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The March for Gay and Lesbian Rights Continues

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Aired 7/16/09

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which was the catalyst for the modern gay rights movement. We'll mark the anniversary by talking about the progress made on rights for the LGBT community and the upcoming San Diego Pride festival.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The 35th Annual San Diego Pride Festival takes place this Saturday and Sunday in Balboa Park.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The 35th annual San Diego Pride Parade takes place this Saturday, celebrating the achievements of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community but it's more than a celebration. The very name of this year's Pride Festival "Activism for Equality" is a call to action. Members of the LGBT community now find their status in America is full of contradictions. Same-sex marriage is legal in one state, not in another. President Obama campaigned as a fierce advocate for gay rights but so far has not moved to change the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military. And perhaps nowhere is the contradiction more evident than here in California, where the same State Supreme Court that made same-sex marriage legal, has upheld the anti-gay marriage initiative Prop 8. We'll be exploring the battles won and the challenges ahead for the LGBT community, and get a preview of this year's Pride Festival with my guests, Philip Princetta, who is on the board of directors and chairman of San Diego LGBT Pride. Philip, welcome to These Days.

PHILIP PRINCETTA (Chairman San Diego LGBT Pride): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Matt Stephens is a partner in the San Diego law firm Stock Stephens and instructor of constitutional law at UCSD. He's been working on LGBT civil rights for a decade. Matt, welcome and good morning.

MATT STEPHENS (Attorney): Good morning to you.

CAVANAUGH: We invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you have a question or a comment about the Pride Festival this weekend in San Diego, give us a call. The number is 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. Philip, let me start with you, if I may, because I made the comment that this year's Pride Festival has a lot to do with the history of the gay rights movement. And I wonder when and why did the first pride parades begin.

PRINCETTA: The first pride parades began in 1969, was the Stonewall riots in New York City. So shortly after that is when there was the first parade, perhaps in 1970. The Stonewall riots indicated that people were going to stand up for their rights. They no longer were going to be treated as second class citizens, that we are American citizens and we should be afforded the same rights as everywhere – everyone else.

CAVANAUGH: Now some people may be actually surprised to know that we have had a pride parade in San Diego for 35 years, almost from the start of the movement.

PRINCETTA: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering how different those first pride parades in San Diego were to what we have now.

PRINCETTA: The first pride parades were marches and they started with 10 to 200 people. Some people had to put bags on their heads in the beginning to cover who they were because of their employees. So as time has gone by, the marches have turned into parades. This year, parade in 2009 will have 175,000 spectators, eight to nine thousand people in the parade, and 150 contingents. So it's a different setup than it was 35 years ago.

CAVANAUGH: I'd say so. And what about the Festival in Balboa Park? What's that going to be like?

PRINCETTA: The Festival in Balboa Park is a celebration of Pride. Different than the parade, has a different focus. This year, we'll expect 40,000 people to come into the festival. We'll have a children's garden there, as we always do. San Diego Pride was the first Pride ever to have a children's area. And it'll be a good celebration.

CAVANAUGH: Matt, you have been following this struggle for LGBT rights through at least the last decade. Can you give us an idea of some of the most significant strides in civil rights for gays that have been made over the decades, the past couple of decades, and also is mirrored in the kind of increase, the kind of popularity, if you will, of the Pride Festival in San Diego.

STEPHENS: Yeah, there are federal strides and there are state strides. And in California, we have one of the best atmospheres from a legal perspective because sexual orientation is a protected category and most recently the State Supreme Court said that strict scrutiny would be applied to discrimination cases for gays and lesbians. It's a critical step.

CAVANAUGH: What does it mean to be a protected category or protected class?

STEPHENS: It means that in terms of our equal rights, our equal protection rights, the court will take a much closer look at government regulations that discriminate. So it puts us in a different category. Instead of being a rational basis justification, now they're strict scrutiny.

CAVANAUGH: I see. A lot of – Of course, a lot of the attention most recently in California has been the about face or as some people see it, and actually I think it's fair to say, there's been a reversal from making same-sex marriage legal to upholding Proposition 8. And does that – what does that say about the legal climate in California? Is it still welcoming for the LGBT community?

