Authors Discuss Genesis of Marriage Equality Book

Written by Luke Thomas. Posted in Arts/Entertainment, Culture, Human Interest, Politics

Published on December 21, 2009 with 3 Comments


Authors Geoffrey King (left) and Sunny Angulo, with City Attorney Dennis Herrera,
pose for a picture during a release party event for their new book,
Such a Bitter Sweet Day: Marriage Equality in the Wake of Prop 8.
Photo by Luke Thomas

By Luke Thomas

December 21, 2009

Co-authors Geoffrey King and Sunny Angulo held a release party last week for their new book, Such a Bitter Sweet Day: Marriage Equality in the Wake of Prop 8.  The book, which includes a foreward by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, chronicles the Marriage Equality movement and the various impacts of Proposition 8, a controversial ballot measure passed by California voters in 2008 overturning a California Supreme Court ruling granting same-sex couples the right to marry.

Such a Bittersweet Day includes the stories of a diverse cast of queer activists, working people, politicos, women, people of faith, transgendered leaders and families who tell their own powerful and unique stories in their own words, as well as images that capture the struggle for equality across California and in the nation’s capitol,” a synopsis of the book reads.

such_a_bitter_sweet_day.jpg

With poignant and powerful documentary photography by King, and heart-wrenching narratives and interviews conducted by Angulo, the book has become what many will come to regard as an important historical record of a broader ongoing civil rights struggle for equal treatment under the law.

FCJ conducted an interview with the authors about their self-published book, its genesis, and the inspiration that led to the hundreds of combined hours of hard work and collaborative effort that went into producing and publishing the book.

Here’s what they had to say:

FCJ: What was the inspiration behind making the book? When was it decided to make this book?

King: A couple of things inspired me to start this book. First, my mom and dad, who were born in small-town Texas and Illinois, respectively, met here in San Francisco in the 1970s; they celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary two days before the 31st anniversary of the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone last month. I grew up with the ghosts of that day in my parents’ stories, their commitment to decency toward all people, and their lessons about the importance of civil rights and the benefits of having a heterogeneous community.

The more immediate inspiration behind the book flows from my experiences in front of San Francisco City Hall on November 5, 2008. I have been photographing stories centered on civil rights, human rights and civil liberties since the first day of the Iraq War, when I was a student at Berkeley in 2003, so it was natural for me to photograph a candlelight vigil marking the passage of Prop 8 held on the day after the election. I saw the coming together of a huge community-gay and straight-and resolved to cover the immediate aftermath of Prop 8’s passage. What I soon came to experience was a movement borne of the ashes of that defeat that was more inclusive, more grassroots, and more authentic than the campaign that had taken place previously. And so I committed to cover it.

Angulo: Geoff approached me about an idea for a book of photography, and some help with publicizing the book and editing it.  After going through the photos, we decided to expand the book beyond just protest and legal photos, and give it a more personal focus. It was important to both of us to see the individual faces apart from the mass movement, as well as their personal life stories that had been impacted by this national and state debate.

For me, a key aspect of doing the oral histories and having personal testimonies was to provide a platform for the many people that weren’t represented in the NO on 8 campaign.  Obviously, movements are not built overnight, and people found out quickly that it’s very difficult to navigate a campaign of that magnitude.  I had already heard from many people about their disappointment with the failure of the NO on 8 campaign, and this seemed like a positive way to solicit voices from a truly diverse rainbow within the LGBT community, including women, youth, immigrants, parents, religious queers, trans people, and people of color.  Obviously, all of these representatives had various stories and saw Prop 8 through different lenses colored by their class, race, gender, immigration status and religion – all outside of just being queer.  This was an opportunity (hopefully one that will continue to be duplicated and grow) for us to hear from people with strong ideas who have been affected by Prop 8.  It was also a way to recognize how very complex this issue is for people – there is not a magical consensus on how to win marriage equality, and that is part of the growing pains of any movement.  That was the most important part for me, to document that there are more than just the faces we saw in the press, that marriage equality is a universal issue that affects everyone – and that all of our struggles are one struggle.

FCJ: How much did the book cost to produce and how much time/effort was involved?

