’ Bashar Makhay shouted through a megaphone.
“Equality!” the group answered.
“When do we want it?”
Young and old, Michiganders marched and stood together for equality for several hours, despite the freezing rain and bitter wind. “I think we need to take a stand,” said Scott Harris of Ferndale. “We now have a president and he will need to be pushed to back up some of the stuff he said he was going to do. We need to unite together and basically be out here against Prop. 8 passing. It needs to be a visible sign that there are gay people everywhere and when they hurt, we hurt.”
Though Prop. 8 was the catalyst, many came to protest things other than marriage, including anti-discrimination laws, bullying in schools and HIV/AIDS. In Detroit, several members of Hamtramck United came out and spoke about the recent upset in their city.
Another man who identified himself as a member of the U.S. Navy, spoke about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the U.S. policy that forbids LGBT soldiers from admitting to their sexuality. “This is not just about marriage,” he said. “This is about your defense.”
Several members of the religious community came out in support, several of which spoke to the crowd about acceptance. “I honor the loving, compassionate way you are standing up for your rights,” said Christian minister Ron, whose daughter is a lesbian.
In a departure from the Stonewall riots that many are likening Saturday’s events to, this weekend’s events saw large numbers of youth coming out in protest, both in Michigan and around the U.S.
The marches, organized largely by mass text messaging, e-mail and the social networking Web site Facebook, brought out a new generation of young activists who felt their rights were threatened by legislation such as Proposition 8.
“I’m here supporting the cause,” said 23-year-old Diana Velazquez of Detroit. “I feel it’s important because equality and rights such as marriage should be for everybody… . I think that’s a right everybody should have, regardless of your decision of who you want to spend the rest of your life with.”
“I decided to come out here to express my support for equality because we’re all the same and we should all have the same rights as everyone else,” agreed Ricky Feliciano, 29, of Ferndale. “Just because we’re gay or straight doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to be together for love and be married.”
Feliciano stressed that it was important to show support all across the U.S. – even for something happening in another state. “I think it starts with baby steps,” he said. “We’ve got to show our support in all the states so that little by little, we can create an alliance and coalition to be able to come together as a nation.”