OPINION On March 24, 2006, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing the message that a group called Battle Cry for a Generation was set to deliver the following Friday on the front steps of City Hall. The appearance of Ron Luce's teen program at the site had nothing to do with the group's apparent reason for being in the city, which was to promote Christianity amid smoke machines and rock bands at SBC Park. Luce decided to rally on the steps of City Hall specifically because gay marriages had been performed there two years earlier.
The intent to somehow purify the steps with prayerful teens, the quick response by citizens of San Francisco, and the meaning of that entire encounter was lost completely as local journalists and former politicians rushed to smear the Board of Supervisors with labels like "clueless" and "intolerant."
In doing so, John Diaz at the San Francisco Chronicle and Joanna Thigpen at the San Francisco Sentinel both missed an opportunity to summarize for their readers the meaning behind the meeting of two groups. Instead, both city leaders and organizers of the counterprotest were admonished for their lack of tolerance.
For those in need of a working definition of tolerance, the American Heritage College Dictionary offers the following: "The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others." The key word within that sentence is recognize, which is hard to do if all you do when the Christian right comes to town is stay home and fume. Engagement (another version of recognition) is also a value, one that walks hand in hand with tolerance as the citizens of this fair city go forward in search of bigger and better expressions of human and civil rights. Showing up and shouting back don't indicate intolerance. And staying away doesn't display tolerance, just benumbed passivity.
Curiously, the charge was made that by issuing resolutions and press statements, both Sup. Tom Ammiano and Assemblymember Mark Leno were attempting to stifle Battle Cry's right to free speech. Supervisor Ammiano's office, which was the primary sponsor of the resolution, was contacted by neither the Chronicle nor the Sentinel. What he would have pointed out was that no one in city government made any attempt to silence anyone. The resolution was simply the progressive community's proverbial two cents thrown into a debate Battle Cry started when the group assembled on City Hall's steps. No public official ever came close to opposing Battle Cry's right to frankly indict both queers and women who have chosen abortion or who support its legality.
Civic engagement like the sort displayed by Ammiano and Leno is what makes this city a haven for those who could not get tolerance for themselves, on their own terms, elsewhere. Far from impeding the right of Battle Cry to spread a message of hate disguised as love, we are forwarding the rights of speech to those whose voices are still being suppressed by fear and hate disguised as Christian love and tolerance.
Elizabeth Creely works with the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights.
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