STEPHENS: Well, I think that is – it's a mixed bag. And, you know, the Prop 8 passage and having it upheld by the Supreme Court was obviously a significant disappointment and it doesn't mean that the gay community isn't making strides but I do think it sends the appropriate message that we're not done. We've got a lot more work to do.

CAVANAUGH: I am speaking with Matt Stephens. He is instructor of constitutional law at UCSD. And my other guest is Philip Princetta, on the board of directors and chairman of San Diego LGBT Pride. And we are inviting your phone calls. If you'd like to make a question or a comment about this year's Pride Festival in San Diego, give us a call, 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. Let's expand this to the national level, Matt, if we can, and review some of the significant events that have taken place recently that has gotten the LGBT community where it is today, legally across the nation.

STEPHENS: Yeah, the two critical cases were Romer versus Evans in 1996, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. And followed by, in 2003, Lawrence and Garner versus Texas, which struck down the Texas sodomy statute. And when you can criminalize conduct, you can then take away a host of other rights, employment for example. And I think Seaman Provost's murder may be the most current example of why we need the now pending ENDA protections, which – the nondiscrimination act at the federal level because although California has protections, we don't at the federal level and I think Seaman Provost's murder indicates that we need those kinds of protections.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, certainly, we've heard a lot about that recently. Let me take you back, if I would to just clarify this a little bit for people who haven't kept up, and that is that Texas sodomy law, that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, that had been used – sodomy laws had been used across the nation to not only make the practice of sodomy illegal but to actually make people, gays, lesbians, criminals, is that correct?

STEPHENS: That is correct. And the impact of – not only does it criminalize a person for who they are but, again, it was a way of taking away employment. It was a way of keeping people from visiting their partners in the hospitals. And it was a justification, an unreasonable justification but a justification for all the legalization of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

CAVANAUGH: And once that was struck down by the court, then that opened the way to this movement toward same-sex marriage that we've seen today because as long – if it's not a criminal act any more then why isn't it sanctioned the way heterosexual marriage would be?

STEPHENS: Precisely. If you have to give due process rights to gays and lesbians on the equal basis, which is what the Lawrence decision did, then that does open the door for other equal rights.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, Philip, you know, you have lived through all of this, all of these court decisions and so forth. I wonder if you would share for us a little bit about how your life has changed in the sense of being who you are and being able to express yourself as a gay man.

PRINCETTA: Well, to begin with, I was married and I have three sons so when I decided to come out, I found it to be easier. I didn't really have any problem. I came out in the – 1981. I didn't deal with some of the problems that people dealt with before me. So I sort of had it easy. The ride has been easier for me than my predecessors.

CAVANAUGH: But still not as easy as if you were straight.

PRINCETTA: Correct. The – There's still discrimination, there's still civil rights issues concerning gay men, gay women, LGBT in general.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let me remind our listeners that we are inviting them to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727. And it is time to go to the phones. Ashley is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Ashley, and welcome to These Days.

ASHLEY (Caller, San Diego): Good morning and thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, how can we help you?

ASHLEY: Hi. I'm a straight person but I marched with the No on 8 campaign in Hillcrest this past year. And I was wondering if there's any kind of San Diego movement or California movement period that is going to be petitioning or suing the government, much like they're doing, like GLAD is doing in Minnesota, about the gay rights being – like the marriage issue being a violation of our basic rights by the constitution.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Ashley. But before, I guess, Matt takes that question, Ashley, why does this issue – why is it important to you?

ASHLEY: Well, I think that there's a couple of reasons. First of all is, I have a lot of friends and family members who are gay. I, myself, am a bisexual but I choose to be with a man. And, furthermore, I'm in a biracial relationship and just like a few years ago, just a couple of decades, a biracial relationship wasn't constitutional and wasn't accepted by solme religious groups. And I don't think that any kind of one group saying that marriage or you being with somebody that you love is wrong and that we need to take a stand for that because we're all people and we all deserve to be loved.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much for your comments, Ashley. And now I'm going to throw that – her question to Matt and Philip. What kind of organizations, if any, are working here in California to, I guess, overturn Prop 8.

