Hundreds protest Prop. 8 in Providence

Monday, November 17, 2008

The State House lawn was dotted with umbrellas on Saturday afternoon, as the hundreds of people gathered there maintained a hopeful spirit despite the intermittent rain. They were part of the National Day of Protest, a event organized by Join the Impact that brought people together in cities in all 50 states to protest the passage of California’s Proposition 8.

Before the event, Marriage Equality Rhode Island board member and communications chair Tiffany Rauch-Dickson, one of the organizers, said she already had 500 invitation acceptances on Facebook. The demonstration began at 1:30 p.m. on the East Coast and 10:30 a.m. on the West Coast, so that protests nationwide began in unison.

The nationwide protest grew out people’s surprised reactions to the passage of Prop 8. Rauch-Dickson said that people were shocked because “nobody really believed it would happen.”

For the duration of the rally, supporters held a rainbow banner with the words “Love” and “Equality” across the State House steps. People held signs with a variety of messages “Straight guy for love,” “Fight the H8” and “Jesus had 2 daddies, why can’t I?”

Rauch-Dickson addressed the crowd from the State House steps before Susan Heroux, chairwman of the MERI Education Fund Board of Directors, introduced the event’s tagline, “I do,” which was featured on stickers that were distributed to demonstrators. The slogan became the affirmation that the crowd shouted in response to Heroux’s speech. “When they say that they don’t believe that marriage is a civil right, we will say ‘I do,'” she said. Heroux was met with cheers when she said MERI expects the state to achieve “marriage equality” in the next three years.

Rev. Eugene Dyszlewski from the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Same-Gender Marriage also spoke at the protest, saying “God is not in favor of discrimination.”

Dyszlewski said he represented a group of over 100 ministers from about 12 denominations in the state.

Mayor David Cicilline ’83, State Sen. Rhoda Perry P’91 and State Rep. Frank Ferri each addressed the crowd. The mayor said, “One of the most important values of our democracy is equality” and urged people to “continue this fight beyond today” by getting involved and writing to their leaders and representatives.

Representative Frank Ferri told the crowd about having to go to Canada to marry his husband saying, “This (protest) is about personal stories.”

Demonstrators had the opportunity to share their personal stories after the scheduled speakers.

Among the attendees affected personally was Nancy Chenard, who came to support her nephew in California, who was engaged before Prop 8 passed.

She came to support the demonstration, along with friend Susan Flory, who said she would have been there anyway. “I have a lesbian daughter,” she said. “I want her to find her heart’s desire someday when she’s ready.”

Though demonstrators of all ages came, Brown students made a large showing at the rally. Becky Fish ’09 said it’s unfortunate that the “discriminatory legislation” and the discrimination associated with Prop 8 is seen by some as “culturally acceptable.”

Shae Selix ’12 from Sacramento, Calif., said he always felt his state was progressive, especially in May when the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Taking the right away after only a few months was, naturally, a disappointment. Thousands of miles away from the problem, he said coming to the rally gave him hope.

Emma Cunningham GS, also from California, carried a hand-made sign with the Chinese character for “love,” which she said was made by combining the characters for “heart” and “acceptance.” Cunningham said she experienced mixed emotions the night of the election, with pride for her country on one side and shame for her state on another. “On a broad scale, it’s a little scary when the government gets to dictate personal choices,” she said.

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