“My MEUSA title is something I made up based on what I had been doing, and that was logistics for rallies and events. I called myself 'Bay Area Logistics Coordinator' and nobody said 'stop calling yourself that' so I kept it,” says MEUSA’s Bay Area Logistics Coordinator, Billy Bradford. “I was responsible for building things, hauling things, amplifying things, renting things, getting permits and working with local law enforcement. When you see crowd pictures and everyone is holding a rally sign on a stick, I made those. When you see people on a stage or using a microphone, usually I did that. When you see us getting arrested, I coordinated that, at least for the last few years.”
Recalling what spurred his initial involvement with MEUSA. Billy says, “I saw a rally on the local news at a time when I was putting together Prop 8 rallies in my community. So I ran down to (San Francisco) City Hall to help out and ran into Stuart Gaffney coming up out of BART at the Civic Center station. He told me about MEUSA, then I met Molly (former MEUSA Media Director and board member Molly McKay) and Davina (former MEUSA Executive Director Davina Kotulski) and the rest is history. And herstory.”
"Since 2008 Billy has given of his time and talents equally to GetEQUAL and MEUSA,” says MEUSA Communications Director Stuart Gaffney. “And both organizations are ever grateful for his work. Billy’s laugh and warm heart complete the picture and hundreds delight in naming him as a friend."
What’s more, according to MEUSA IT Director Christine Allen, “Billy is a single father, an athlete, a college student, a fierce youth advocate, a sports fan, and a dog lover. He’s definitely a man of action! As an activist, he doesn’t hesitate to meet with religious leaders and government officials or to participate in civil disobedience. And he’s willing to go to jail for our rights. He appears to have boundless energy, showing up in his jeans and vest wherever needed with his ‘Legendary Red Jeep of Equality’ fully stocked with signs, tools, a PA system, water, flags, and camera. Billy is my kind of activist – he’s one of my heroes.”
Billy’s desire to be involved in the marriage equality movement dates back to 2004. “I was the flower dude, ring bearer and witness for the marriage of my friends Kim and Maureen inside San Francisco City Hall. [Then-San Francisco Mayor] Gavin Newsom was there greeting everyone in line, people were bringing in food; florists were delivering bouquets from total strangers. People were crying and laughing -- it was an amazing time. Then those marriages were invalidated and, sadly, Maureen died of cancer before she could legally marry Kim again. Maureen's family made sure that Kim got nothing from their eight year relationship. Nothing, as though they were just friends. That doesn’t happen to straight couples, only to gay couples. That's when I understood the importance of marriage and why we must work for equality,” he says.
As a parent, Billy had to consider the possible ramifications of his marriage equality advocacy on his now-16-year-old son, Desmond. But, he says, “My son Desmond is totally supportive and just last week worked all day long at Castro Valley Pride selling drinks and shirts. He is proud of his Dad and I am proud of the man he has become."
Among the highlights of his MEUSA involvement, Billy says, were “being handcuffed in a holding cell beneath San Francisco City Hall with Reverend Karen Oliveto of Glide, and chanting with Molly, Davina, Stuart and John in this year’s San Francisco Pride parade. Instead of yelling ‘What do we want?’ we were yelling ‘What do we have?’ That was f—-ing incredible, and you can quote me on that.”
MEUSA’s San Francisco Awards Event Manager Kirsten Berzon perhaps sums it up best when she says, “Billy Bradford is not an armchair activist. He is out where the action is, be it demonstrating, marching or meeting with people one-on-one."
Billy takes a serious turn when discussing his interaction with others in the marriage equality movement and the need to continue pressing for equality. “What I learned by joining MEUSA and GetEQUAL is that there are people willing to work together all across the country toward a common goal, and that ‘nothing is over until we decide it is,’ to quote John Belushi. I just finished the book ‘It’s Not Over’ by Michelangelo Signorile and I want every LGBTQ-LMNOP person in the country to read that book and act up, fight back! Not giving up, not saying ‘OK I am done now’ or ‘I can’t do it anymore.’ I have seen great numbers of people come and go. For whatever reason, they don’t stick around or they become frustrated or complacent. I don’t know why they are gone but they no longer show up. The fight for full federal equality isn’t over; how can anyone bail out? Turn off your television and get off the couch and keep fighting, damn it!”
Among the more important issues Billy wants to immediately address are the spread of anti-gay propaganda and the advancement of measures granting individuals and businesses a “license to discriminate.” He says, “Gay and Lesbian couples are now able to marry but the inevitable backlash is already upon us. Businesses want to deny us services because we are gay and religious fundamentalists continue to spread intolerance in the name of ‘religious freedom.’ There are churches in my community who hold ‘Hope’ groups based on anti-gay lies coming from the ‘Restored Hope Network,’ which is simply gay reparation therapy cloaked in religion. I will fight them and they will not win. I am working with the ‘Teach Tolerance’ group in San Francisco in their battle against [San Francisco] Archbigot (sic) [Salvatore] Cordileone and his faith-based homophobia. Lies in the name of God are still lies and our work will not be done as long as kids like Leelah Alcorn continue to step in front of trucks to end their own lives. In her suicide note, Leelah asked us to ‘fix society’ and I am doing the best I can. No retreat, no surrender. Period.”
