High Schooler at the Helm

Gay 16-year-old takes on Virginia’s George Allen, heads rights group

The fact that the executive director of an LGBT rights group confronted a United States senator about his opposition to hate crimes legislation and same-sex marriage is not necessarily that noteworthy. But the fact that the activist is 16 years old and attends a Catholic high school made it national news.

Tully Satre (pronounced SAY-tir) leads Equality Fauquier (fawk-KEER)/Culpeper in central Virginia in a year when voters in that state will decide the fate of what he called “the most extreme constitutional amendment in the country”—and that’s saying a lot in a country where 16 such measures have passed and more are on the way. In addition to banning same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partner benefits, the Virginia amendment virtually prohibits any kind of contract between people of the same sex or unmarried heterosexuals cohabitating.

Democratic Governor Timothy Kaine this week allowed the amendment to go forward without signing it, saying that a veto would be pointless given the overwhelming support it has in the Legislature.

“I will vote against the amendment in November,” Kaine said in a statement on Monday, “and I urge other Virginians to vote against it as well.”

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Robb, also a Democrat and one of only 14 senators to vote against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, was honored by Equality Virginia, the statewide group, at a dinner attended by 1400 people that raised $400,000 for the campaign against the amendment. Robb said, “Do we really want to mark our 400th birthday with a declaration of intolerance?” He called the amendment “one of those pernicious wedge issues, created to divide us.”

It was a confrontation with current Republican Senator George Allen, who defeated Robb in 2000, that got Satre in the news. Allen, who is contemplating a run for his party’s nomination for president in ’08, was speaking at a forum in Culpeper when he was asked by Satre, tall and poised, about his withdrawal of support for the federal hate crimes statute, noting that he himself had received “several letters in the past few weeks, threatening my family and my life because I’m openly gay in Virginia.”

Allen said he opposed any inclusion of the category of sexual orientation in civil rights legislation and picked up the theme of Christians under siege that has come to the fore lately by making an unsubstantiated claim that hate crimes laws led to the arrest of anti-gay protestors picketing a gay pride parade.

In an exchange reported by The New York Times from the same forum, when Satre said that his civil rights were constricted because “I can’t get married,” Allen replied, “Sure, you can get married,” presumably, he meant, to a woman. No word on how Allen would feel about Satre marrying one of his daughters.

Satre visited New York after the confrontation to get some media training from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for his own development as an activist and so he can help “get everyone ready in my community” for the battle of Virginia this year.

“They taught me to be myself,” Satre said, “ and to remember that this is a personal issue.”

He said that he knows he is not going to change Allen, but that his goal is “to expose him.”

Satre attends the Catholic Notre Dame Academy in Middleburgh on scholarship.

“They know I’m a gay activist, but I’m not at school,” he said. “If there is a gay kid that wants to contact me, they can and have.” Satre maintains a blog at http:// tullysatre.livejournal.com/.

While he doesn’t go to church, “I am a Christian and more Catholic than Protestant because of the way I was raised,” he explained, adding, “It is because of my faith that I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Satre has the support of his parents but is not happy about they way they found out he is gay. When he was 13 and in eighth grade, he told a friend about his sexual orientation and it quickly got all over the school, leading administrators at St. John the Evangelist School to tell his parents and a priest to refuse to let him be confirmed.

“I wasn’t ready to come out,” he told the Fauquier Citizen, but his father, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, is one of his biggest supporters, writing letters to the editor defending his son from the defamation of the right wing.

“I have a homosexual living in my house,” he wrote to one newspaper. “He is my son, Tully Satre. He was not raised to be gay, that’s just the way God made him.”

Satre was inspired by the big turnout at the Equality Virginia gala last week and has faith that the anti-gay amendment can be defeated.

“Virginians are on the border of whether they will approve it or not,” he said. An interview with Tully Satre will be featured on this reporter’s “Gay USA” cable show on Thursday, April 20 at 11 p.m. on Time Warner 34 and RCN 110, simulcast at MMM.org, channel 34.