PALM SPRINGS -- Like so many other members of the LGBT community, Proposition 8 was a rude awakening for Wanda Sykes, and spurred her into activism. She could no longer sit idly on the sidelines while our civil rights were being infringed upon and same-sex marriage rights in California were shockingly stripped away by misguided voters in the Golden State back in 2008.
Since then she has been actively involved with Equality California’s fight to win back our rights.
During the Dinah Shore weekend, EQCA will hold its sixth annual Champagne Brunch fundraiser in Palm Springs at the home of EQCA’s leader Geoffrey Kors. And that is where you’ll find Sykes.
No, she won’t be performing, she’s participating in the brunch as a way to give back to the community and help EQCA fight the good fight. For details on how you can get involved, sip some bubbly, and catch up on what Equality California has been doing and where we as a LGBT community stand in our fight for our rights, be sure to RSVP.
I got the chance to have a little chat over the phone with our cover girl the morning after her recent appearance on "The Tonight Show" about the event and her starring role as an activist, among other things. I will say this, she is one funny lady, no matter what role she takes on.
THE BOTTOMLINE: Wanda, as soon as Prop. 8 passed, you became one of the most vocal champions for marriage equality. Can you take us back to your headspace when you found out it had passed?
Wanda Sykes: Wow! Ummm, jeez. I mean well it was like bittersweet: Here we were celebrating the election of the first African-American president but at the same time I was like ‘Oh wow, how did I drop below African-American now?! ’Cause with marriage we finally had a step up but with Prop. 8, it was like ‘Damn, I just can’t win!’
It just really felt like we’re left out.
So that was what prompted you to do whatever you could then to fight that discriminatory decision?
Because before Prop. 8 you pretty much kept your personal life out of media’s scrutiny. Were you surprised by people’s reactions when you publicly came out?
In a way yes because it was all just positive. There hasn’t been anything, at least that I’m aware of, that’s negative or do I have any regrets.
Then again I stay off the blogs and I don’t Tweet or Facebook or all that, so maybe that shielded me from some things I guess.
But yeah, it’s all just been positive.
What’s your role entail as an Equality California institute board member – what are some of your duties?
I get the mail, take charge of catering … [Wanda busts up laughing]. No, I, it’s a face. You know. I wanted to do something. I’m not a lawyer or anything so I’m not doing the work.
Being on the Institute side of Equality California is mainly lending my name for recognition and support – just to get the word out. Like this meeting at the brunch in Palm Springs, it’s going to be very imperative for me also just to catch up with other board members on what’s going on – where we stand.
They do so much. They pass so much legislation it’s like email, after email – so it’s kind of hard to stay on top of everything.
I’m just really proud that they allow me to be a face and to get the word out.
Are you encouraged by President Obama and the DOJ’s recent decision to not defend DOMA?
Oh very! I think that’s huge! And it’s funny, I guess it still holds true that the way California goes, so does the country.
Because for our new Attorney General Kamala Harris to say she’s not going to defend Prop. 8 in California court – I think that was the real impetus for the Obama administration to go, “You know what? This is discrimination.”
To not defend DOMA is huge because really that was the job of our [federal] Attorney General so for them to really step up and not defend this discriminatory and unconstitutional policy is huge and opens a big door for us.
It’s a huge step forward for us federally. So what is one thing each and every one of us in the LGBT community can do for marriage equality?
Support organizations who are advancing us politically like Equality California. And also to stay on top of your congressman – our votes, they do count.
The more elected officials that we get into office – Republican or Democrat – but those that believe in true equality. It’s the best thing for us. It’s the best thing for our country.
And also to be open and talk to your neighbors, talk to your friends – unless they have a big Confederate flag hanging out, then you just might want to move on and call that one a push! [Laughs].
We need to be as open as possible. It’s funny, I know personally, with my whole family the more open and comfortable that I became with my life and who I am – the more accepting they were.
Because when they see any little chink in your armor where there’s lack of confidence, doubt, or any weakness you have – they build on it, they feed on it.
If you are open and proud, stand your ground; people can’t help but to respect you and move forward.
That is so true. I know I’m not alone when I say this, but I think you’re a great face for EQCA, Wanda. Now professionally speaking: no matter what show you are on – you are a bona fide scene-stealer. Is that a quality that comes to you naturally or do you have to work it?
I think it’s natural, because it’s not like I go in with the intentions of ‘Hey, I’m going to go in and try to out do everybody.’ I don’t have that, it’s just a pretty natural thing – it just happens.
What projects do you have in the works entertainment wise that we can look forward to you doing?
Yeah, you know I’m doing the voice of a sloth for "Ice Age 4."
I’m going to play John Leguizamo’s grandmother – his long, lost granny [laughs] so that’s a lot of fun. I’m also back to doing standup. I’m going to Boston this weekend, well actually this week, tonight.
Oh, so you’ll be there for the big green day [St. Patrick’s Day]!
I just hope I don’t get any puke on me.
Yeah, it’s hard to get that green beer stain out.
OK, keep your head down and have fun. Before I let you go, I just have to ask two more questions. Who’s your NFL team, because i know you’re a big football fan and you didn’t quite reveal who you root for on Jay Leno when you were on.
The Saints! I’m a New Orleans Saints fan all the way.
And finally, are you looking forward to coming out here for Dinah Shore?
Yes I am. It’s my first time and I’m really excited by it.
Now are you bringing your wife Alex, or are you flying solo?
Babe, [Wanda is asking her wife while we’re on the phone] you going to let me come down there by myself? [There’s dead silence over the phone, until Wanda and I start laughing at the same time.]
That silence speaks volumes!
If you go
Sixth annual Equality California Champagne Brunch at the Dinah Shore Weekend will be from 11 am to 1 pm Saturday, April 2, at the home of Geoff Kors and James Williamson in Palm Springs.
Join them for a Champagne Brunch with comedienne, actress and Equality California Institute board member Wanda Sykes! Hear a special legislative and legal update on LGBT equality in California from Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors. Tickets start at $100.
Wanda Sykes’ “coming out” speech