King: I’ve been working on this for at least a year, and I attended every major rally in the Bay Area and Sacramento, and also traveled to Fresno for Meet in the Middle for Equality and to DC for the National Equality March. I skipped a number of law school classes to do so, but it was worth it. I also designed the book and wrote the captions. It was a fair amount of work.

We had no budget for the book, and we wanted to get it out quickly, so we used a San Francisco based print-on-demand company called Blurb.com to bypass production, distribution and warehousing costs. I have used Blurb previously for mockups of another book I’m working on-the nearly seven-year-old antiwar protest project-and have been consistently impressed with the quality of their work. Plus we wanted to work with local businesses to the greatest extent possible.

Danny Lyon, who famously chronicled the fight for civil rights in the American South, wrote in the new edition of his book The Bikeriders (published by San Francisco’s own Chronicle Books), “Why couldn’t photographers issue a new book of their work every year or two, like pop musicians? . . . independent and small publishers that regularly issue photo-literature from myriad women and men are one of the few successful and truly democratic areas of the media today.” I was inspired by and wanted to try that idea, and that would not have been possible without the existence of Blurb.

That said, I do have travel expenses and whatnot that I paid for personally, but again, it was well worth it.

Angulo: I began doing the oral histories in April of 2009, with only a few minor setbacks.  [Laughing] In terms of time and effort, the book would actually have come out sooner, but about three days before my birthday in August, I was mugged and they got my laptop – which had all of the fully transcribed and partially edited interviews.  It was horrible! I kept kicking myself for not putting it on a disk, but… who backs up word files anymore? I haven’t used a floppy disk since middle school!  So, for the next couple of months, I worked overtime trying to get the edits done and it was a pretty grueling process.  Thankfully, Geoff was really supportive and supplied me with lots of coffee to offset his “is-it-ready-yet?” phone calls.

FCJ: Sunny, it must have been a difficult emotional process to interview so many people who have been directly and indirectly impacted by bigotry.  Can you tell us a little about the process you went through?

Angulo: It was a pretty grueling process to go through and edit each interview down to a page of text, especially since people were giving you such an intimate gift of their personal insights and stories.  They were intense, and a lot of what didn’t make it into the book was not because it wasn’t moving or profound – it just didn’t fit!  There were even people that didn’t make it into the book at all, and their stories were also very important, and I’m grateful that they shared them with me, as well.

What I was struck by was how many people had either personally dealt with or had someone close to them struggle with suicide.  You just don’t even hear the real statistics or hear these stories; you hear the really brutal ones, the tragedies that make astonishing headlines, like the two recent stories of the 11-year-olds in different states who took their lives, but every person I talked to was impacted in some way by a suicide stemming from an inability to live their lives authentically and safely as queer people.

People talked about attempting suicide in their teens after grappling with extreme depression, or about knowing a teenager or family member who was gay who had taken their life.  It was heartbreaking, absolutely astonishing.  It’s so much more widespread than we talk about.  And I know that many people I talked to were also not willing to make marriage equality their top priority – but something that Sarah and Sally, the two mothers profiled at the end of the book, said was very poignant.  Sarah said, “Look, if we had our druthers, nobody would be married.  But, if marriage equality is a step towards humanizing the queer community and bringing us closer to being viewed as full human beings – I mean, 11 year-olds are hanging themselves, for Christ’s sake!  Every little bit we can do is worth it.”

FCJ: How did Dennis Herrera become involved in the book?

King: I mentioned that I wanted Dennis to write the introduction to my friend Meena Harris, who stopped him at a Citizen Hope party and quite literally detained him until I could be found. Dennis agreed right on the spot, and then confirmed his interest during a subsequent meeting. Jack Song, Matt Dorsey and Tara Collins in Dennis’ office were also extremely helpful, and they deserve credit for their efforts. Jack was especially enthusiastic and almost single-handedly planned the launch party for the book.

FCJ: How many copies have been sold so far?

King: It’s doing quite well for a photo book. We sold out of the copies we had at the launch almost immediately, and people have been buying them online consistently since then. I look forward to seeing more about what people think of the book once they have it in hand.

FCJ: What organization(s) will benefit from the proceeds of the book?

