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California marriage ban spurs Ottawa DJ

ReddBear launches local protest over Prop 8

A FAMILIAR BATTLE. Local gays and lesbians at the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa joined protests in all 50 states Nov 15. They touted signs that said "When can we vote on your marriage?" and "Fix marriage, not gays." Credit: Paul Galipeau

On the evening of the American election, local Ottawa DJ ReddBear — otherwise known as Charles Cooper — was with his partner in Vermont.

“Obama won — we were so happy,” Cooper says. “And then the next day, we heard about what happened in California and it was kind of depressing. It’s a liberal state — how could something like this happen?”

Proposition 8 — the California ballot-initiative that saw voters agree to amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage — sparked a nationwide outcry.

Two other states passed similar bans on the same day. But California had been granting same-sex marriages since May, making it the only state where the right had been repealed.

Within days, a website called Join The Impact was launched, which facilitated organizing rallies throughout California, the rest of the States and beyond.

Cooper had been forwarded an email about Join the Impact and he opened a thread asking how Canadians could help out.

“My partner lives in Vermont,” Cooper says. “I can’t just sit around and do nothing.”

Website organizers replied to Cooper, suggesting he start up a rally here, which Cooper set about doing, including launching a Facebook group to help spread the word.

In Canada, rallies were held in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, with additional protests planned for Calgary, Halifax, Windsor, and even Sault Ste Marie.

American pundits are calling it Stonewall 2.0. Protests there have been gaining, rather than losing, momentum since the Nov 4 vote and they show no signs of stopping. Like the 1969 riot, the month’s protests have been marked by rage, and at least five people have been arrested in California during gay-marriage rallies.

Nigel Flear, president of the Canadian lobby group Egale, attended the Ottawa rally.

“I think it’s important that we protest any rights issue, be it national or international,” Flear says. “It’s part of our mission to look at cases like this and to support anyone who’s been oppressed, or in this case, one of the worst situations where someone had rights and they were taken away from them.”

While Cooper had initially tried to get permission to stage the rally on Parliament Hill, protocol demands 10 days’ notice, which proved insufficient time.

Instead, the Human Rights Monument was chosen as a more appropriate venue and less of an organizational challenge, and the symbolism was fitting.

“Gay rights are human rights,” Cooper pointed out at the rally.

While two dozen supporters turned out in the rain, the march toward the American Embassy on Sussex Drive proved uneventful.

The Join the Impact website is an example of how the internet continues to revolutionize grassroots social movements, and it provided a how-to kit for organizing a protest including how to send out press releases and suggestions for signs.

Join the Impact estimates that over 100,000 people turned out in over 150 rallies. They plan to follow up this success with a second day of action, called “A Day Without A Gay” for Dec 10.

As for why it’s important for Canadians to join in, Cooper had this to offer:

“A lot of my American friends supported us when we had the gay-marriage bill, and I think it’s only fair that we show our support back.”