Why I Chose to Get Arrested
A letter from Rev. Deborah Lee
Rev. Deborah Lee and three other PSR staff people were arrested in act of civil disobedience on May 26, 2009, following the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold a constitutional amendment that denies the full equality of same-sex couples under the law. (Photos and other news reports online here.)
I wanted to thank so many people for your messages and for the encouragement and support over the civil disobedience last week. Now I know who to call, next time I’m in trouble or need to be bailed out! It was truly a humble privilege to stand there on behalf of so many of you who could not be arrested, but who shared my sentiment and convictions. I think of the many times when I wanted to, but couldn’t get arrested and of those who have stood on my behalf, in my lifetime and long before it.
Given all this, I’d like to say a little about why I chose to get arrested last week.
Before we marched down Market Street early that morning, there was a beautiful worship service held at St. Francis Lutheran Church in the Castro. Brother Lawrence, a dharma teacher in the Spirit Rock tradition, gave us an inspiring message in which he said “gay marriage is necessary, but insufficient,” meaning it is necessary to fight for the equality and full dignity of all people under the law as symbolized in this moment by marriage, AND that there is much, much more work of justice in this world we also must do. There are so many more situations where equal treatment and dignity evade us. Lives and communities in Richmond, California or among the poor sectors of the Philippines are not treated with equal justice, nor the full dignity that is afforded to others. The horrendous cuts being proposed in the new budget are not being shared equitably across the socio-economic strata of our society. Indigenous rights to land, acknowledging historical injustices & reparations, and an end to the state of permanent war spending so that we can have the funds to build and live the life we want for our friends, families and communities – based on access to healthcare, education, good jobs, transportation, culture and sustainability. These are just a few that ache my bones.
“It was necessary, but insufficient.” That’s my take on participating in the civil disobedience last Tuesday. As we were sitting in the holding pen, one of the other women asked out loud, “Why are we doing this again?" Yes, part of it is to create so much trouble, an administrative hassle for the City, to send a message to the courts, to the people, to be on record saying “No- that is not right. And we won’t stand for it.”
When the decision was rendered to uphold Prop.8, and I could see that there were hardly any Asian clergy there, I knew I needed to put my Asian face and Asian body on the line -- at least for the Asian folks I saw in the crowd, or those who might see a newspaper clipping, to the white folk and other people of color, to know that there are API people who stand with you and support you. I needed to put my Christian collar and robe on the line and under arrest, too – because for most people who are against same-gender marriage, their (mis)understanding of Christianity is a top reason or justification. As a Christian clergyperson, I felt that it was so important for the world to see that some Christian clergy believe that this court decision is wrong. It didn’t matter if it was one or one hundred and sixty. Somebody needs to stand there and get arrested as a symbol that this is not right, to educate others that what was done was serious.
I wasn’t planning to, but let’s say the moment and the Spirit overcame me. It’s not the first time I have been intentionally arrested for civil disobedience. But it is the first time since becoming a mother, and it does make the decision more difficult. Who will pick the kids up after school? Will I be in jail overnight? How will I explain this to them? How will I comfort them so they won’t be scared? (Many thanks to my partner Michael and friend Lauren for being my practical outside support.)
Still, we were treated 100% better than most people who break the law. I couldn’t help thinking about Oscar Grant with all those armed police around us -- and how he hadn’t even broken any law, just riding the BART train. We were certainly treated as a different (higher) class of prisoners/offenders. Not like those arrested for drug possession, selling, and a whole host of other crimes of poverty and this messed up economic/racialized system who don’t get treated the way we were, who languish for months upon months in jail without a court date, who are mostly poor and black or brown. How their parole terms are often so ridiculously impossible -- “must continue legal employment” (which is almost impossible to find once you have a record -- plus, in this economy?), “must not be outside after 8pm curfew” (including your own back or frontyard) for 5 years! Or you get sent back with a longer term.
In contrast, I was treated respectfully -- no food or water, but at least we were allowed to pee (thank God).
And, of course, it was nothing like the Philippines or in so many other countries. I couldn’t help but think about the pastors and activists in the Philippines who are being arrested without trial, disappeared and even ambushed and assassinated by the Philippines military (nearly 1000 in the past 5 years) funded by the US War on Terror. Or the folks in Burma who cannot organize or gather at all inside their country. The only place had been the Buddhist temples, but when the monks protested in 2007 (the "Saffron Revolution"), many monks were jailed and killed. The people still wonder, where are the monks? What has happened to them? Our context and this situation was nothing at all like that.
Don’t focus too much on me, or the protesters, or even this letter. Focus on the many people who are hurt by this Supreme Court decision and by the countless homophobic/heterosexist things that happen everyday. Focus on the issues that never even get a protest organized or someone willing to get arrested for it.
Keep struggling, making noise, connecting the dots, taking a stand.
