’No on 8’ Heads Justify Their Losing Campaign

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday November 27, 2008

As an early step toward addressing the effects of Proposition 8, the anti-gay ballot initiative that amended the California state constitution and stripped the existing right to marry from gay and lesbian families earlier this month, the No on 8 campaign hosted a Virtual Town Hall meeting to discuss strategy and examine the ways in which the battle to preserve marriage equality failed.

In the wake of voter approval of the marriage ban, the No on 8 campaign has seen its advertising and its leadership criticized. A blog covering the meeting posted at Queerty providing a "play-by-play" account that started with a critique of the way the meeting was set up for computer users, with "Windows users who download proprietary software" able to join in while others were instructed to use phones.

Wrote Queerty, which was using a Mac, about this development, "For a campaign that's been accused of being out of touch and needlessly hermetic, this is--seriously, we're speechless."

Queerty managed to join the conversation somewhat late. No on 8 leaders were present for the meeting, including Geoff Kors, Lori L. Jean, Shannon Minter, John A. P?rez, Rev. Eric Lee and Steve Smith.

Queerty's question to the leaders of the No on 8 campaign was, "Who composes the independent evaluation board?

"Will the No on 8 campaign commit tonight to making the findings of the independent evaluation of the No on 8 campaign public?

"If not, what reassurances will it give the public that they ought to support the same leaders again in future campaigns?"

Reported Queerty, "Lori Jean says she doesn't know who will be on the board and that she doesn't think releasing the results of the board 'would be wise'. Moderator Karen Ocambs's following up now."

The Queerty report continued, "Karen asks a good follow-up about possibly releasing a redacted version of the report that doesn't reveal future strategy recommendations and Lori basically says that she'd be open to releasing anything that didn't make the No on 8 campaign look bad. Which is silly and stupid."

The Queerty blow-by-blow continued, saying that one person, thought to be Steve Smith, regarded the failure of the campaign as hinging on not having reached crucial demographics.

"We should have spent more money aimed at women, especially at the end," that individual opined.

Geoff Kors offered the opinion that the No on 8 campaign lost because of the way that Yes on 8 played on the fears of voters concerning their children. Yes on 8 claimed that unless marriage rights were rescinded, schoolchildren would be forced to learn about gay marriage in the classroom starting as early as kindergarten.

Although school system authorities publicly responded that this claim was not true, an outing of second graders to the wedding of their lesbian teacher made headlines and proved to be a ready-made example for the Yes on 8 campaign's claims.

Geoff Kors characterize the Yes on 8 strategy as one of "[Marriage Equality] will turn your kids gay," and termed that strategy "the number one reason" for the success of the measure.

Rev. Lee followed up, saying that No on 8 had failed to reach out to black pastors and "traditional civil rights groups," criticisms that have widely been leveled at the No on 8 campaign.

The Queerty article continued, "Why didn't the No on 8 campaign hitch their wagon to Barack Obama's Train-O-Hope and get a bunch of African American leaders to list their opposition to Prop. 8? Rev. Lee basically says, 'Beats me, would have been a great idea.'"

Geoff Kors noted that pro-Proposition 8 organizations fraudulently indicated to voters that Barack Obama was in favor of Proposition 8, and added that Obama's highly nuanced position of being against marriage equality, but also being against Proposition 8, was "too confusing" for many voters to parse.

Money factored into the loss as well, with Kors explaining that, "Everyone anticipated this would be a 10-15 million dollar campaign," only for the battle to surge into a highly expensive contest, with the Yes on 8 side receiving $40 million for their cause--fully half of which came from Mormons nationwide, after being instructed by the church leadership to support the anti-family measure.

Smith pointed out that the early financial lead the flood of money into the Yes on 8 side's coffers translated into support for the measure from voters who cast their votes early.

Queerty reported on the No on 8 group's explanation of how their campaign was organized personnel-wise, with "Committees upon committees" being "the short answer," Queerty wrote.

"It was a two-tiered structure," Queerty quoted Lori Jean.

"We needed everybody to raise money and organize their communities."

Wrote Queerty, "The big committee then elected the Executive Committee: Oscar de la O, Bienestar; Maya Harris, ACLU of Northern California; Delores Jacobs, San Diego LGBT Community Center; Lorri L. Jean, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center; Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights; Geoff Kors, Equality California and Andy Wong of Chinese for Affirmative Action."

Reported Queerty, "Lori Jean then states that you could basically buy your way into the Executive Committee with a big donation."

Added Queerty, "So, the EC [Equality California] became really unwieldy and the paid consultants complained that they needed a smaller, more nimble body to work with and so a 'mini-EC' was created. Get all that?"

In terms of outreach to voters, questions arose as to why the No on 8 campaign did not have a presence at large cultural events such as the West Hollywood Carnivale.

Said Jean, "I don't know what happened at the West Hollywood Halloween thing--given that was in the last few days of the campaign."

While the No on 8 campaign focused their efforts on metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Diego, "they hoped that rural LGBT orgs would handle" more rural areas of the state, Queerty reported.

