We all expected for participants of the Values Voter Summit to be intolerant and to have extreme views on reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, and immigrant rights. What we didn't expect was for participants to be encouraged from the conference's main stage to be violent toward protestors. This wouldn't be the first time that I witnessed Christian extremists hurt innocent protesters. On Aug. 24 a group of DREAM Act youth and GetEQUAL activists held Governor Romney accountable by chanting "DREAM Act and full equality!" during his first speech as the official Republican nominee. Rally participants, much like the participants of the Values Voter Summit, met us with violent pushes and even punches.
Our country has increasingly seen a growth of extreme rhetoric against our rights. Some may say that it has become less popular to scapegoat LGBTQ folks; however, we know that Tony Perkins and others will continue to poison our country with hatred, and it's up to our community to stand up to our foes. GetEQUAL's intention to achieve full federal equality and to continue fighting for equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will not stop, and anyone who stands in the way will be held accountable.
Many years back, when I was a young man struggling with my sexual orientation and dealing with my immigration status, I turned to a church for help. In that church I was told that a demon had possessed me and that I needed to pray, and fast. As a young, vulnerable youth, I did as I was told. Growing up in an intolerant community of faith contributed to the fact that I somehow believed that something was wrong with me. The pastor encouraged me to fast longer and longer, to the point that I was fainting at work for not eating; I fasted for 10 days at one point.
I felt so bad in my own skin that I decided to take my own life: I took 30 pills and ended up in the hospital for two days. I was lucky to have survived, but no young person should have to go through what I've gone through. So when we entered the Omni Hotel and chanted, "Your values are killing us," we were speaking for those in our community who have committed suicide because of bullying or have died due to violent acts because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As soon as we started our action and pulled out a giant rainbow flag in full sight, conference participants morphed into an angry mob. Some screamed, "Our values are not killing you! It's AIDS, and you're spreading it!" Others told us, "Get out of my country!" even though Sean Watkins, one of our activists from Ohio, served in the military during the Iraq War. It was horrifying to see participants and security guards attacking one of our lead organizers in D.C., Charles Butler, pushing and choking him so much that he was out of breath and fell to the floor a few times.
Our relentless desire to show the country the "true colors" of our foes has not ceased. We will continue to push forward on our "Fight for the 14th" campaign to achieve full equality under the law by engaging in direct, peaceful action against our foes and by telling the stories of inequality in local communities. Just recently, I went to a house meeting in Lakeland, Fla., where GetEQUAL has established a chapter. There I learned that the local YMCA was discriminating against some of our members: Same-sex couples were not allowed to get family memberships. Quickly we created a plan of action to push this institution to end its discriminatory policies. But the need for a systematic solution is vital. As a minority community in this country, we deserve -- and we need -- equal protection under the law, and GetEQUAL organizers won't settle for less.
Every day, millions of us go to sleep not knowing whether we will lose our job or if we will be allowed at our partner's hospital bedside if disaster strikes our family. We can't and won't allow for Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council to be an authoritative voice to the American people on LGBTQ rights. We will insert the truth into the national narrative, and we will demand full equality under the law. Some may tell us to wait, claiming that soon our country will miraculously turn from this oppression and grant us our rights, but any student of history knows that the oppressor won't give away rights until and unless the oppressed community stands up to the status quo. Waiting is not an option when we know that somewhere in rural North Carolina a young person is struggling to come out, or that somewhere in Florida a family is denied their right to equal protection under the law. The time to get equal is now, and we won't settle for anything less.