Two gay rights advocates re-enacted a scene from a same-sex marriage trial before a lunchtime audience in Union Square in San Francisco today, helping to launch an unusual and ambitious public education project.
Danny Segura, a Courage Campaign outreach coordinator, took the part of Ryan Kendall, a 26-year-old gay man from Denver who was forced to undergo unsuccessful conversion therapy as a teenager.
Kendall testified in federal court in San Francisco in January in the nation’s first trial on whether a state ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.
Segura, reading from a trial transcript as he re-enacted Kendall’s testimony, recounted that the efforts by the young man’s therapists and parents “created a really emotionally and verbally abusive environment” but didn’t change his sexual orientation.
Acting as Kendall, he told filmmaker John Ireland, in the role of attorney Ronald Flynn, “My mother would tell me that I was disgusting, or that she hated me, or that I was repulsive.
“Once she told me that she wished she had an abortion instead of a gay son,” Segura read from the transcript.
The re-enactment was one of at least eight held in parks and plazas around the country today in the official launch of project called “Testimony: Equality on Trial.”
It is also known by its organizers as a form of “guerrilla theater,” intended to educate the public on the issue of marriage equality for gays and lesbians.
Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs said the plan is for citizens to re-enact short scenes from the trial in public, using the trial transcripts, and then post videotapes on the project’s website, www.equalityontrial.org, where they can be seen by others.
The website is also tied to a YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter. Jacobs said the organizers are hoping that hundreds of videos will be made and spread peer-to-peer.
“Success for us will be if we lose control of this project,” Jacobs said.
Other videotaped re-enactments of various scenes were held in San Bernardino and in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin today, the organizers said.
The idea for the project came from longtime gay rights and AIDS activist Cleve Jones, who founded the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Jones, after watching today’s re-enactment, said, “I’m really excited about it. There was an incredibly historic trial and the majority of Americans were oblivious to it. The technology gives us incredible power to connect people online,” Jones said.
The project is sponsored by Courage Campaign Equality, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Courage Campaign, an online progressive organizing network with about 700,000 members nationwide.
Jacobs said two later phases of the project will be to encourage people to videotape descriptions of their own experiences and to present compilations and distillations of both types of videos to the president and Congress.
The trial before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker was on a challenge by two same-sex couples to Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on gay and lesbian marriage.
Testimony in the nonjury trial ended in January and Walker has tentatively scheduled closing arguments for June 16. He will issue a written ruling sometime later and that decision is expected to be appealed to a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Equality on Trial project has thus far posted transcripts of 10 scenes from the trial, along with suggestions on how to re-enact and videotape them, and expects to post 10 more soon.
The scenes were chosen by Bruce Cohen, the producer of the films “American Beauty” and “Milk.”
Jacobs and Jones said the impetus for the project came partly from the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court on the eve of the trial refused by a 5-4 vote to allow it to be videotaped for delayed broadcasting.
While broadcasting was not allowed, the written transcript of the trial is public and has been posted online at www.equalrightsfoundation.org by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which sponsored the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8.
The Equality on Trial project is the second to use the transcripts for re-enactments.
The first was a full re-enactment of all 55 hours of testimony by 42 volunteer Hollywood actors, organized by filmmakers John Ireland, who participated in the Union Square re-enactment today, and John Ainsworth. That re-enactment is posted online at www.marriagetrial.com.
Ainsworth and Ireland, who said there have been 100,000 views of their videos on YouTube, said they supported the new project and that they would welcome having the citizen actors use the videos with professional actors for ideas on how to re-enact the scenes.
“We had 42 actors and this is hopefully with casts of thousands,” Ainsworth said.
United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta was also on hand to support the launch of the project and said she thinks it has some similarities with the grassroots organizing of the UFW’s table grape boycott of the late 1960s.
“People can go out and educate other people on issues of equality, fairness and human rights,” Huerta said.