Wrote Queerty, "Who ran the field operation? Through mid-Sept it was the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and then later Basic Rights Oregon and Marriage Collaborative."

Quoting Smith as saying, "While it is frustrating in the community, tactically it was the right thing to do, making all those phone calls... It was by far the biggest field campaign in the state that wasn't a presidential campaign," Queerty sniped, "Except tactically, you lost, so no, that's just not true."

Added Queerty, "Karen mentions that many volunteers felt the campaign was a disorganized mess, so Smith uses this as an opportunity to mention that the proposition wording was confusing.

"As to the 'mechanics' of the field operation, nobody is taking responsibility for it! Smith says, 'that's a problem we ought to figure out and clean up... It made sense to do it on the phone, to focus on undecided voters and not focus on voters within the community,'" Queerty continued.

Queerty reported on M-t-F transgendered No on 8 leader Shannon Minter's comments, with Minter saying,"The reason we've won in courts is because of groups like Equality California."

Wrote Queerty, Minter than spent "a minute or two talking about how great the No on 8 groups are.

"He's talking about the upcoming California Supreme Court battle, but mainly he keeps talking about how awesome LGBT rights groups are," Queerty reported.

As for the court challenge to the anti-gay amendment that the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear, "The case will be about whether a 'bare majority' has the right to strip a minority of basic civil rights."

That led, reported Queerty, to "More legal questions--Are the folks who got married before Prop. 8 passed safe?

"Shannon says, yes....aaaaaaaaaaand very very very slowly gets around to the fact that that's actually one of the questions that will be decided by the California Supreme Court when it hears the Prop. 8 case.

"But he says that the 'law on that is very, very strong.' He also says if you have any problems, you should contact... Lambda Legal or the ACLU."

Added Minter, "We are in a fight for our lives. That's no hyperbole...We're going to have to fight for it and fight for it very hard."

The discussion turned to boycotts, which have been proposed as a means to dissuade churches and other groups from pursuing new challenges to minority rights in the wake of Proposition 8's precedent-setting repeal of existing rights.

Queerty quoted Rev. Lee as saying, "I'm not sure a boycott would be effective.

"I think we need to educate more...particularly clergy."

Lee went on to advise that a GLBT presence to educate people at forums, particularly black forums, and through black publications, would be more constructive than the proposed boycotts against corporate sponsors of Proposition 8 or the state of Utah, seat of the Mormon church.

"Is there any money left over from the campaign?" wrote Queerty. "Nobody knows right now.

"Your email addresses are going to go to all the No on 8 campaign groups and to donors over $100,000 (they get to use it as a one-time shot)," Queerty reported.

Should the challenge scheduled to be heard by the state's Supreme Court fail, the next step would be to repeal the anti-gay amendment; that, said Jean, might take several election cycles. 2010, said Jean, "may be too soon."

Added Queerty, "Lori Jean's also making this really annoying argument that we should not pursue a ballot initiative until after the Supreme Court decision is done, because it might give the Supreme Court cause to 'punt' their decision and then points out that, 'we never win' in ballot initiatives or votes.

"So basically, there's no chance to win at the polls so we better just leave it to the courts."

Continued Queerty, "And we end this with a 'How do we promote unity?' questions [sic] and to his credit Geoff Kors says that 'an important piece of doing that' is to reach out to new people and new communities.

"Lori Jean seconds that the community is wide and diverse and that 'can be an advantage and a disadvantage.'

"She hopes the January summit will include every group under the sun. She also is impressed by the grassroots energy that's popped up after Prop 8 passed."

Rev. Lee added that he would "like to see...more representation from different ethnicities and from the straight community," reported Queerty.

"I hope we get to the point where we don't have to talk about straight or gay, because that tends to isolate us."

Lee also reminded the meeting's participants that, "if black civil rights had been put to a vote there would still be segregation--and says that ultimately, the Supreme Court is going to decide this thing."

Reader feedback to the post was almost uniformly angry and critical of the No on 8 campaign's leadership and methods.

Wrote one reader, "So basically their greed for power and popularity destroyed the campaign.

"Lori said you could buy your way into the EC, and they did.

"This is so horrible, remove them from their positions... now!"

Another reader responded, "How do you remove leaders you never had the choice in electing in the first place?"

A third chimed in, "Their paycheck is in your pocket. Spend your money wisely, grasshopper."

The campaigns much-panned decision not to show gay families was addressed by a reader who commented, "It seems rather paradoxical that the 'No On 8' campaign made a conscious decision not to include GLBT persons in their ads, but on the town-hall call they suggest that the best way of persuading undecideds is to be out and proud.

"It seems as if it would have been very simple for them to introduce Californians to real, live, honest to goodness GLBTs in their ads. But I got the impression that they chose not to because we don't test well with focus groups??"

Another brought up the need for federal protections of GLBT equality.

"What really concerns me is that there is no NATIONAL leadership," the reader commented.

