I know that it would possibly give us more weight, more credibility, more support if I could unequivocally argue that the marriage equality movement is a direct comparison to the civil rights movements of the past, but I can’t. What I can say is that I have never felt more moved to do whatever it takes to make sure that all of my gay brothers and sisters are treated equally under the law.
Growing up in Mississippi, the belief that race segregation was a thing of the past was essentially a joke. I can remember hearing stories from my mother about the race riots and efforts for and against segregation. But in my mind, I asked as she spoke of this “past;” has it ever really changed? I knew that the African-American community wasn’t dealing anymore with the blatant aggressive attacks of public beatings and dogs being released on them just for speaking up for their desire to be treated equally. But, there was and STILL IS, segregation. In the schools, in the neighborhoods, in the friend groups that exist and in the basic places people shop and entertain themselves – individual efforts of segregation cannot be legislated away.
We can’t say LGBT people are not beaten as they were in the past because we find that to be untrue all the time. In fact, less than two weeks ago a transwoman in Memphis, TN, who had been beaten recently under police custody, was killed. Allegedly, the officers insulted and harassed her, continually referring to her as “heshe.” We can’t say LGBT people have never been arrested or harassed because they were fighting for their basic rights. Because, as you will read in this edition of “Community Alliance” in these past few weeks, my LGBT brothers and sisters, including myself, have faced numerous incidents of interrogation, threats and retaliation.
So, today as I think about those times, what I can admit is that there will never be a way to directly compare these two movements; however, in both movements – each group was justified in being frustrated, saddened, hurt, angered and determined to do more. And, just as we have learned in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education and we will learn again with the overturning of Proposition 8 – both movements were and continue to be a civil rights movement from the voice of the marginalized minority to be treated fair and equal under the law.
One very distinct difference between the civil rights struggle of 50 years ago and our struggle today – we, as LGBT people, have the burdened luxury of constructively hiding our identity to our surrounding neighbors; if we so choose. As I ponder that fact, it makes me wonder if this is one reason why we have been struggling since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and even before then, to acquire equal rights and acceptance. I mean, really? We have been in this battle for civic equality since before I was born and in the enlightened year of 2008 when we have had plenty of time to learn from our historical mistakes – we are actually questioning again, is “separate but equal” fair?
To be honest, I think we ALL know the answer. But, I think because there is still not enough sustained social climate change towards the LGBT people, others still feel justified, protected, and able to work to keep us silenced. The problem with the movement that I am directly linked to is that there is still too much widespread social acceptance of public discrimination, devaluing, and demeaning of my LGBT community.
Comparably speaking that is where the reality between the LGBT movement and the race equality movement of the past has gained much separation. There was a time when the “will of the people” believed that people of color should be told who they could or could not marry. The “will of the people” confined Japanese Americans to internment camps. The “will of the people” decided that Armenian’s couldn’t buy land in Fresno County. But, those bigoted decisions were eventually overturned and the people realized just how unjust those decisions were. In today’s world, if a devoted mother at a Catholic school was volunteering as a Parent-Teacher representative and was forced to step down because she was married to man outside her race – our community would be outraged. Civil rights groups would be protesting with much visibility and hardly anyone would question their right to do so. But, today, it is still socially accepted to marginalize and silence a person just because they are living the life they were built to live. (Remember, I come from a South that while sitting in church, I heard the Pastor preach against interracial relationships, because the “The Bible” stated that we were not to mix the races. Social acceptance and Biblical interpretation changes – examine history.)
Personally, I cannot stress enough that just because it is the “will of the people” does not make it fair, just or right. This is an issue of the separation of church and state. My desire to marry civically (I am welcomed to marry in the church where I am a member) is a CIVIL right, and this right does not affect another’s religious freedom. And if a person of conservative faith believes their freedom of religion threatened by the reality of same-sex marriage – then, I ask, why not as well work to eliminate the rights of the heterosexual person who just meets and marries a person in less than a month with no claim to religious affiliation? Or, take away the rights of marriage from those who are found to be infertile or pass the age of fertility. More than that, make divorce illegal – I can offer statistics and evidence of how much that decision alone affects children. Or, can we just call this Proposition’s efforts what it really is – another way to legislate and socially stigmatize the LGBT community with your socially accepted homophobia?
Again, I admit that this is not directly comparable to the civil rights movement of the 60’s. But, it does not mean that this is NOT a civil rights movement. I pray that our High Court does not, for the first time in California’s history, modify our Constitution to take away rights from the group who will never be in the majority. I am forever grateful for the confirmation that although perceptions of my community may be changing – we are still suffering from inequality and unfairness. This reminder has me committed more than ever to convince every voter in Fresno, and the surrounding areas, that we MUST find a way to agree to disagree and then, work to better our Fresno community.
It frightens me that if the California Supreme Court does uphold Proposition 8 that those who are content in keeping homophobia alive and well – will not stop there. I have no doubt that if my LGBT community was not privileged with the burdened luxury of being able to constructively hide or shadow ourselves from those who want us silenced – we may very well be on the same road of injustice where we could find ourselves at the back of bus, with separate drinking fountains and even a door sign that reads, “No Gays or Dogs Allowed.” Remember, we do live in a society where segregation clearly still exists. May my Prince of Peace (don’t forget, I have the right to religious freedom, too) and the high court overturn such a homophobic amendment – just as they would a racist piece of legislation passed by the “will of the people.”
But, if they don’t, I am committed to my wife. As Charleston Heston said about his rifle, I say about my wedding band, “from my cold dead hands.” I want the dignity, responsibility and respect that ONLY marriage can provide and no one will ever be able to legislate that desire away. I am optimistic about the final verdict, but I have been hurt too much recently to not have some doubt that others will act fairly. You may have the “will of the people,” but I have the commitment of my family, and that is why I fight, in this civil rights movement, to have my marriage validated.