STEPHENS: Yeah, and I would thank Ashley for the call. That was really well said. We do all deserve the right to be loved. And the government doesn't have any business telling us what – who we can and cannot love. And that's what the marriage prohibition does. So the things that are going on that I know about in San Diego include Equality California's efforts, and there's another group called SAME, that is a marriage equality group, and there was the 25,000 Person March that happened in San Diego and so those both have grassroots campaigns. The Center's Public Policy department and the Center also has an advocacy project that are also doing work to help people understand about gay and lesbian lives and that, you know, we're just like everybody else.

CAVANAUGH: You know, Philip, there was some dissatisfaction, and I think there still is, in the gay community over how the Obama administration campaigned as opposed to how so far, at least, the brief time the president has been in office, he has been addressing gay issues. And I'm wondering what you think about that?

PRINCETTA: Well, President Obama is a constitutionalist so – and in studying his history, I have no doubt that he'll get – he'll deliver the goods. I know that in politics, you have to take your time, you have to play your cards correctly and I think that he will do his best to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell and to get equal rights through for all LGBT.

CAVANAUGH: You know, however, Matt, there was some outcry on the wording of the way the Obama administration Justice Department actually put in their brief for their defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. And I wonder if you could tell us about that. What are some of the things the administration said in that brief that were offensive to some in the LGBT community?

STEPHENS: Well, the brief that I read was almost a throwback to the pre-Lawrence and Garner. It carried a lot of the same language that the Bowers Decision had in it that compared gays and lesbians to, you know, alcoholics and pedophiles and this kind of thing. That's – That is antiquated history, in addition to being completely inaccurate. So it was that kind of inflammatory and completely outmoded language in addition to the fact that the administration chimed in at all. There was no reason for them to say anything and in that particular instance, silence would have been a far better choice.

CAVANAUGH: And is this, in a way, fueling the efforts in California and in other states to become more politically active considering that perhaps just having President Obama in the White House does not seal the deal for the gay community? I'm wondering, Philip.

PRINCETTA: Absolutely, because the LGBT movement is a civil rights movement. It's not unlike the suffragette movement and the African-American rights movement that preceded it. So these kind of, quote, unquote, setbacks are actually tools of empowerment.

CAVANAUGH: You're listening to These Days on KPBS. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests are Philip Princetta, who is the chairman of San Diego LGBT Pride, and Matt Stephens, partner in the San Diego law firm Stock Stephens. He's an instructor of constitutional law at UCSD. We're talking about the Pride Festival this weekend and the achievements and challenges facing the LGBD – ooh, LGBT community in San Diego and across the nation. And we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Matt, I want to start out by asking you what's going on with the military's Don’t Ask, Don't Tell policy?

STEPHENS: Well, unfortunately, it still exists. And there are thousands of service members who are serving in silence. And when there are so many world class militaries that don't discriminate, it's long time that the United States stops discriminating and allows all of our service members to serve openly.

CAVANAUGH: And is it a surprise that there hasn't at least been a moratorium on this practice while, perhaps, congress and the president get around to changing it?

STEPHENS: Well, the moratorium would be, obviously, again, a better choice rather than sticking with the old. So if we're in with the new, let's be in with the new.

CAVANAUGH: And let's take a call. Ed is in Lakeside and he is calling us. Hi, Ed, welcome to These Days.

ED (Caller, Lakeside): Oh, yes, hi. I'm holding in my hands right now, first a piece of information that is widely ignored yet it's misrepresented. I belong to a mega-church of about 4,000 and every week the pastors there are telling people that gayness is a choice. Yet I'm holding in my hand the Merck Manual, now it's known by many people, it's the world's most widely used medical reference. And it's a huge book, it's been put out for the public now. And I'm reading very briefly here, it says homosexuality is widely regarded as a sexual orientation that is present from childhood and is thus not a choice, and that homosexuality is not considered a disorder.

