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Groups protest in Loop [14 January, 2009]

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Chicago gay groups participated in two protests this past week, both propelled by the November passage of Proposition 8 in California and subsequent protests against them nationwide.  The first was a feeder march outside the Hyatt Global Headquarters building at 71 S. Wacker.  This was part of an action that began in California in the spring of 2008, when gays discovered that Doug Manchester, owner of the Manchester Hyatt in San Diego, had donated $125,000 to the efforts behind Proposition 8.  Since then, protesters have asked the Hyatt Corporation to sever ties from Manchester (Hyatt manages the hotel for him).  The second protest was a rally at the James R.  Thompson Center, 100 W.  Randolph, where people gathered to rally against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996.  Both rallies occurred on January  10.

The Hyatt action was called by Equality Illinois, and approximately 30 people braved the extreme cold and thick snowfall to participate.  Board president Art Johnston and emcee Allison Leber rallied protestors.  People were encouraged to sign a petition that asked Hyatt to take action against Manchester and support “marriage equality.”  Johnston talked to Windy City Timesabout the impetus behind the protest, saying that, “We’re here today to bring the message home to Hyatt that they cannot ignore the actions of Doug Manchester, whose early donation to Proposition 8 certainly helped it pass, leaving us with the consequences.”  Some have questioned whether Manchester should be punished for money he gave as a private citizen; Johnston’s response was that ‘there’s no question that he has a right to spend his money the way he pleases.  And we also, as citizens, have the right to bring it to people’s attention and suggest that they might not want to stay at the Hyatt.  As long as the sign outside the Manchester hotel says “Hyatt,” Hyatt has to repudiate his actions.”

Rick Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois, echoed Johnston and added that Hyatt was already seeing economic costs.  Garcia said that Hyatt officials acknowledged they had lost about $2.5 million due to the boycott.  Garcia also said that non-LGBT groups were paying attention: “Some associations, such as the American Psychological Association, [are] considering boycotting Hyatt.”

The Hyatt protesters joined the anti-DOMA rally, which drew about 60 people, making for approximately 100 people overall.  Sherry Wolf of Join the Impact, the group that organized the DOMA protest, welcomed everyone and stressed the importance of overturning DOMA by putting pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to overturn the legislation.

Speakers included Andy Thayer of Gay Liberation Network (which co-sponsored the event); Henry Tamarin, President of the Local 1 chapter of Unite Here; and Tania Unzueta of the March 10 Movement, an immigrant-rights group.  Tamarin asserted that his union, which works on behalf of restaurant and hotel workers, was in solidarity with the same-sex-marriage movement: “We voted to support the Illinois civil-partnership bill.  We have supported the gay marriage bill in California, and pledge we’ll do that in Illinois when the time comes.”  Unzueta spoke about the intersection between queer rights and immigrant rights, as in the case of “undocumented gay workers who are fired because of no-match letters and undocumented queer students who may not be able to access the same scholarships as citizens.”  She also spoke of the needs of people like Victoria Arellano, an undocumented immigrant transgender woman “who died shackled to her bed after being detained by immigration and denied access to her HIV medications.”  She concluded by saying that “any law that restricts the rights of people to be happy should be abolished.”  Following the rally, people marched past Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N.  State, to protest the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops giving $200,000 toward Prop 8.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 14 January, 2009.

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