Crazy rants and youthful wisdom at Board of Elections hearing
Testifying in favor of the measure were Joyce A. Little, the proposer; her friend Ann Miller of Bowie, Maryland; and perpetual witness Michael Sindram. Bob Summersgill and I were sitting in the front row taking it all in, with Bob twittering some amusingly snarky observations and I scribbling on a notepad. Sultan Shakir of HRC was also on hand, typing into his laptop.
Ms. Little said D.C. was "more like a fascist state" for denying people the right to vote on gay people's right to marry. Beside her, Ms. Miller bounced in her seat and said "mm hm" and "yes" and finger-snapped and knocked on the table; Board Chairman Errol Arthur admonished her several times. Little cited the successful use of a ballot measure in Maine to overturn marriage equality there. She said that America was founded on two principles, religion and the right to vote. She referred to the "satanic agenda of legalizing homosexual marriage." At this point, Ms. Miller's cell phone went off and everything stopped while she searched for it in her bag. Little continued, "But God is real. Man in his arrogance is truly ignorant." Her best line of the day was, "You are ushering in a Frankenstonian age" in which there would be creatures that were "half man and half dog." She invoked Sodom and Gomorrah. She ended by saying to the Board members, "You too are going to hell. May God have mercy on your immortal soul." Chairman Arthur responded simply, "Thank you, Ma'am."
Miller turned to science and said, "There is no gay gene. There are only two sexes," and that gays need to prove we are a new gender (because the gender roles for males and females are fixed and unchangeable). She said, "Adrian Fenty and Barack Obama do not represent the average African American on this issue." Making another foray into American history, she said, "Orval Faubus stood in the Alabama courthouse." I whispered to Bob, "Gov. Faubus was in Little Rock," to which he replied, "All her other facts are wrong, so give her a break." She slammed interracial relationships. She said of the marriage equality bill, "It is only due to the racist white male homosexual, David Catania and Phil Mendelson...." She advised the Board members, "Consider your salvation."
During question time, Ms. Little objected to the vacancy on the Board and suggested that the Board had no right to act without a third board member. Chairman Arthur and General Counsel Kenneth McGhie explained that it is up to the Mayor to nominate a board member and the Council to confirm, that two members constitute a quorum, and that the reason they were meeting was in response to Little's proposed initiative. Little also claimed that the board members had to be from different political parties. "Am I wrong?" she asked, to which Chairman Arthur answered, "Yes." The rule, Arthur said, is that no more than two members can be from the same party.
Little said that the Human Rights Act does not deal with marriage. Either Arthur or McGhie (I forget who) said that the HRA deals with discrimination, and that her initiative would discriminate against gay people by repealing last year's Jury and Marriage Amendment Act which recognizes same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. She could not grasp this. She then left, waiving her right to come back to the witness table at the end of the hearing to respond to others' testimony. By this point, Miller had already made a big dramatic flourish out of leaving.
Michael Sindram, who always introduces himself as a disabled American veteran as justification for denouncing everything and everyone, demanded of each official on the dais, "Can you hear me?" his point being that they had ignored his past testimony, since they failed to rule his way. He said, "Three strikes and you're out." He said, "The Human Rights Act can be used for anything. It is a pretext and a ruse used to abrogate my right to vote." He read from a Feb. 12 DC Agenda story on the WaPo poll showing that 59 percent in D.C. want to vote on marriage. He cited the court case Plyer v. Doe (my notes don't mention why). He said, "Stop the madness," which may have been a reference to running out of his meds. He said the brain "atrophies if you don't use it." He (who by the way is white) scolded the black Board members for betraying their heritage by supporting gay rights. He said, "There's nobody in the gay movement that's been lynched, has there?" Bob said Sindram then added under his breath, "But they should." Sindram held up a photo of the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery and called on the Board members to remember them.
Then came the turn for opponents of the ballot measure. Bob Summersgill and yours truly presented our testimony. I prefaced mine by saying, "In response to Mr. Sindram, I'd like to point out that I have participated in several wreath-laying ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, in tribute to all who have died in defense of our country, including gay men and lesbians." I added, "I would like to dedicate my testimony to the memory of Bayard Rustin, whom Mr. Sindram appears unaware of."
We were followed by Patrick Joseph Tayman of Northeast D.C., who recited unrelated complaints about Adrian Fenty, announced his own campaign for mayor, and tangentially mentioned the subject of the hearing. He agreed with us, but offered no substance. Not appearing at the hearing but submitting testimony on the pro-gay side were D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, D.C. Council General Counsel Brian Flowers, and Councilmember Phil Mendelson.
The highlight of the day for me was when three students from Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Karen Mejia, Kimberly Diaz, and Joel Carela testified against the initiative. They were accompanied by student teacher Laura Wood, who videotaped their testimony (the hearing was not televised). I had spoken at their school in November at the invitation of Senior Thesis Teacher Ayo Heinegg, to whom I later suggested that the students could sign up to testify at a hearing if they wanted to become involved. Each of them stressed that the initiative would undermine the Human Rights Act by subjecting people's rights to a popular vote. Carela also described the challenges faced by queer and questioning youth. Mejia said the impending marriage equality bill will allow the generation to come, including her 6-month-old brother, to grow up without fear. Diaz referred to Ms. Miller's warning that gay rights supporters were going to hell, and said, "At least we'd be going to hell with our rights."
These students and their families and friends should be proud. They channeled their passion into productive action and spoke eloquently about the import of the marriage equality struggle. I was delighted to have played a role in their being there. Afterwards, Bob suggested that they go across the hall and register to vote, which they did. As we've said before: time and demographics are on our side.
Update: In my original post I had misspelled Joel Carela's name, based as I recall on the handout at the BOEE hearing. I should have checked. It is now corrected with my apologies.