"Here's the thing people seem to be seriously overlooking, Proposition 8 is not a California issue.

"In order to get Federal bans overturned, and for the Supreme Court to rule once and for all that gay marriage is a fundamental right (it would also be nice if they ruled that sexual orientation discrimination is granted a heightened standard of review) we need individual states to stand up and provide marriage rights.

"We also need several states that provide civil unions, and we need states that provide neither. Currently, there are only 2 states with gay marriage (a third if you include NY, which recognizes marriage) and 3 or 4 (not sure of the number here) that provide for civil unions or domestic partnerships?

Continued the reader, "In order to successfully challenge gay marriage bans we need legal disagreement on the issue. 2 states aren't enough. This is why HRC, and every other LGBT organization has to start putting some real elbow grease into these fights.

"Furthermore, we as a community need to start putting in our fair share of money time and effort. It's pathetic that Mormons can fundraise better than we can on something that has no effect on them."

Reader acrimony also focused on the leaders having taken vacations during the campaign, as well as a sentiment that a two-hour phone-in meeting was not enough of a post-Prop 8 response.

Wrote one commentator, "Qweerty [sic] says of Lori Jean 'She also is impressed by the grassroots energy that's popped up after Prop 8 passed.' Wow! Awesome grassroots energy!

"Lori Jean should lose more often," the commentator continued. "Think of all the energy she'll create.

"Maybe she can manage the campaign to defeat the next initiative, which will be to repeal domestic partnership rights. She can go on vacation for a month, blow the campaign, and then marvel at all the beautiful demonstrations in the street."

Another lambasted the meeting for its inaccessibility to Mac users, writing, "Couldn't get into the call, no surprise with this brain trust."

Continued the reader, "Did anyone say the critical phrases they needed to: 'I'm sorry we took so much of your money, blew our lead, and lead incompetently. We should have done better and we should resign as soon as new leaders are identified and able to take over. Our screw up was of monumental proportions and we take full responsibility.'

"I'm guessing not but I have a feeling that we'll read feel good money requests from Jean and Kors in tomorrow's inbox."

Reader discontent widened from the leadership of the No on 8 campaign to the national leadership of GLBT equality, with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) being mentioned prominently by dissatisfied bloggers.

Wrote one blogger, "The LGBT leadership vacuum is becoming even more and more apparent.

"These 'leaders' were hired to run organizations. They were not elected and none of them have anything close to 'grassroots' support.

"HRC claims hundreds of thousands of members but doesn't exactly do much of anything to mobilize their members.

"I got more emails from my state LGBT org about Prop 8 than I did from the HRC," the reader added.

Added the reader, "See 'Milk' [the new Gus van Sant biopic of Harvey Milk, a gay San Francisco politician who was slain in 1978] and compare to these twits. Discuss."

Another commentator provided a detailed list of suggestions for future actions on the part of the GLBT leadership.

"1. We focus on passing ENDA with or without the transgender provision. Obama and our allies in Congress can get this done for us in leiu [sic] of tackling the Don't Ask Don't Tell legislation they want to hold back on until 2010," the reader advised.

"We deserve outreach in 2009 for our Obama support and this will protect the most people. It's also an economic security issue.

"2. We create a GLBT Chamber of Commerce and select one of our most prominent businessmen to be the face of it. The organization would be supported by glbt [sic] organization donations and then later membership dues.

"We must push the economic security issue when talking about marriage equality. We also need a lobbying arm solely focused on pushing our interests in debates over small businesses in the health care discussions occurring at the national level.

"3. We must begin our own media campaign about our glbt [sic] families. Churches do it. Corporations do it. Political Candidates do it. This isn't a recruiting commerical [sic] of course (tongue in cheek). This is a familiarization campaign.

"We must approach it from a view angles: 1) We have families. 2) We are your neighbors. 3) We share your values. 4) We are Americans."

Continued the reader, "I see commercials profiling families like the Match.com or EHarmony ads where a lesbian or gay couple talk about their life, how they met, and their day to day grind.

"We could even have ads with single people talking about what they do... this would be maybe where a gay celebrity puts their two cents in. At the end they look at the camera and say 'We're gay. We're your neighbor. And we're Americans too.'"

The reader went on, "4. We must individually start demanding more from our organizations. If we must replace leadership or remove funding we must.

I beleive [sic] we should all refuse to pay next months dues and call for a dossier from each organization we belong to as to where they are going in a 3 year plan. We all must take indiviual [sic] responsibility for who is guiding our way, this is one way to do it.

"5. We organize a protest a month. We follow the example of JoinTheImpact.com's calendar and keep the pressure on.

"Our protests should not be directed at our opposition. We will not change their mind and exposing their hypocracy [sic] is not our job. Our job is to sell our brand. We have to go to the people who vote and say 'This is why you should support us.'

"We should avoid being the angry gay man at the temple and become the neighbor who shares the same concerns as his or her other neighbors but has to climb a hill to do it.

Added the reader, "But most important, it is a gay or lesbian face they see not a straight one."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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