The Values Voters Summit is an annual gathering of cultural conservatives. It is also a contested space.
Washington, D.C. — In the still-mild twilight of a September evening, Felipe Matos and about a half-dozen gay and lesbian activists from around the country held up a large brown-paper sign. It read “Your ‘values’ are killing us.”
They carried large poster-pictures of young people they say have committed suicide in response to bullying stemming from their sexual orientation.
Chants of, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Republicans have got to go!” echoed along the busy road.
Passersby, some of them from the Values Voter Summit being held across the street, wore looks that alternated between deep, angry frowns and slight smiles. Some shouted snarky comments at the protesters, who responded in kind. The occasional car honked a horn, but the mood was somewhere between ambivalent and tense.
Some people stopped to talk.
“It’s been an interesting mix” of responses, says Matos, 26, of their presence so close to the conservative gathering. He’s the national field director for GetEQUAL, a national LGBTQ advocacy group that is calling for a federal amendment protecting same-sex marriage, and also a “non-discrimination” executive order that President Obama has not signed. He is glad for the president’s support of same-sex marriage, but he doesn’t think Obama has done enough. Not yet.
In the meantime, Matos says that he finds irony in “values voters” opposition to same-sex marriage.
“We just want people to look us in the eye,” he says, referring to those attending the conference. “We want to be fully equal. We’re not asking anything more or less.”
It’s important to get people, younger or older, to vote their conscience this fall, he says, and stay engaged in politics.
“You cannot allow a majority to decide the rights of a minority.”