Hundreds of LGBT activists and their allies braved the bitter cold Nov. 8 to demonstrate downtown against Focus on the Family's James Dobson.
An estimated 500 people, many of them young and new faces, gathered outside of Chicago's Renaissance Hotel, where Dobson was being awarded by the Chicago-based Museum of Broadcast Communications. For months, local and national LGBT activists planned to demonstrate against the museum's induction of Dobson into the National Radio Hall of Fame. Although the protest was initially going to be focused on the museum awarding Dobson, who has preached anti-gay hate over the airwaves for decades, many people also marched in solidarity against the passage of California's Proposition 8 that evening. Dobson played a pivotal role in Proposition 8's passage, and his group, Focus on the Family, donated $800,000 to the anti-gay-marriage measure. Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage in California, and invalidated the marriages of thousands of gay and lesbian couples who wed during the time it was legal.
Chicago's Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) and the New York-based organization Truth Wins Out ( TWO ) initiated the protest.
Although the demonstration had a large turnout, not all members of the LGBT community supported the protest. GLN co-founder Andy Thayer said that while some people did not understand why activists would want to bother protesting Dobson, brushed off as just another far-right bigot, he reminded those present that the Focus on the Family founder donated money to Proposition 8 and helped jump start the effort.
“Dobson's hate speech led to the retraction of our civil rights in California,” Thayer added. “Hate speech has real consequences.”
Those present yelled chants, such as “Hall of Shame,” throughout the evening, and felt that the Museum of Broadcast Communications showed a double standard by honoring an individual who is anti-gay.
According to Focus on the Family spokesperson Gary Schneeberger, roughly a quarter of the estimated 450-475 people who attended the museum's event in the hotel's banquet hall were from Focus on the Family. Tickets to attend the event started at $500 per person. Schneeberger told the gay press that he respected the protesters, saying they are just “people exercising their first amendment right to free speech.” He added that free speech is “something Dobson has been exercising and stressing for over 20 years.”
In addition to the protesting that took place outside of the hotel, a very small group of protestors went inside to deliver a “certificate of bigotry” to Dobson. According to Gender Justice United for Societal Transformation's Sam Finkelstein, one man, Roger Fraser, was detained by the police. GLN confirmed that Fraser was charged with criminal trespass and was held at a police station at 18th and State streets before being released on an I-bond around 1:30 a.m.
TWO founder Wayne Besen told Windy City Times that he was “thrilled” the demonstration had such a large turnout, which he felt was fueled by energy and anger over the passage of Proposition 8.
“There is a lot of restless energy,” Besen added. “We need to turn this energy into tangible activism.”
Besen expressed optimism that LGBT will see some victories across the U.S. in the near future, especially under the leadership of President-elect Barack Obama. He called Proposition 8 a “speed bump,” and said that there is hope, especially if people remained energized and involved. “These moments like Dobson and Proposition 8 turn people from being passive to being involved,” he said. “It it what happened to me when I was a young man.”
Local activists have already planned a follow-up protest against Proposition 8. It will take place Sat., Nov. 15, 12:30 p.m., at Federal Plaza. The Chicago protest is part of a series of nationwide protests also taking place on that day. See www.jointheimpact.com .