John Mattras, MEUSA News Manager, resides in lower Manhattan, visits his boyfriend in Mexico City, and travels the rest of the world for his day job. (Photo courtesy of Bundirum Victoriam.)
#1 Billy Bradford manning the sound system at SCOTUS Celebration rally in the Castro, 26 June 2015. From Billy Bradford's personal collection.
#2 Billy Bradford speaking on live TV after circuit court ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional, 7 February 2012. Courtesy GetEQUAL and CNN.
#3 The Legendary Red Jeep of Equality. From the MEUSA photo archives.
#4 Billy Bradford arrested by SF Sheriff's Dept. following Valentine's Day sit-in at SF marriage counter, 14 February 2012. From MEUSA photo archives.
#5 Billy Bradford unrolling the MEUSA banner for the SF celebratory rally in San Francisco, 26 June 2015. From Billy Bradford's personal collection.
#6 Billy Bradford speaking at a marriage equality rally, 6 September 2011. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.
As I stood in line in hopes of receiving my Utah State marriage license, I did not feel excited, hopeful, or joyful. In fact, I felt pathetic, foolish, and less than. As I turned to look at the beautiful woman standing next to me, the woman who has been standing by my side for the last 27 years, I felt a sense of overwhelming sadness. She—we—deserved better than this. Better than standing in a line in the freezing cold hoping a door would open both literally and figuratively. Our love, our union, our struggles, our family deserved better than desperately standing in the freezing cold awaiting doors to open at the Weber County Clerk’s Office in Ogden, Utah. We had been up early with the hope of counties opening their doors and allowing us to receive a marriage license. We had driven around for hours from county to county trying to find the one government office that possessed the courage to follow the court order and issue marriage licenses to its gay and lesbian citizens. We now stood in line with hundreds of people with a small glimmer of hope and yet, my heart and soul felt so very heavy.
My thoughts were suddenly jolted as the phone in my pocket began to ring. I looked at the caller ID and answered the phone, “Hi baby.”
“Hi Mom. Ya’ll getting married?”
“Well son, we are in the line waiting.” I didn’t want to say more as the excitement in his voice was so innocent and sweet; yet in my head I felt those doors were never going to open. His voice pulled me back to the phone.
“I’m hungry,” he said. These are two very familiar words, which we hear multiple times on a daily basis. As an 18 year old boy, his mind was focused on only a few needs.
“Ok,” I said. “Are your sister and brother-in-law on their way to the house?”
“Yes,” he answered. “They are on their way.”
“Ok, son. Tell her to pick up something on her way or make yourself a sandwich.”
“Ok mom, love ya.” “Love you buddy,” I replied. “See ya soon.”
As I placed the phone back in my pocket, an overwhelming sense of disappointment and a familiar despair began to enter my thoughts. Being an attorney and a Mormon, I knew my attempt to gain a marriage license in the State of Utah would be futile. I would once again have to explain to our children that while God loved our family, there are still people here on Earth who do not understand His love and compassion. So often we are asked, “Why do you live in Utah?” That answer is simple: Utah is our home. We have lived in the south, too. I am Mormon while Brenda, my partner of 27 years, is Catholic. We have no spiritual home, as our religions remain firm in their beliefs denying rights to their gay members. The truth is—we love Utah. We love the culture. We love the people. We don’t drink; we don’t smoke, and we are raising kids. We love raising our kids in Utah. We fit in quite nicely except for one small detail—we happen to be two women in love with each other.
My toes are freezing as I stand in this long line. To distract myself from the elements, my thoughts travel back to less than 30 days ago when I received a call from our daughter.
“Hey baby girl. How’s your day?”
“Good,” she says. “Bryce and I just got our marriage license!”
“Glad ya’ll finally got your license,” I express. “The wedding is only two days away. Did it take you long to get it?”
“Nope—just walked right in,” she says. “Had to drive all the way to Provo though because the Draper office was closed—but there was no line.”
At this point, there were several hundred people waiting in our line. How ironic that less than 30 days ago we were celebrating the legal marriage of our daughter. My thoughts quickly go back to last month when my partner and I proudly walked our daughter down the aisle to marry. There were close to 400 guests. We walked her to the front of the room, and a Mormon Bishop married her. The ceremony was beautiful.
Once again, I am brought back to the present moment as my phone rings again.
“Hey baby girl.”
“Are ya’ll almost done? We are here at the house to make Christmas cookies like we planned.”
“Well babe,” I say. “This is taking a bit longer. Can you tell your cousins that it will be later in the day before we get back to make cookies?”
“Ok,” she answers, “but hurry. Love you.”
“I love you, too. See ya soon.”
