Stonewall Uprising and Youth Panel in Central PA Last Night, Counterprotest Today

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So last night I attended the alternative event organized by Equality Pennsylvania and the Central PA LGBT Community Center in response to NOM’s arrival here in Harrisburg today.

The event consisted of a screening of the new documentary Stonewall Uprising, which I found particularly compelling. Even when you know a lot of the history and precedent for your community, there is something incredibly powerful about hearing the story told by the people who were actually there. It’s also a stark reminder that what we know as “Pride” today started there, yet most people don’t understand the important historical roots of such events. If you have a chance to see this film, do.

Following the film was a youth panel, featuring student leaders from local universities (UPenn, Millersville, Lincoln, and Gettysburg). They spoke about the work they have been doing to increase visibility for our community, humanize LGBT people, and educate their peers on our issues. They were passionate and really related to the film, saying “anger can be a firestarter” and “you cant wait for others to achieve equality for you.”

It was great to hear about some of the successes at Millersville, but disappointing to hear about some of the frustrations at Lincoln, our nation’s oldest HBCU. There, they only started their LGBT student organization last year for the first time. We often think of our universities as these sanctuaries for LGBT students, but many have long ways to go.

What was most telling is that the student leaders were very aware of generational divides. In one sense, there was a defensiveness that many young people can be apathetic, but that isn’t necessarily representative or as accurate as some would like to think it is. They also recognized that young people didn’t live through Stonewall; they didn’t live through the times when homosexuality was most demonized. Nonetheless, they can be just as energized. They want to build better relationships across generations and always “give credit where credit is due.”

Overall, I thought it was a great event, with about 60 people in attendance. I was disappointed that at an event that was spurred by NOM’s Summer Tour, little if nothing was said about NOM, about demonizing tactics in modern day, or about marriage equality in general. I recognize that marriage is not Equality Pennsylvania’s number one issue; employment and housing discrimination are serious concerns for LGBT Pennsylvanians. Still, it seemed an opportunity was lost to capitalize on the frustration folks might have regarding NOM’s arrival in the city.

Today, we offer our own response. I will be at the counterprotest motivating those who want to stand up for themselves and doing what I can to document the event. Below is the press release:

August 11, 2010 – Harrisburg, Pa — On Friday, August 13, 2010 from 12:00pm – 1:00pm Justice League – Activate! a group based out of State College, Pa, Equality Across America, a national group that organized the National Equality March in DC back in October 2009 and Freedom to Marry, a national organization that fights for the rights of same sex couples to marry are glad to join the National Organization for Marriage in drawing attention this summer to the importance of marriage.

In announcing their summer tour, NOM declared that this is “an urgent time for marriage” and that “a strong marriage…makes a strong family,” “strong neighborhoods,” and “strong towns, cities and states.” We couldn’t agree more, which is why we believe that it is time to stop excluding loving and committed same-sex couples from marriage. Two major political issues involving same sex marriage in the United States involve the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defines marriage between one woman and one man and has recently been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Massachusetts; and Proposition 8, a voting initiative that took the right of marriage away from same sex couples in California, which has also recently be ruled unconstitutional by Judge Walker in Sacramento.

At noon, the co-founder of Justice League – Activate!, Audrey Smith, a lesbian from State College, will welcome the crowd of counter-protesters and explain why marriage equality matters to her family. Equality Across America PAC 9 founder Scott C. Strait, a gay local college student from the Harrisburg area, will also share his story and then introduce Jesse Salazar, the Latino and LGBTQ Liaison for Senator Bob Casey Jr. After the various speakers from the audience have shared their family’s stories, the crowd will be led in some cheers that honor love and equality including: “We’re here, we’re queer, our families are REAL!”, “Gay, Straight, Black, White – Marriage is a civil right!” and more.

Those interested in joining the counter-protest should meet out front of the state capital at North Third and State streets promptly at noon on Friday. We ask that you wear red. We also must request that you are respectful to the NOM protesters and other commentators, keeping a safe distance at all times, and remember that this will be a family event.

For more information on the counter-protest or how you can become involved, email Audrey Smith at or Scott Strait at

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