“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.
UPDATE: The #OurTurnNow campaign inspired youth and their allies across the country to declare their support for marriage equality. In two short weeks Abby's vision galvanized youth and their families to post many photos in solidarity. While #OurTurnNow has officially concluded, the highlights remain at OurTurnNow.org for viewing.
Abby Hasting-Tharp is on a mission. Not your ordinary mission for a 12 year old, but one she hopes will give voice to the importance of marriage equality to today’s youth. “I have two moms and this issue is near and dear to our family's heart,” she says. “I began attending Valentine's Day marriage equality actions while in my mom's womb. With the Supreme Court case coming up, I want to make sure youth voices are heard. Our voices matter.”
An admirer of holocaust victim Anne Frank, Abby fondly quotes Frank’s widely read World War II time diary, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Taking this to heart, Abby has corralled a group of her peers to publish their marriage equality opinions on social media.
“I have always wanted to make a difference. I invited one of my friends to hear my mom speak at church about our family's involvement in the marriage equality movement in California, Utah and nationwide,” she says. “We then spoke with our friends and collaborated to come up with the idea of sending Valentine’s Day cards to the U.S. Supreme Court Justices, asking them to take a stand on the side of love. Then we realized they are not our audience, the court of public opinion is. We had a strategic slumber party/meeting and brainstormed other ideas together. My friends, Alika Wolf, Kat Carter and Katie Snyder are all in the 6th grade. They have always been very supportive of me and enthusiastic about my marriage equality work. It means a lot to me that they want to get involved too.”
“From this [the slumber party/meeting] came many ideas,” says Abby. “My mom helped us contact [MEUSA Executive Director] Brian Silva and he guided us in making our action as effective as possible. He knew what we wanted — a revolution where youth voices matter.”
Abby’s quest originates from her own experiences with marriage equality as the daughter of two moms, Jamila Tharp and Michelle Hasting. “When we received federal rights and, later, state rights and full protection under the law, it gave me a sense of security, knowing we as a family were safer. My friends didn't treat me any differently once we received those rights and protections. They just congratulated my family and celebrated with us. Socially, though, I felt better about my brothers' and my family being as important as any other family. I really feel good about this for my little brothers.”
The going has not always been easy for Abby. “There have been many difficulties that I've faced for getting into activism and for simply having two moms. When we lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, I was shunned by all my classmates until I transferred to a private school two months into the third grade. For this particular project, my friends and I have also faced our share of problems. When we sought permission from our principal to do some educational outreach in our school about marriage equality, she was at first very supportive. Yet, after only a few days of beginning our educational outreach at our school, taunting, false rumors, and heated arguments of all kinds began flaring and our principal decided that our peers were not mature enough to handle such a powerful topic. She put a stop to our educational outreach. We still receive snide comments from some students about being 'The Lesbian Club' from time to time but we brush it off. We aren't going to let a few people ruin something this important to us.”
The girls are using the hashtag #OurTurnNow for their youth campaign.
All photos courtesy of Abby's mom Jamila Tharp. First photo is Abby at home with her #OurTurnNow sign. Second photo is Abby and her organizing friends, left-to-right: Kat Carter, Abigail Hasting-Tharp, Alika Wolf and Katie Snyder. Third photo, Abby and her family.