By Zack Lyons
"I can't believe they are doing this today. Don't they understand what they are doing to our special day?" I overhear this comment from an angry woman waiting for her turn at the Clerk's Office in San Francisco City Hall. It is Valentine's Day, and in contrast to her dark mood, she is dressed in a beautiful white wedding gown. One of the other people with our group also overhears her and says simply, "At least you'll still get your license today. We're here because we can't get one." I only have a few moments to watch her scowling reaction before we continue our walk down the long marble hallway into the Clerk's Office. I feel a myriad of emotions all at one. Anger at her irritation, nervousness about what I’m doing (who am I?), and elated to finally be doing something concrete for the movement.
I can’t say exactly what brought me to decide to participate in my first civil disobedience action. I joked off-the-cuff that I turned 33, my Jesus birthday, and it was time to do something Christ-like with my time. I just knew it was time for to take a stand. And, while that was a thrilling and exciting decision at first, now that I'm sitting on the Clerk's Office floor, surrounded by police, media, and my fellow Love Warriors, I can hardly think over the deafening pounding coming from my chest. I am as nervous as I can remember ever being, but thankfully, the calming Love Warriors are seated in a circle on the dark green carpet. The ring includes some old friends like Billy Bradford and Kip Williams and some new (but lasting) friends like Rev. Karen Oliveto and Rev. Roland Stringfellow. We are quietly singing along to We Shall Not Be Moved, when the officer with the bullhorn interrupts us with a blaring, "This is your final warning. If you fail to disburse, you will be arrested." A handful of people on the edge of our circle shuffle out of the Clerk's Office, and I realize that I'm gripping the hands of the Love Warriors next to me a little too tightly. I take a few deep breaths and finally relax. It's too late now and instead of being stressed, I feel empowered. I draw strength from the people in the room with me, the unknown individuals across the country who deserve full recognition by their government, and the office upstairs where then-Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated. The police are reluctant to process it, but they begin to cuff us with zip ties, one by one, and escort us out of the room. All the while, Love Warriors are championing their cry. I am... Somebody... And I deserve... Full Equality... Right Here, Right Now.
An hour later and our circle of Love Warriors are in a dark holding cell somewhere in the bowels of City Hall. We're standing now, but our hands are still bound behind us with zip tie handcuffs. Despite the venue, we are smiling and giddy, cracking an odd joke as we wait to be processed. Kip stands in front of everyone and tells them that I asked to be a part of the action as my 33rd birthday present. Without pause, every Love Warrior sings Happy Birthday to me in that holding cell. To date, it is the best rendition of that song that I have ever heard!
When I look back on the arc of my experiences in the marriage equality movement, this one shines brightly for me. I can recall the smell and sounds of the day, even though the day itself went by in a hasty haze. The clacking of our shoes on the marble throughout City Hall, the musty smell in the basement holding cell, the feeling of being hit simultaneously with sunshine and cheers as we finally left the building, it’s all still crystalline for me. The truth is, I think this is the day that I fully committed myself to cause, and I went far outside of my comfort zone in the process. I reflect on that upset bride-to-be, who may have become an ally. I reflect on the spirit and strength of the community who nurtured my individual growth, and the growth of the movement. I am a better citizen, friend, and an everyday activist because of their involvement. Because of my experiences with marriage equality, I strive to be a better ally and push forward into other frontiers: #BlackLivesMatters, trans* equality, and access to basic healthcare and education in impoverished countries.
Top Photo: Julie Bernstein / Funcrunch Photo
Bottom Photo: Unknown