1,200 march at Hong Kong's first official gay pride parade
by Nigel Collett
December 18, 2008
Although the Dykes on Bikes had to leave their machines at home and the event had to do without a double-decker bus organisers intended to rent, some 1,200 people turned out for Hong Kong's first official gay-pride parade on Saturday.
At last it has happened. Hong Kong's first gay pride parade processed through the crowded streets of Hong Kong Island on the afternoon of Saturday 13 December. And it was a huge success. Some 1,200 men and women, young and old, mostly gay but with some straight friends too, marched for just under two hours from the assembly point outside the Causeway Bay MTR entrance in Great George Street, one of the most congested places on the face of the planet [Amen!], straight along the major East-West thoroughfare of Hennessy Road to its final destination in the public Southern Playground near Wanchaiʼs station.
While Hong Kong has held three annual marches since 2005 to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), this was the first official gay pride parade. Banners and flags marked the different groups who took part, making the half kilometre length of the march a rainbow coloured ribbon threading its way down a main street packed with shoppers and passersby. The mood of the march was joyous, everyone chanting slogans of love and equality to the beating of drums and the applause and waves of many onlookers and the crowds that thronged the bridges crossing the road to get a glimpse of a sight never before seen in Hong Kong. The passengers of passing trams joined in with waves, cheers and shouted greetings. Though there were some bemused and indifferent faces in the crowd there were no anti-gay protesters to spoil this very happy day.
The march was all on foot. Hong Kong's police, out in force and doing a very careful job of ensuring no one got knocked down by the still passing streams of buses and cars, had ruled, sadly, that Dykes on Bikes had to leave their machines at home. The only other vehicle organisers planned to have at the parade was a bus, both to be a focus for the parade and to provide a platform for its PA system and music. The bus didn't materialise. Citybus, the company that organisers approached to rent a double-decker, informed them several days before the parade that they are unwilling to rent them a bus. According to local media reports, the bus company reportedly said that although a bus was available, they considered various factors, including the "image of our company" when they refused the booking.
It was too late to rent another one, so everybody ended up walking and the kit went in a van, but it was not too late for a demonstration to be organised several days before the Parade outside the Citybus offices, where the company was called upon to account for what seemed to all concerned a blatant case of discrimination. This issue will not be forgotten and the Hong Kong Government has already taken the step of asking the company for an explanation.
At the Parade's destination a large platform had been erected in the sports ground and a programme of celebration was performed by the groups involved in the Parade to entertain the marchers and the public in the park. There were too many organisations represented in the 30 member Pride committee to list them all here, but the four principal ones coordinating the day were the Women's Coalition of the HKSAR; Rainbow of Hong Kong; Midnight Blue, the Hong Kong organisation reaching out to male sex workers; and the Social Movement Resource Centre Autonomous 8A, which had organised the highly successful 'Straights for Gays' march in Kowloon around the time of IDAHO earlier in the year. All these led the marchers in a declaration and pledge based upon the Pride Paradeʼs theme of 'Celebrate Love'.
Midnight Blue's contingent, dressed in traditional costumes, showed off their Chinese Zang dancing skills. One of their leading members, Wai, who marched through the streets with his fellows in a police uniform just enough unlike the Chinese or Hong Kong Police's uniform to prevent his arrest for impersonation, and was a key figure in putting together the Parade's administrative back up, told me that he 'wished to show Hong Kong a happy celebration of what tongzhi (meaning comrade in Chinese but commonly used to refer to lesbians and gay men) meant' and hoped that the event would develop in future more and more into the kind of street party enjoyed in other major cities. He and similarly clad fellow members of Midnight Blue did their best to make this happen this time by divesting themselves of their uniforms in a Hong Kong version of 'The Full Monty' on stage. Bryan Chan, of Hong Kong's Dimsum Magazine (who has been known just occasionally to be seen in drag at tongzhi events), appeared this time as the glamorous 'Coco', but kept his clothes on, his sparkling bodice, plumed headdress and tight boots being far too splendid and difficult to remove. He belted out some old favourites from Anita Mui and Paula Tsui. No lip synching here!
Connie Chan, leading member of the Women's Coalition, and one of the Paradeʼs coordinators, told me that she was ecstatic about the turnout. She said that the committee had planned initially for 250 people (this was, after all, the first Pride Parade in a city where it is still not easy to come out and where most find it more than hard to tell their parents, let alone to be open to their employers, about their sexual orientation). But this had rapidly become 500 then 1,000, and the numbers who came to march exceeded everyoneʼs dreams.
Hong Kong was helped out by contingents from other Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Yunnan and Gweizhou, all of which marched under identifying banners. Representatives from Taiwan also marched. From the platform, they all said they hoped to be able to repeat Hong Kong 's success with Pride Parades of their own one day.