King: We decided very early on to donate 100 percent of the net proceeds from the main edition of the book to organizations working to further civil rights and healthy communities. The initial organizations we chose, which do exceptional work, are the Transgender Law Center and Health Legal Services.

FCJ: What is the overall message in the book? What inspirational message do you want readers to come away with?

King: My view of the book is that it is a documentary work that I hope accurately reflects the LGBT movement in the first year after the passage of Proposition 8. In selecting people for the oral histories, Sunny focused on engaging individuals whose voices are not always heard in this debate-namely, people of color, people of faith, and transgender people-to tell their side of things. So basically we let people speak in their own words. Despite the fact that we are donating the proceeds, the book should be viewed as a work of journalism. Hopefully people will consider the project honest and, if we are lucky, moving.

Angulo: This book was especially important for me, as a Latina that was raised in a strict Catholic family in San Francisco.  Even though my own mother lost her best friend (and dancing partner!) to AIDS when I was about 7 and in all other respects is proud to call herself a liberal Democrat, religion is still very important to her and something that has prevented us from finding common ground on an issue like marriage equality.  It’s a real disconnect, and I hope this book can help me continue our very important discussion.  I hope it is something that can help her visualize a future that is inclusive of all people and not just in words and sentimental lipservice and “tolerance” – but in true action.  That’s real progress, when you can see the fruits of your labor, but I’m not sure we’re there yet.  Hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

Overall, there was a real acknowledgment that marriage equality must be incorporated into a larger struggle and viewed as one piece of an evolving movement.  I think that’s another contribution that this book has to make, because it documents those thoughts and that recognition within the queer community itself.

FCJ: Where can readers purchase the book?

King: At www.suchabittersweetday.com. If they order prior to December 31 and use the coupon code “GREATGIFT” at checkout, they will get $10 off their order. In addition to the main edition of the book, museum-quality photographic prints and a very nice boxed limited edition of the book with print are also available.  The full transcripts of the interviews are also being made available on the website.


Geoffrey King and Sunny Angulo.

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas is a former software developer and computer consultant who proudly hails from London, England. In 2001, Thomas took a yearlong sabbatical to travel and develop a photographic portfolio. Upon his return to the US, Thomas studied photojournalism to pursue a career in journalism. In 2004, Thomas worked for several neighborhood newspapers in San Francisco before accepting a partnership agreement with the SanFranciscoSentinel.com, a news website formerly covering local, state and national politics. In September 2006, Thomas launched FogCityJournal.com. The BBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, New York Times, Der Spiegel, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, 7×7, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Bay Guardian and the San Francisco Weekly, among other publications and news outlets, have published his work. Thomas is a member of the Freelance Unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521 and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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  • marc

    I love you, Sunny, but Dennis Herrera is the legal genius whose counsel led us to Prop 8. In order for him and Newsom to secure tactical local political advantage, they threw all caution to the winds and launched a failed legal strategy that led directly to Prop 8.

    We are all so glad that our hetero friends are so down with same sex marriage, and we are also glad that our hetero friends are down with gays in the military. But we are not photo subjects to be painted as the traditional tragic homosexuals, victims in need of rescuing and comfort. We’ve spent decades trying to crawl out from under that framing.

    Combined with the fights which have been picked in our names on same sex marriage and been we’ve been beaten to a pulp from, the last images we need are of disempowered, pathetic lesbians and gay victims. That only adds to the political dynamic we see now, that after a string of losses in liberal/progressive states on SSM, where the tide has begun to recede for LGBT after three decades of advances because we are viewed politically as losers.

    Perhaps the mothers’ milk of politics is money, Herrera and Newsom know that, but the blood of politics is oxygenated by perceptions of forward movement, Newsom figured that out recently. LGBT are anemic after a significant blood loss. We’ve not got the energy to continue down this path.

    If our het allies really want to help out the most vulnerable LGBT, they would not focus on marriage or military, rather on the fact that as LGBT have leapfrogged over people of color and even women in our meteoric rise to acceptance in the general public (insert requisite humility for our advances here) which we have not seen reflected in progress at the federal level.

