Family matters 

Gays, straights, Christians and kids gather to support marriage equality

On a recent Saturday, a group of about 70 people sat around a cluster of large tables at the First Congregational United Church of Christ. The crowd, which ranged in age from teens still in high school to graying seniors, lingered over coffee and muffins, listening as gay-rights activist Roey Thorpe delivered optimistic news.

click to enlarge Edith Walsh of Boise shouts with a large crowd at Boise City Hall during a nationwide protest against California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. The crowd was so big it spilled into the street and Boise police had to ask protestors to get back onto the sidewalk to avoid getting hit by traffic. - DICK SELBY
  • Dick Selby
  • Edith Walsh of Boise shouts with a large crowd at Boise City Hall during a nationwide protest against California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. The crowd was so big it spilled into the street and Boise police had to ask protestors to get back onto the sidewalk to avoid getting hit by traffic.

"If things are going to happen in Idaho, it's going to be this group, and it's going to be today," Thorpe told the crowd. Thorpe, state services director for the Equality Federation, a San Francisco-based network of LGBT rights groups, was in Boise to facilitate the first-ever Idaho Equality Summit, a day-long conference put together by a handful of the state's queer and supporting organizations.

Thorpe laid out the day's agenda, set a list of goals, cracked a few jokes and gave directions to the gender-neutral restroom. Then she laid out a long-term strategy: "We are not going to get marriage equality in Idaho in the next few years, but we can move forward and work on discrimination in other areas."

One of the first steps in that process, Thorpe said, was building a strong base of supporters.

A few miles away, that base of supporters was convening at Boise City Hall for a gay-rights rally that convened simultaneously in cities across the United States on that same Saturday, Nov. 15. In the wake of Election Day, when Arizona, Arkansas, Florida and, most notably, California, voted to ban gay marriage, a group called Join the Impact mobilized gay rights supporters across the nation.

Leaving the church and heading downtown, the summit's participants dispersed among the crowd of several hundred to circulate petitions calling for the Idaho Human Rights Act to be added to the state's Constitution.

Throughout the crowd, supporters held signs that said: "I don't want three wives, just one husband," "we're not going to sit in the back of the marriage bus anymore," and "I don't want your acceptance, I want my rights."

Carrie Landry stood near the periphery of the crowd holding up a small sheet of paper with photos of her two children and her sister's two children. She'd been looking for rally details all week and found information on Saturday's gathering only hours before.

"This is the civil-rights movement of my generation," said Landry, whose 4- and 6-year-old kids were with her. She said they knew they were at the rally to show support for being fair. "They understand that fair is fair. At what age do you start teaching about intolerance, or when do you start teaching tolerance?"

Landry, a straight woman whose lesbian sister living in California was at a rally in San Jose, typified many of the supporters Saturday afternoon—those who identified themselves as straight supporters of what they say isn't just gay rights but civil or human rights.

Opposite Landry, standing on the raised plaza above the crowd was Edith Walsh, a self-described Bible-believing Christian and liberal fundamentalist who wielded two large signs. Initially the cross drawn on one of Walsh's signs had some supporters incorrectly pegging her as the anti-gay- rights contingent.

"I'm here today to say that oppressing people isn't what Christianity is about," said Walsh, whose gay brother and 8-year-old daughter were also at the rally. "I'm for gay marriage as a Christian. In the end, I believe gay marriage will be legal. I have faith in that."

Walsh wasn't the only one talking about religion. Don Curtis, one of the event's two main speakers, touched on the fact that he's a member of a church that heavily supported California's Proposition 8, though he himself has a gay son and supports gay rights.

And Landry wasn't the only supporter to bring her children to the rally. Among the crowd were a number of families, including three of speaker Julianne Russell's four children. Russell is Curtis' daughter, and she spoke about h er brother's longtime relationship to his partner as a better example of commitment for her children than her own marriage while she held one of her kids and the other two stood next to her at the mic.

"It was important that my children see me fighting for this because it's easy to say you believe in something, but it's different to put your face out there," Russell said after her speech. "I want my children to see me be involved because someday they're going to have a cause." Like her father, Russell is Catholic and finds it difficult to reconcile her church's beliefs with her own.

"My church gets very involved in a manner that I think is inappropriate, but it makes me want to get involved because just because that entity, the Catholic church, might support something, that doesn't mean that all Catholics do."

Although Russell has spoken in support of human rights at LGBT events in the past, she and Curtis were speakers who usually aren't among the public faces of the gay-rights movement in Boise. Nor is Nadine Palacio, the local organizer of Saturday's rally.

As the group from the Idaho Equality Summit reconvened in front of Boise City Hall to head back to the church and continue the day's training, Palacio and her own children started hauling away sound equipment.

"The biggest thing I've ever planned is my daughter's teenage birthday party," said Palacio. Prior to Saturday's rally, Palacio hadn't been involved in orchestrating other LGBT events, and aside from attending Pride rallies once a year, Palacio said she hasn't been involved in the LGBT community in Boise.

Now that she's jumped in headfirst, Palacio plans to stay involved.

She'll participate in Day Without a Gay on Dec. 10, when some members of the LGBT community will call in sick to work and refrain from making any purchases in order to make a social and economic statement.

"This is a big thing for me because a lot of people [at work] don't know that I'm gay," said Palacio. She expected Monday morning following the rally to be an interesting day at work with news crews last Saturday honing in on her efforts.

But, she said, "Whatever happens, happens. It's a job. My family is what matters."

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