CAVANAUGH: Ed, thank you for that. We – That opens up a question that I wanted to ask. Ed said that he goes to this church every weekend, and I'm wondering what role is religion still playing in terms of mounting opposition against civil rights for the LGBT community? Philip, I'm going to ask you that first.

PRINCETTA: Well, they're very powerful. And religion really has no role in the civil rights movement whatsoever. Everybody should be respected for who they worship and what religion they're part of but when it comes to civil rights, in these United States, it's a matter of sovereignty and freedom.

CAVANAUGH: And Matt.

STEPHENS: Well, the churches, I think, did play a role in helping the passage of Prop 8 and what saddens me about that is the misinformation that was generated in that campaign about churches losing their rights. It simply was false and churches will not be forced to marry same sex couples if they don't want. On the other hand, there are many, many churches that acknowledge these relationships and, you know, the separation of church and state is a critical part of our constitutional foundation and there's nothing about this issue that impacts that religious freedom.

CAVANAUGH: Let's get in a few more callers. There are several people who want to join the conversation. Guillermo is in Imperial Valley. And good morning, Guillermo, welcome to These Days.

GUILLERMO (Caller, Imperial Valley): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Hi.

GUILLERMO: Yes, I have – I'm really glad I'm entering the conversation right now because that's exactly where my comment was coming from, basically with the religions and what government has to do with it. Now, the institution of marriage was started with religion and everybody knows this. Now, the government needed to keep track of who was married and who was not. That's why papers needed to be signed and that's why we have record in the government for it. It's not an institution that is in the government. Marriage did not start in the government. It started in religion. So when religion has said that it has nothing to do with marriage, that's where I don't agree with it. Now I agree that gays and lesbians need rights and they should have rights. They're just people just like everybody else. But why do they have to have – they have domestic partnership, they have – and under domestic partnership, they have all the rights that a married couple would have, including taxation, visitor rights to see – basically everything a married couple would have. So when…

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for – we've got – we've got that question, Guillermo, and I'm going to have Matt address it. Thank you very much for calling. So, Matt, why marriage?

STEPHENS: Yeah, marriage is, in fact, a government institution and so the relationship is between the two partners in a marriage and their government. The fact of the matter is that domestic partnerships are not legally equal and as our state Supreme Court explained, they're not institutionally equal. When you can have a separate class set aside for one group of citizens, that is not equality. So – And they aren't factually equal. If you get married in California and you're a same sex couple and then you travel with your family to Texas, it – Texas is not going to recognize that relationship, whereas if you're a heterosexual couple and you get married in California and you travel to Texas, you're still married when you get there.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

STEPHENS: So it isn't, in fact, equal.

CAVANAUGH: And, indeed, it – according to the religious question of Guillermo's comment, it is true, of course, people who don't ascribe to a certain religion can, indeed, contract a civil marriage now if they are heterosexuals. So it isn't always a religious ceremony. Would you agree with that?

STEPHENS: Correct, it is not a civil ceremony very often. And if you've ever been down to the City Clerk's office, the County Recorder's office, they're doing civil marriages, nonreligious marriages, down there all the time.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. Larry is calling from the College area. Good morning, Larry. Welcome to These Days. Hi, Larry? Okay, well, Larry…

LARRY (Caller, San Diego/College area): Hello? Hello?

CAVANAUGH: Hey, Larry.

LARRY: Yeah, okay. Anyway, yeah, I just wanted to make a really what I think to be a simple, concise answer to the issue and the issue seems to be that the church and state issue. And I think the separation of church and state is the important thing here and that would be the state, for example California specifically, to get out of the business of marriage period and to get into the let's say civil union business or whatever the correct nomenclature might be. And let the churches decide if they're going to allow, you know, specific, you know, types of situations within their church and call it a marriage.

CAVANAUGH: Larry, thank you so much for your comment. I want to move on now to Mick in La Mesa. Good morning, Mick, and welcome to These Days.