    The same upper class whites in the LGBT coastal communities that helped us advance so quickly are the same ones whose selfishness has brought our movement to an impasse, as they were the ones who had the resources on hand to file suit and picked the marriage fight over the wishes of the broader not so rich LGBT community.

    The last time the HRC polled LGBT in the 1990s, we said that we wanted jobs and housing protections first and second. But those with resources to file lawsuits and with political designs, almost exclusive hetero self-styled “allies,” directed our attention to divisive and failed campaigns, marriage and military, which have dragged on for almost 20 years and taken the oxygen out of the room for consensus advances like jobs and housing.

    At the end of the day, not everyone needs to get into the military, and not every queer will be in a monogamous relationship and not all of them will choose to marry. Marriage is an institution designed to ensure that property flows with genetics by asserting monogamy. Last time I checked, most gay men who were married were not monogamous, and I would not be surprised that once same sex marriage becomes a right, that younger gay men would jump on the trendy bandwagon only to be seriously disappointed a few years down the road when hormones trump vows. We are not hets.

    Not all LGBT will join the military or get married, but almost all LGBT will have to find work, and almost all LGBT will have to compete for housing, and this will be more difficult in the flyover than in the coastal enclaves and we must take care to account for our privileges.

    If Newsom and Herrera’s cynical opportunism weren’t enough, we’ve got our own SF nonprofit affordable housing mafiosi expressing thinly veiled homophobia, that we are all double income no kids yuppies who are clearcutting communities of deserving immigrant families, as if San Francisco were not a city of sanctuary for us as well. If you look at the leaders of the progressive coalition, there are scant few progressive white gay men to be seen, even though we’re a major component that does the work of the coalition.

    Even in our own progressive communities, it is still okay to beat on the fags, because we’re apparently the oppressors when compared to trans folks and queers of color. Apparently, solidarity only flows one way.

    Perhaps conservative heteros will insist upon directing the LGBT movement towards conservative, divisive policies. But I’d hope that progressive het allies would support a progressive LGBT agenda.

    Might I respectfully suggest that instead of donating funds to the TLC, as transgender folks already have the right to marry under certain conditions granted by certain federal district courts (note that trans folks have not forgone this right until lesbians and gays are allowed to marry, and lesbians and gays have not asked trans folks to do hold off), that the proceeds to go fund outreach in swing communities of California, with particular attention to communities of color, to empower queers from those communities to do the grassroots organizing work to humanize same sex marriage where it counts?

    Matt Gonzalez correctly said that the time to win people’s votes is before the election, not during it.

    I, for one, am disappointed that a platform would be given by progressives to Dennis Herrera, whose opportunistic advice to Newsom not only invited Prop 8, but gave Newsom D8 and prevented many progressive measures from passing in SF over the past six years.

    -marc

  • Ann Garrison

    I also admire most everything else I’ve known you to do, Sunny, but it’s difficult for me not to perceive this as a campaign piece for Dennis Herrera’s anticipated run in the next mayoral race. It’s the sole progressive or human rights issue I’ve ever seen him embrace, and Marc’s argument is persuasive, though this is the first time I’ve heard it.

    In 2006 Herrera swatted 33,000 signatures to put the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Project to San Francisco voter off his desk like so many flies. Then slapped the neighborhood with a gang injunction.

    In 2004 he issued an opinion that the Newsom campaign had indeed committed voter fraud. Period. End of story. No consequence and no argument for one.

  • marc

    We need for the LGBT agenda to be self-determined democratically by LGBT, not by the nonprofit veal pen nor by our het allies, both of which have predictably led to an almost unbroken (hate crimes, whoop de fricken doo) record of defeat at the federal level over the past two decades.

    Today we’ve got Senators whining about the $63m, as in million, in the Senate Health turd which would end the gay tax on partner benefits and allow federal employees to get benefits for their partners. It is still okay to beat up on the queers to save the kind of chump change you’d find in the Pentagon’s couch cushions.

    Please, humor me, and pretend for a moment that we’re “third world” freedom fighters and defer to our wisdom, put us in heroic poses on t-shirts, and send us money and resources, but we’ve gotta be the ones driving our own revolution.

    We’re being loved to death to the point that we’re being smothered.

    -marc