Civil Rights HI Politics

For My Part

Written for the Equality Hawaii blog on June 6, 2011

I thought I’d take an opportunity to share a bit about my experience with Equality Hawaii, how I got involved in the gay-marriage battle, and what I’ve learned.

When the House Committee on Judiciary, in 2007, had a public hearing on a civil unions bill, I was in attendance. I had been politically active in Hawaii for a little over a year and it was the first time I attended a public hearing at the Capitol. I was there to support my friends Bill Woods and Lance Bateman and the atmosphere was largely positive, as was the testimony. Being new and politically naive, I left the hearing when the Committee recessed for decision-making; I assumed since there had been so much support for the bill (at least in the room), the bill would pass. I woke up the next date to read the disheartening news that the Judiciary Chair had decided to defer decision-making on the bill, essentially “killing” it for the rest of the session.

On a visceral level, I had always been supportive of same-sex marriage, though I hadn’t known anyone who was gay and hadn’t really payed much attention to the issue. What’s more, being new to both the issue of same-sex marriage and Hawaii politics, I was largely unaware of the history behind the issue and the war that was waged in the 90s. Given my ignorance of the history of the issue, or maybe in spite of it, I was outraged at the outcome of the 2007 bill.

As a result of the bill’s demise, new live was given to the movement that had been largely subterranean since the 1998 passage of a state constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the power to limit marriage to a man and a woman. People of conscience began to coalesce under the umbrella of a new coalition comprised of a cross-section of people and organizations from the community. It was around the same time that I began to take a more active role in the movement.

Admittedly, my involvement began slowly; I was providing some technical assistance to Bill Woods, creating web domains and a template website for the burgeoning organization. However, by the fall of the same year, I was attending regular meetings, as the representative for Progressive Democrats of Hawaii: a member organization of the coalition. Unfortunately, by then, for a number of reasons, participation in the organizing meetings had begun to dwindle and only a handful of us remained. Those of us remaining, for better or worse, were nearly all transplants from the mainland. It wasn’t looking good for our community coalition.

Believing in the issue, I stuck around and as a new Board was formed, I reluctantly filled the role of Secretary. With a new Board in place and a name decided upon, the Family Equality Coalition (FEC) was born and work began to build the infrastructure of the organization. Our coming out party, as it were, was held shortly thereafter, with the help of UNITE HERE Local 5, who had brought Cleve Jones to Hawaii. The event was well attended and the FEC forged ahead with its work.

Since then, securing equal rights for the GLBT community has been a top priority for me. I went from knowing no one who was gay, to being a minority straight person in the movement; for years was was the “token straight person” on the Board. As part of this journey, the issue for me went from being a theoretical problem of equality, to one of a very real example of inequality, bigotry, and ignorance. I came to understand, on a very practical level, why this issue was so important and how the passage of civil unions (and same-sex marriage) was so vital to so many in our community.

I’ve also come to better understand the nuances of identity that exist within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community and how the GLBT acronym doesn’t really account for these nuances. So, in my effort to educate the public at large, so too have I received an education….

Fast forward to July 2010. I was visiting family on the mainland when word came of Governor Lingle’s veto of House Bill 444. By then, I was far more experienced in Hawaii politics and so expected the veto. Still, despite this knowledge and expectation, I was furious… and hurt. I paced back and forth on my parents’ porch, cursing and crying. Regardless of the veto, the movement had achieved a huge victory with the bill’s passage out of the Legislature and even though we had some battle to fight during the approaching election season and the following legislative session, I was confident the passage of a civil unions bill was imminent.

The rest, as they say, is history. And one of the proudest moments of my life was being there, in person, to witness the signing of Act 1, Session Laws of Hawaii 2011, a civil unions bill. It was a momentous victory for the movement and for so many families that will benefit from the law when it becomes effective January 1, 2012.

This experience for me has been wonderful. I’ve met so many good and dedicated people and learned so much and I look forward to the coming months and years as Equality Hawaii and the movement continues to make great strides forward.

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