Now my thoughts are a bit frustrated. We had planned to make Christmas cookies and treats with my sisters, nieces, and nephews—all of whom are Mormon (which is irrelevant, but thought you all should know). I am upset that chasing a marriage license has taken away our family time together—time we cannot get back. This is not fair and is wrong in so many ways. There is a rustle in the crowd as the Weber County door opens and cheers erupt. I quickly make my way to the front of the line to hear the announcement. The cheers turn to moans as it is announced the clerk cannot let us in.
Humiliated, I grab Brenda’s hand and say “Let’s go.” On the long drive back home, we discuss the legal significance of Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling and contemplate the behind-the-scenes scenario that must be taking place with the government leaders and of course “the church” leaders, AKA, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints." As silence replaces our words, my mind once again begins to wander. I think about the legal argument the state presented in denying same-sex couples the right to marry. The best interest of children always becomes relevant. The state argued being raised by a father and mother is the optimal situation in producing well-adjusted children.
Who did that study? No one has ever contacted us to be part of a study. No one has evaluated our two straight children—whom, of course, their moms think are amazing. Ok, my biased thoughts aside—our kids—a girl and a boy, should be judged on their own merits. Our straight daughter just married an amazing man and is in her final year of college as a biochemistry major. She is beautiful from the inside out. She is smart, caring, loving, and has a great sense of humor. Our son is kind, smart, funny, and an incredible athlete who has received an offer to play collegiate baseball. They are really good kids based on the standards of society and both of them are straight.
I, on the other hand, was raised by one male and one female; both straight. In fact, my father was a Mormon Bishop, Stake President, and Mission President. Brenda was raised by one male and one female; both straight, who are Catholic. We were raised in the optimal situation according to the state, but both of us turned out gay. So if being gay is "bad"—an abomination, and allowing gay people to marry will destroy marriage and society, then producing gay children must be considered bad and undesirable. Accordingly, our parents failed the state test. If the rationale of the state’s arguments was to be applied to Brenda and me, and recognizing our union produced two well-adjusted straight children, then we should be allowed to marry. Our parents should have been forced to divorce. Certainly producing gay children from a straight marriage is a detriment to society and traditional marriage, right?
Legal marriages should be defined as a union between two loving and committing adults who wish to share legally protected state and federal rights. Legal marriage should remain about legal rights—not religious definitions. The constitution unequivocally protects the right to freedom of religion and yet it is very clear that the separation of church and state is an intricate part in producing a democratic state of the union. While marriage is a spiritual act in religion, it is a legal act in governing. The government must provide all legal rights and protection under the law to all people equally. Religions do now and can continue to deny members rights based upon their beliefs. Religions remain divided on the definition of marriage and treatment of their gay members and that is perfectly within their rights to do so. The government should provide one legal definition of marriage that applies to all citizens equally. It is their duty to do so.
Let’s be honest here. My life has been way more difficult having been gay than my children’s lives have been. I have been faced with trials and obstacles that I never thought possible to overcome. I spent thousands of hours of counsel with church leaders; thousands of hours in prayer and nothing worked—nothing made me straight. I even joined the God Squad and Fellowship of Christian Athletes and got "saved" at my friend’s southern church. I tried everything to become straight to no avail. Alternatively, my children who are a product of a gay relationship are straight and have it much easier than we ever did. So suffice it to say that in this scenario, the best interest of the children was to be raised by a gay couple. Accordingly, Brenda and I should be married as we have produced straight, well-adjusted children.
The result of this rationale is absurd as I hope everyone can see this. While the government, the state, and the courts determine the fate of our access to equal protection and legal rights, please include our children in your studies. Please include all the gay children who were produced by straight religious parents to determine and define legal marriage. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech remain in place to protect the views of those religions and people who consider homosexual acts and people as an abomination. It provides them the rationale to deny my legal right to marry the person I love. I choose to be judged by my God only. I choose to live in a country where I know my leaders will protect my legal rights and provide me equal protection under the laws of this great nation.
My heart is heavy, and I am tired. I can no longer remain silent on this issue. I can no longer stand to hear that children are better off being raised by a man and a woman. The studies undeniably show children who are raised by loving, supportive parents—regardless of their gender or sexual orientation—are well-adjusted children. Our children are proof. Moreover, the fact that I am gay is not a result of my environment as five of the six siblings raised by my parents are straight. I was created from the same DNA and the same God and I am gay. God created me just as He did my brother and sisters. God does not create mistakes, and I am not a mistake. I am not a product of a broken home. I am a product of two amazing, loving parents who believe in God, the Bible, morals and standards, and who raised me to believe the same. They did not fail by producing me.
Brenda and I have now raised two children with those same standards and beliefs. We just had to do it on our own and without the loving support of a religious institution and congregation can provide. We never found a home or felt welcome in our place of worship so we had to teach our children that they are children of God who are loved and are to serve Him and honor Him and our family name. We have never been legally recognized so we had to tell our children that our relationship and our family are valid and real.
I have always known in my heart and head there would come a time when we would find legal recognition and spiritual acceptance. It is time. The time is now. We can wait no more. And, thankfully, we succeeded in exchanging our vows on December 23, just in time for Christmas.
By Sally Farrar