“I think the Inland Empire has primarily a blue-collar sort of suburban feel and that gay people that live here live that same life,” explains activist and San Bernardino area resident Eden Anderson. “We’re suburban gay people, so we have more people going to church, more people in the community that have kids, and in L.A., San Francisco—even Palm Springs—that does not make up that demographic. They’re not church-going, kid-having, blue-collar working folks, and we are.”
It should come as no surprise that the IE’s burgeoning gay rights movement should end up a completely homegrown affair, yet at the same time seek to forge bridges to state and national movements. Welcome to Equality Inland Empire, the newly-minted coalition that represents the next quantum jump for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The coalition marks the first time the region’s LGBT groups have coalesced under one pink-hued flag to flex a bigger political muscle and trumpet a louder voice for a region that has often remained under the radar of the gay activism mainstream.
“Through this, we’re trying to sort of elevate and make more visible the LGBT community in the Inland Empire,” says Anderson, a member of an Equality IE subcommittee organizing a May 15 town hall meeting.
Equality Inland Empire is a coalition of nearly 30 local groups, including the Gay Straight Alliance from Chaffey College, Inland Empire Atheists, local Planned Parenthood affiliates and the University of Redlands Pride Alliance.
The formation of this organization coincides with the launch of a new media and public relations campaign for same-sex marriage announced this month by the state’s largest gay rights group, Equality California. That group’s executive director, Geoff Kors, is slated to address the marriage issue during the town hall meeting scheduled at the U of Redlands.
“Everybody is excited and hungry to get something going,” Anderson says. “We plan on using it as a sort of spring board.
The recent passage of Prop. 8—which banned gay marriage in California—last year did much to galvanize LGBT communities in the IE. The successful ballot initiative passed with a bigger percentage of votes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties than it did statewide—an indication that more voters in the IE could tolerate Obama but not same-sex marriage.
“It’s unfortunate, but it seems like the shock and dismay were more inspiring than anything else so far,” says Anderson. “People are coming forward and saying, ‘I can’t believe this happened.’”
Recently, Maine became the fifth state in the union to give same-sex marriage legal blessing.
“We’re just trying to plug people in and keep people active and interested and supported,” Anderson says. “It’s completely created a movement in the Inland Empire."