Even a dreary, drizzly Chicago November evening did not deter a strong crowd of at least 300 from gathering to protest the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ induction of James Dobson into the Radio Hall of Fame on Saturday at the downtown Renaissance Chicago Hotel.
Dobson is infamous within the LGBT community for his statements as chairman of Focus on the Family, the far-right organization that recently served at the forefront of the successful passage of California’s Proposition 8 on November 4, reversing the state Supreme Court’s previous decision to legalize gay marriage. Dobson reportedly donated $800,000 to help pass the measure.
"We saw with Dobson that hate speech is not just hate alone, but leads to hate violence and the loss of civil rights," explained Andy Thayer, founder of the Gay Liberation Network and a principal organizer of the protest. "[He] has free speech rights just as we all do here on this cold corner, but no one is under any obligation to thrust a microphone in the face of a hater and gave him honors that increase his public stature. Unfortunately the Museum of Broadcast Communications has done just that."
The demonstration, originally conceived by the Gay Liberation Network and TruthWinsOut.com, was a peaceful, yet unabashedly spirited affair. Thayer estimated the crowd at 500 people.
Under the watchful eye of Chicago police officers, the large crowd formed a picket line, armed with a myriad of anti-Dobson signs, banners, rainbow flags and chants that echoed through the entry of the Renaissance Hotel. No violence or interaction between attendees of the induction dinner and protesters was observed.
The museum response to the LGBT community’s outcry against Dobson in the weeks leading up to the event, according to Thayer, was "irresponsible" and "shocking." The organization recently changed its hall of fame induction procedures to an online voting system, leaving the decision out of their hands, according to a statement by the hall of fame’s chairman Bruce DuMont in the Chicago Sun Times.
"They said they couldn’t do anything because he won the vote," explained Thayer while addressing the crowd early in the evening. "At one point in the history of our country, the premiere broadcaster [of the 1930’s] was Father [Charles] Coughlin, a notorious anti-semite and racist. They did not, rightfully, choose to honor him, but unfortunately a double standard still persists in this country for haters of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people."
The crowd remained enlivened for several hours following the protest’s 5:30 p.m. start. Many demonstrators cited Proposition 8’s passing as proof that the battle for marriage equality is just part of a pressing civil rights issue demanding action by both the LGBT community and its allies.
"It’s not just about gay marriage, it’s about inequality and injustice," said Chris Khalid, who carried a "Black Allies Against Prop 8" sign. "Whether you’re heterosexual or homosexual, it doesn’t matter, injustice is injustice. Just like people said we couldn’t vote or go to the same schools, it’s the same injustice."
"The prejudice and bigotry that [Dobson] spews is so ironic, because to me, family has always been about loving and caring for each other unconditionally, whereas he believes in bigotry, prejudice and limits," said Lupe Avery, mother to two LGBT children. "This reminds me of the struggles that have faced by immigrants a few years ago. We have to fight back."
"Prop 8 proved that it’s not enough to be out anymore," said Liz, another demonstrator. "It’s not enough to donate, you have to do more. We can’t just sit by and let things like this happen anymore."
As Thayer looked around at the hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the protest’s height, he acknowledged that though the event was a success, the road to equality will be a long one for the LGBT community.
"This is a long process and we will not have accomplished our goals until we have full equality in this country, said Thayer. "We just took a major step backwards in California a few days ago, and we still have yet to have marriage equality here in Illinois. If this demonstration is a springboard towards full legal equality for gays and lesbians in this state, then I would say that we have taken a big step forward. I think by getting this number of people out here on the streets today, we’ve begun that very process."