Robin Tyler, the pioneer within the grassroots movement of the LGBTI civil rights movement, was in Fort Lauderdale recently to celebrate Stonewall National Museum & Archives “Our Stars” exhibition. The exhibition at Stonewall features artifacts submitted by LGBT pioneers from all over the United States.
Tyler’s visit was especially important to the LGBT community in Florida, as it seeks to learn from her participation in what she calls nothing less than a “civil rights movement.” Tyler believes in “total civil rights,” not domestic partnerships and other half-attempts to pacify the community.
Canadian-born Tyler has played a seminal role in the struggle for equal rights, both in her current role as Executive Director of The Equality Campaign and as the first lesbian plaintiff to sue the state of California challenging the ban on same sex marriage.
Regarding the Equality Campaign, she says, “We are a grassroots all-volunteer organization, which has raised money through the sale of t-shirts, etcetera, to give money to grassroots activists all over the country who may not have the money for posters, mailings, and other things. We operate on a minuscule budget and are there to help grassroots campaigns. We never actively raise money. So we are not in competition with any other organization as we are so small and very grassroots.”
Tyler and her partner, Diane Olson, became heroes to many when, in February 2004, they turned their personal fight to marry into a public case for the world to see as the first lesbian plaintiffs in California Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage lawsuit, challenging the ban on same-sex marriage (Tyler et al v County of Los Angeles). In May, 2008, the supreme court granted equal marriage rights, which was later overturned by the voter initiative Proposition 8.
Tyler’s eye is now focused on Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California in 2008. The day after it passed, Tyler and Olson filed a brief asking California’s Supreme Court to overturn the law, which it failed to do. The law was later overturned though in federal court, but the judge stayed the decision pending appeal.
Some of Tyler’s efforts to overturn Prop 8 can be found on YouTube, in a series of PSA’s she co-produced called, “Stop the Hate, No on 8.”
The lawsuit is not the first time Tyler has stood up to pave the way for equal rights. In the 1970’s, she was the first openly out-of-the-closet gay or lesbian comic on stage and television. She has since been called the “mother” of gay comedy.
When asked why humor is so important to her causes, she stated, “Humor is the razor sharp edge of the truth. It is a very controlling medium. Humor has been used against us [the LGBT community], but now we can use it as a medium to bolster ourselves.” Tyler, in fact, was the first to begin using women as the subject of humor, not the objects.
“When any civil rights movement is going on, the objects of that movement come out aggressively in the use of humor,” she said. “That is what I’m doing.”
In 1994, Tyler produced the first International Gay Comedy Festival, which took place in Sydney, Australia. She has additionally produced 25 major outdoor Women’s Music & Comedy Festivals, giving thousands of upcoming lesbian comics a starting point. And on June 19, 2011, Robin returned to the stage at the Acme Theatre in Hollywood to film her one woman comedy show, “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Groom: The Robin Tyler Story.” With just a stool and a small table at her side, Robin chronicles her life story for the audience. Morgan Hurley, a copy editor for SDGLN said of the show, “I found myself totally enamored with the bold and gregarious entertainer she was, long before I knew her name. You must go see this show.” Anyone will be able to see, in fact. It is currently in the process of being edited for a recorded release.
Tyler and Olson have been together for now 18 years. The secret of their long-lasting marriage, Olson says, is that “we don’t try to change each other, even though we’re as different as night and day. It was important that I fell in love with her [Tyler] as she is, not as what she could be.” Indeed, their relationship is still, according to Tyler, still “very strong, “ as they accept each other on each other’s terms.
Total civil rights, inside and outside of all relationships.