Interview: Kate Kendell on Old vs. New LGBT Activism … and Her City Hall F-Bomb

Let’s face it. After all the tortured legal speculation about standing, jurisdiction and the sovereign rights of states in the Prop. 8 case, for many gays and lesbians it was all going to boil down to one sentiment: win or lose. And that was rather pithily expressed yesterday, on live TV, at San Francisco City Hall by Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights:

Kate Kendell speaks at San Francisco City Hall after the Supreme Court rulings on Prop. 8 and DOMA.  (Photo: Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Kate Kendell speaks at San Francisco City Hall after the Supreme Court rulings on Prop. 8 and DOMA. (Photo: Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

“F*** you Prop. 8!” she said at the lectern, just a few feet from Gavin Newsom, Scott Wiener and everybody. (For the record, Newsom applauded, though maybe it was more of a golf clap.) You can watch the video here.

Last night, KQED’s Joshua Johnson caught up with Kendell in the Castro at the raucous celebration over the twin Prop. 8 and DOMA victories.

Kendell expressed regret for her faux pas and said, “When Prop. 8 passed it was one of the darkest days of my life. It just came out of nowhere. I think it was just in some ways the sort of lifting of trauma.”

Johnson said her raw emotion yesterday reminded him of the early days of the movement. “How much of that do you think has changed in terms of gay rights activism in general?”

“I think it’s …. about how do you move people,” she said. “Because if you’re screaming in someone’s face, they’re not going to hear what you’re saying. They’re going to feel defensive, they’re going to shut down. For us to win the hearts and minds of most Americans, we have to be calm, we have to say this is about love, this is about family, this is about commitment. We’re just like you in terms of how we form relationships and what we should be afforded. ”

“Tone is important,” she said. “But sometimes obviously, you gotta let  it fly when the emotions run high.”

Kendell also said now that California seemed well on its way to legalized same-sex marriage, “we can’t give up on any state. I believe this community has the moral compass to not leave anyone behind.” She said advocates were evaluating where to push for same-sex marriage next.

Listen to the interview


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor