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The Activists

Hollywood is known for throwing big glitzy events and even bigger, glitzier checks at politicians on their California campaign stops. But a portion of Hollywood’s industry figures go above and beyond the call of duty to fight for their beliefs and causes, often leading the march to Washington D.C. to address the issues where they matter most. Profiled here are eight activists spanning the Hollywood industry, who have used their Hollywood connections to not only raise money, but to change bills and legislature in favor of their causes. Read about their impact, challenges and experiences as they took the long road to D.C. to fight on behalf of their causes.

The Picturesque Protesters

Name: Adam Bouska, Jeff Parshley
Age: 27, 30
Current Role: NOH8 campaign founders
Affiliations: Proposition 8, gay rights

Name: Adam Bouska, Jeff Parshley

Age: 27, 30

Current Role: NOH8 campaign founders

Affiliations: Proposition 8, gay rights

The photographs are eye-catching, with the subjects' skin and eyes contrasted vividly against white clothing and a white background. Each face has a NOH8 logo on the cheek, the 8 drawn in red to stand out.

If you’re tapped into pop culture, chances are you’ve seen the pictures. The message is in the logo — "no hate," or NOH8. It refers to California’s Proposition 8, which, in November 2008, overturned the right of same-sex couples to legally get married in the Golden State.

The founders of the NOH8 campaign, photographer Adam Bouska and his partner, Jeff Parshley, are average citizens living in West Hollywood who have used their voices and skills to find a new way to protest. Illinois-native Bouska found himself in Los Angeles after spending time in Chicago and other California cities. Kicking off his career as a fashion and beauty photographer in Hollywood, the dark-haired, green-eyed, petite 27-year-old soon found himself gaining recognition after his works appeared in the New York Times and Life and Style Magazine. Parshley, a 30-year-old native of New Hampshire, became his production manager. Now, the images and ideas they conceived for the NOH8 campaign have garnered them nationwide attention. 

“It just takes one thing to spark something within you, and that’s what it was for us,” says Parshley. “I think it made it more personal that it actually took away my right that I already had. This proposition wrote discrimination into my state’s constitution and took away my right, and that’s what set it over the edge.”

Proposition 8, titled “Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment” but otherwise known as the California Marriage Protection Act, added a new provision to the California Constitution that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." The ballot, presented in November 2008, passed with 52 percent of the vote and took away the rights of same-sex couples to get married in the state of California. 

Bouska and Parshley reacted to the passing of Prop. 8 by imagining a silent protest. Rather than just creating a logo, they wanted to incorporate “the faces of people being discriminated against, and also the supporters of equality,” according to Parshley. 

The result has been a grass-roots campaign that has gained fuel and spread throughout the nation. What started as a single photo featuring Parshley for his Facebook profile in late 2008 as a protest against California’s gay-marriage law has now grown to more than 15,000 photos and is bringing attention to gay-marriage laws across America. 

The founders of the NOH8 campaign have seen a wide range of entertainment figures step in front of their camera to join the picturesque protest. From media icon Larry King to the cast of Glee to reality-television princesses Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, the white photos with the glaring-red number 8 have become a fixture in pop culture, often adorning celebrities’ social media pages.

“It’s community driven,” says Bouska. “Initially we started off with a few celebrity faces, and then it’s been snowballing into them contacting us and wanting to be a part of the campaign.” 

“It just raises the awareness that this is becoming an easy tool for everyone to use to speak out, and at the same time, it makes a loud statement.”

Singer Lady Gaga has also become a recognized voice on gay rights, although she has yet to pose for a NOH8 campaign photo. But is the celebrity support getting the movement the attention that it needs to make a change?

“I think that Lady Gaga definitely has an impact,” says Parshley. “You have to understand how many eyes are watching her, and how many eyes are actually looking up to her that idolize her and that she influences on a daily basis.”

One of the most significant NOH8 participants thus far has been Meghan McCain, daughter of 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain.

“People like Meghan McCain have blazed a new trail of different supporters to the campaign,” says Bouska. “I’ve seen a new trend of conservatives who are thinking more liberally and changing their views, showing that there can be Republicans that support gay rights, and that doesn’t have to be the dividing issue.”