MICK (Caller, La Mesa): Hi. Just wanted to say that just to begin, I'm definitely a supporter of the same sex marriage and I wanted to let you know that some of the news that came back in the wake of Prop 8 passing seemed to cast some of the blame against the communities of color. And I don't think that's entirely fair but I do believe that there are people within some of those communities that bristle at the thought of comparing the LGBT civil rights movement to the civil rights movement of the fifties and the sixties. And I think that there are strong parallels, in fact, between those two movements but I'd really like to see what Matt or Philip have to say about that. And I'll take my answer off the air.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the call, Mick. Anyone want to take that question?

STEPHENS: You know, it's funny, Mick, when you were talking I instantly thought of Michael Jackson and one of his well known songs, "Man In The Mirror." And I think that we only make strides in all of our communities in San Diego when we look at ourselves and look at our own prejudices and ask ourselves, did I do everything that I could do to make a difference in this last election? Did I talk to every person that I possibly could? And the other thing that we have to realize is, in the LGBT community, we are people of color, we are of varying religions, we represent every single category of humanity that you can think of. And given that that's the case, we have to now put aside and put away the differences and the blame game of who didn't support who. We have to look to the man in the mirror.

CAVANAUGH: And, Philip, a lot of the polls tell us that there is a generational split on people who support full rights for the LGBT community and people who don't. Do you see that in your own experience? That a lot of young people say, you know, what is this all about? Of course, there's no problem with this.

PRINCETTA: Well, I think the young people had a wake up call with the Yes on 8 vote. I think that the complacency ended on that very day and that they realized that we don't have it made. The situation in Philadelphia with the African-American children just a few weeks ago is proof that a lot of work still needs to be done.

CAVANAUGH: On civil rights across the board.

PRINCETTA: Across the board.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take a call now. Sunny is in Mission Hills. Sunny, good morning and welcome to These Days.

SUNNY (Caller, Mission Hills): Good morning, Gloria. Gentlemen, thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to reference the religion aspect of this discussion. I belong to St. Paul's Cathedral. We are marching in the Pride, which we do every year. And last year, we were the largest contingent in the parade. We're a very diverse congregation and we support the gay community in addition to every civil right that could possibly be imagined. And I just wanted to let people know it's not about religion. We are all equal in the sight of God. And I'll take a response off the air. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Well, that was very nice. Sunny, thank you very much. I don't know that it needs a response. I want to ask you, Philip, to tell us a little bit more about this year's Pride Festival and the Pride Parade. What are the highlights?

PRINCETTA: Well, the highlights of the parade will be the amount of people that are there, the eight to nine thousand people participating in the parade and the 150 contingents. The "Activism for Equality" is our theme for this year, Stonewall 2.0, so we're highlighting the past and bringing that energy forward into the future.

CAVANAUGH: And I wonder if – This is a final question to you both. I wonder how you think about this. In the future, do you look forward to a time when there is no specific Pride Festival or parade? Philip?

PRINCETTA: I do.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, you do?

PRINCETTA: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Why is that?

PRINCETTA: Because I think that the need for it may end at some point in time. That we are all equal. There is no need to separate yourselves from anyone else. We're diverse and we're all inclusive. There just may not be a need for it in the future.

CAVANAUGH: And Matt?

STEPHENS: My reaction is, I'd like to see it transform to the All People's Parade. The parade is a lot of fun. It's a holiday feel. It's like San Diego's Mardi Gras, if you will. So I would like to see it transform into the All People's Parade.

CAVANAUGH: Well, this year it is the 35th Annual San Diego Pride Parade and Festival. The festival takes place this Saturday and Sunday in Balboa Park. And the 2009 Pride Parade begins in Hillcrest Saturday morning at 11:00. I want to thank my guests Philip Princetta, board of directors and chairman of the San Diego LGBT Pride. Thank you for being here.

PRINCETTA: You're welcome. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Matt Stephens, a partner of Stock Stephens, an instructor of constitutional law at UCSD. Thank you so much for being here.

STEPHENS: Thank you so much.

CAVANAUGH: You've been listening to These Days and we will continue in just a moment here on KPBS.

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