August 28, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
RNC 2012: LGBT protesters demonstrate at convention

Juan Rodriguez (left), Nelina Stamp (center) and Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez at an anti-GOP rally (Blade photo by Michael Key)

TAMPA, Fla. — A major demonstration on the first day of the Republican National Convention included a handful of LGBT protesters who decried the GOP for supporting anti-gay policies.

On Monday, nearly 500 demonstrators gathered in Tampa’s Perry Harvey, Sr., Park for the “March on the RNC” — braving inclement weather — to speak out against the “agenda of the one percent” before marching for about a mile to the city’s convention center. Activists affiliated with GetEQUAL were among those in the LGBT part of the coalition.

Jarrod Scarbrough, a gay Tampa, Fla., resident and co-state leader of GetEQUAL Florida, was among those addressing the audience, saying the policies adopted by the Republican Party as part of the draft version of its platform would harm both him and his partner of 18 years as well as his daughter.

“We are a family, but this week, the Republicans will try to add language to their platform to continue to discriminate against families like mine,” Scarbrough said. “They also want to give an unborn fetus full rights, yet if that fetus grows up to be LGBTQ, 88 percent of those rights will be ripped away. That’s right, as a gay man, I have 12 percent of the rights as heterosexuals. This is wrong, especially when the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution affirms that all men are created equal.”

Scarbrough was among the activists at the White House Easter Egg Roll who intended to ask President Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers. The White House later said Obama wouldn’t issue the order at this time, but the action did lead to mainstream media asking White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about the possible directive at the daily news briefing on the same day.

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, national field director for GetEQUAL, was alongside Scarbrough onstage — donning a rainbow Pride flag as if it were a poncho — and translated his fellow activist’s remarks into Spanish.

Sousa-Rodriguez, who’s also done work as a DREAM activist, later the told the Washington Blade he wanted to serve as translator to “make sure that everybody could understand the march.”

“Basically what we’re doing is telling that the Republican Party is actually advocating for more rights for a fetus than for an LGBT person — an American person who pays taxes, who fully contributes to their community,” Sousa-Rodriguez said. “They don’t want to extend the Fourteenth Amendment rights to people like us, and yet give it fetuses before they were born. Basically, what they are saying is they want to give more before we are than after we are born.”

The rainy weather impacted the number of people who attended the march. According to Sousa-Rodriguez, about 5,000 demonstrators were expected as well as about a dozen LGBT people, but buses that were scheduled to deliver protesters to the rally were cancelled because of Hurricane Isaac and only a fraction of that number appeared.

A number of activists who attended the march held signs criticizing the policies of the Republican Party and its presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney. One held up a sign saying, “Abort Shit Romney & his Taliban Party,” while another sign read, “MIsTrusT,” with letters making up Romney’s first name in capital letters.

But protests were directed at the Democrats as well as Republicans. Others on stage denounced policies keeping the United States at war in Afghanistan and harming undocumented immigrants in the United States. Protesters affiliated with the socialist Workers World Party held up a sign reading “RNC/DNC = Tool of the 1%: Fight Capitalist Rule.”

Green Party Vice Presidential Nominee Cheri Honkala, a single mother who was once homeless along with her nine-year-old son, was among those who spoke and called on participants to “occupy” the polls in November and call for more voices in the upcoming two-party presidential debates.

“If they don’t let other viewpoints into the debate, we’ve got to occupy the debate,” Honkala said. “Don’t vote for the lesser of two evils: vote courage.”

After the march concluded, Scarbrough said demonstrators experienced no hostility from Republicans or others opposed to the protesters’ views and the police arrested no one affiliated with the march. According to ABC News, police did arrest one protester, 20-year-old Dominick Delarosa, when he refused to remove a mask at the request of police.

Nelina Stamp, a 24-year-old queer activist who recently moved to Miami, said she wanted to participate in the march as a visible LGBT person because of LGBT members of her family who live in her home state of New York.

“My mother is a lesbian, and for so long, I had to see her not be able to get married, not have the same equality, be able to get fired from her workplace and live in these circumstances that are just not fair, right?” Stamp said. “Thankfully, New York passed marriage equality just last year, which is great, but still on the federal level, the LGBT community doesn’t have that many rights, and I’m here because it’s not on the Republicans’ agenda.”

Stamp is also a leader with the group Dream Defenders, which seeks to advance the DREAM Act and issues related to undocumented immigrants as well as mass incarceration in the prison pipeline.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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