McCain also voiced her own reasons for doing the photo shoot, in which she poses with a model elephant in her hands, the tusks duct-taped, on the NOH8 website, stating: “Marriage equality is not just a Democrat or Republican issue, it is a human one.”

Both Bouska and Parshley believe that McCain is part of a trend of younger people getting more active in politics and issues. 

“When we started speaking out and raising awareness, it brought it to life in us,” explains Parshley. “I feel like the younger generation can appreciate the way we chose to speak out, and that’s why they’re coming out to show their faces and support the campaign.”

It is easy to see why the campaign strategy fits Bouska and Parshley so well. Both men are quiet and thoughtful; Parshley is soft-spoken and Bouska carefully chooses his words. For them, photographs relay the message far more effectively than the media has done so far for the campaign.

“I feel like the media gives an unfair platform and bias to some of the opposition,” says the photographer. “Some of these people openly rant out hate speeches, and a lot of this is pure discrimination.”

His concern is mainly for the younger generation of the LGBT community who may not get a fair view of the issue from watching the news or media coverage of the campaign. 

“I honestly believe these people are just terrorists at the end of the day, creating fear in the minds of these young children or of anyone out there, that’s all they’re trying to do is create fear out of the unknown,” says Bouska, anger tinged in his voice. 

In the past couple of years, the rise in suicides among the teenage gay community has raised serious concerns, and the It Gets Better Project has emerged as a direct response to that. Like NOH8, the It Gets Better Project is also a grass-roots movement; columnist Dan Savage's video message quickly gained worldwide support, as a flood of celebrities and respected figures recorded similar messages to give support and inspiration to young people. 

Bouska and Parshley have also lent their support to the campaign, using their Hollywood connections to bring a host of celebrities to the It Gets Better Project.

“We saw a way again to mix the NOH8 message in with a message that was popular in the community as well. People were looking for a way to speak out, and it was a great tie-in,” says Bouska.

Getting their message out is at the very core of the NOH8, where the donations made to the campaign go straight into funding new ways for the NOH8 images to be seen. Both men believe that change is more likely to come through the American people as they take a stand together.

“I think the biggest thing for us to do is to change minds first,” says Parshley. “Those minds will help us change the policies. We just need to talk to people and tell them, just educate people.”

Parshley recalls how, in a SurveyUSA poll conduted three weeks prior to the November 2008 vote on Prop. 8,  7 percent of voters surveyed said they were undecided. 

“If we could have talked to those people and shown they were in some way connected to it and we had that 7 percent, we wouldn’t be talking about Proposition 8 right now,” he says.

Proposition 8 passed with a margin of approximately 600,000 votes, in an election with 79 percent voter turnout. The state saw mass protests in Los Angeles County and Sacramento, and appeals to overturn the ruling ended up in the California Supreme Court. Those appeals are now pending review in 2011. 

“It’s definitely going to be changing through the power of the people — their voice has shown that this is an issue that isn’t going away,” says Bouska. “Civil unions are a great step, but it’s going to have to be equal marriage for everyone.”

Bouska and Parshley’s faith in grass-roots movements stems from a frustration with the current government, and more importantly, with President Obama. 

Parshley explains that Obama should have more of a connection to discrimination because of his own background and his overcoming of race discrimination.

“At one point, his family would have been looked down upon for an interracial marriage, and we’ve overcome that,” says Parshley. “I would hate to see him looking down on other marriages as any less equal than the marriage of his parents.”

As Obama embarks on his 2012 re-election campaign, the LGBT community awaits his support of their community. For Bouska and Parshley, their message to the president is clear and simple.

“What we ultimately want to know is, do you or don’t you support full marriage equality, and if you do, will you please tell the country that you support full marriage equality,” says Parshley.

Their faith in Obama, although wavering, is still intact, for now.

“We talk about Barack Obama a lot, and the only reason I put so much pressure on him is because he is in the position of power,” says Bouska. 

“It is our responsibility as his constituents to put that pressure on him or he isn’t going to make that change. So it is our responsibility as it is his, to make a decision that will make us on the forefront of change to protect all LGBT Americans. I feel like we need to put that pressure on him.”

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