Two events completed the Pride programme. That night, just off Lang Kwai Fong in Central, at the newly opened bar Does Your Mother Know, a large number of those whose mothers did, and many whose mothers probably didn't, celebrated the day's triumph with an After Parade Party. Joint party organisers Abby Lee and Betty Grisoni, coordinators of the lesbian social salon Les Peches, told me that while the numbers of people at this first Pride were not so important as the fact of its being held at all, they were delighted that so many had had the courage to turn out. Eric Herrera of Fruits in Suits, the Hong Kong gay social network, and their fellow party host, echoed this and said that their party, a fundraiser for the parade, hoped to pay over HK$20,000 (US$2,580) to its funds, and was intended to end a happy day with a bang. Which it truly did.
On Sunday, 13 December, an event was held at Hong Kong's Baptist University to share the lessons of the Parade and to hold an open forum on many LGBT issues similarly affecting China , Hong Kong and Taiwan ; living with AIDS, family relationships, civil rights and the use of the legal system in achieving them. The Baptist University is no stranger to hosting tongzhi events; Ken Zai, Rainbow Hong Kong's founder and leading member and a key figure in the organisation of the Pride Parade, had appeared here the week before to celebrate his organisation's 10th anniversary with a musical concert at which he personally performed a medley of popular songs, as he did again after the Parade in Southern Park.
Whilst the 30-member committee that organised the Pride Parade will dissolve after its conclusion, it will, in some form, re-assemble next year to plan 2009's Pride. The intention is make Hong Kong 's Pride bigger and better as the years go by.
From Hong Kong's South China Morning Post:
City's first gay-pride parade a chance to 'celebrate love' and fly the flag
December 14, 2008
It was a parade of colour, joy and expression.
The city's first-ever pride march for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community kicked off in Causeway Bay yesterday with hundreds of people walking from Hennessy Road to Wan Chai's Southorn Playground.
"The theme of this year is `celebrate love'," said Kenneth Cheung Kam-hung, founder of the gay rights group Rainbow of Hong Kong.
"We want the LGBT community members to join the parade and celebrate love - to say to the public, `We have the right to our love, and we want equal opportunity in our society'," he said.
Rainbow of Hong Kong organised the walk along with the Women Coalition of HKSAR, HKFS Social Movement Resource Centre and Midnight Blue, a support group for male sex workers.
Many marchers donned costumes, carried banners or waved rainbow pride flags.
Organisers expected 1,000 people, including supporters from Taiwan and the mainland, to take part.
Plenty of passers-by approved of the demonstration, but others appeared opposed, puzzled or indifferent. Philip Lo, 38, a financial planner, watched as the marchers went past and said the group not only had the freedom to assemble, but the right to love one another.
Asked what reactions he saw along the route, Mr Lo said: "People are looking a little strange at what they see, but I haven't heard anything negative."
One 28-year-old graphic designer from Shenzhen said he did not like the parade.
He then grabbed the reporter's pen and wrote "Aids" on a notepad. "A woman and man must be together," he said. Barry Lee, 40, a social worker from Hong Kong, walked in the procession and wore a piece of rainbow cloth around one of his wrists. The rally was important to him because "it shows the community we exist, we are here".
"There are so many stereotypes about gays and lesbians," Mr Lee said.
"The more the public knows about us, what we are and who we are, the less ignorance there will be."
During the march, more than 25 people walked with a large rainbow flag.
Answering a question about the size of the flag, a bearer quipped, "about the size of a double-decker bus" - a reference to how Citybus recently refused to rent a double-decker to parade organisers.
The event was not easy to pull together, said Connie Chan, a spokeswoman for the Women Coalition of HKSAR.
The manpower was not there, neither was the money, she said, and the Citybus situation did not help the organisers.
Fortunately, there were volunteers, she said.
"They want it; they need it," Ms Chan said.
"It's time for Hong Kong to have a pride parade just like the other modern Asian cities."
Hong Kong's First Tongzhi Pride Parade!
December 13, 2008
NRJ celebrates the first ever Pride Parade in Hong Kong in solidarity with Hong Kong tongzhi. This song was written especially for this parade, which took place on December, 13, 2008. The lyrics below were translated by T.
stepping big steps with me to the street.
Getting wet with rain or hot with sunshine,
still make sure we'll meet on the street.
On-lookers giving us strange looks,
I don't need to guess why.
If they don't get used to seeing LGBT, we won't mind,
one day they will say hi.
See Me Fly
I'm proud to fly up high
Chorus (whenever seeing rainbow in front):
I will feel your love.
Believe me I can fly,
I am singing in the sky.
Singing can be heard all street,
'cause love can make one laughing and shouting loud.
Pride in Your Eyes,
still accompanying me is you.
Rain or shine, still follow me
go past more and more.
When facing obstacles along the road,
confidence can make one end up prouder.
If the whole world unaccepts me,
I rely on you to sing for me.
See Me Fly,
I'm proud to fly up high.
Seeing you today accompany me
along the road, don't care the distance is far or close,
use love for your voice.
Let me fly
I'm proud to fly up high
Over the rainbow
there's my life, my pride...