19 March 2014

Echoes From A Birmingham Jail (Part One)

Coretta Scott King

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s April 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is one of the defining documents of the American anti-segregation movement. Just about anybody who was alive in the early 1960s has heard of it. Dr. King wrote the Letter during a period of incarceration in Birmingham, Alabama. This was one of numerous occasions when civil disobedience on behalf of racial equality landed him behind bars. If the work MLK put into his "Birmingham Jail" essay is any indication, he certainly used his time in lock-up constructively! It was written in response to a public statement by eight White Alabama clergymen who opposed the confrontational tactics he used. They’d denounced him for leading street demonstrations, and argued that other, less disruptive means should be used to combat institutionalized racism.

It should come as no surprise that Dr. King’s oratory was no less powerful on paper than it was in the pulpit. After publication in the 12 June 1963 edition of The Christian Century, his response stirred such a strong reaction that it was distributed more widely. Most people read the text when The Atlantic Monthly reprinted it later that month. The following year, the Birmingham Jail letter became the centerpiece of Dr. King’s best-selling book Why We Can’t Wait.

After the passage of Proposition 8 in California, and many media stories about Black Californians supporting the measure by huge margins, an old debate flared up again: Are Gay Rights civil rights? Are Gay activists being arrogant when they answer that question in the affirmative? And is it wrong to expect President-Elect Barack Obama, an African-American, to identify with LGBT citizens fighting separate-but-equal provisions?

To me, a Black Gay man who has endured both racism and heterosexism, and who sees no difference in the kind of discrimination they generate, this debate has always sounded silly! That said, I find it outrageous that some anti-segregation veterans would argue that Black folk have an exclusive claim to the term civil rights, and that no other movement dare use it. I beg your friggin' pardon? Have these folks never heard of the Women’s Rights movement? The Farm Workers’ movement? The Disabled Rights movement? I don’t recall hearing any objections when those groups adopted the language! I find it even more outrageous that some idiotic Lesbian and Gay pundits lend this argument credence!

In the final decade of her life, Dr. Martin Luther King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, stressed repeatedly that Gay Rights was a civil rights concern! She was the “fierce advocate” President-Elect Obama now claims to be, but unlike him, she walked the talk! In 1998, she called for Civil Rights Movement veterans to support our struggle. In 2003, she personally invited the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to participate in a 40th anniversary commemoration of her husband’s March on Washington speech. In 2004, two years before her untimely death from cancer, she shocked many in the Black community by championing marriage equality (something her colleague, Rev. Joseph Lowery, still refuses to do). Mrs. King also stated publicly that, contrary to what some religious reactionaries might believe, her late husband did have LGBT citizens in mind when he spoke of equal rights for all people!

I knew this was true because an openly Gay man, Bayard Rustin, had been one of Dr. King’s chief organizers. But is an understanding that Gay people deserve equal rights reflected in his writings? While MLK never made any explicit references to LesBiGay Americans (nobody with a national profile spoke openly about us back then! Besides, his enemies were f*g-baiting him behind the scenes), I suspected his language was broad enough that support for LGBT equality could be inferred. I also suspected that a study of his writings would point up strong parallels between racism and heterosexism. My suspicions were confirmed almost immediately; I had to look no further for confirmation than Dr. King’s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". I found the text conveniently located on the Web, and I’d like to share excerpts with you here; as is my habit, I've edited them slightly for style.

I’m struck by the similarity between the jive talk MLK had to deal with four decades ago, and the jive talk today’s Gay Rights advocates hear. We're currently catching more flak than usual from the Mormon church and other Right Wing religious institutions. Why? Because we've finally summoned up the courage to picket their houses of worship and cry out against their cruel persecution of us! In December, they went so far as to spend thousands of collection plate dollars on a mendacious New York Times ad, portraying themselves as innocent victims of Gay intolerance. (Yiddish lesson for today: Can you say chutzpah?) That ad can be seen as a modern spin on the 1963 White clergymen's statement targeting Dr. King. Our national advocacy organizations have yet to answer this gross distortion of fact with an ad of their own (and they probably won't), but it's instructive to read how MLK responded to the outraged Fundies of his day:

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects, and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's White power structure left the Negro community with no alternative. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known . . . Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

I wouldn't presume to estimate how many times equality advocates like the Rev. Mel White and others have approached hetero-supremacist churches, seeking to initiate constructive dialogue. I only know that many such approaches have been made over the years, and every one I've heard about has been rebuffed! The organized Church is firmly entrenched in its philosophy of heterosexual supremacy, a (faulty) Scriptural interpretation that it’s not content to just espouse within its own walls. Oh, no!  It must need spread this pestilence in the public sphere! Worse, it seeks to impose heterosexual supremacy on secular society by targeting the civil liberties of homosexual citizens!

Here's my response to the Fundies' absurd accusations of anti-religious bigotry: If they don't like people objecting to their frequent violations of Church/State separation, they only have themselves to blame! If they think they can expect us to lie still while their feet press down on our backs, they're out of their sanctimonious minds! But that's the kind of clouded thinking that supremacy doctrines produce. Isn't it our duty as compassionate human beings to help them think clearly again?

To be sure, Dr. King had his own beef with the institutional Church. He wrote:

I have been so greatly disappointed with the White church and its leadership . . . I felt we would be supported by the White church. I felt that the White ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement, and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous, and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows . . . in the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched White churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

I've watched Straight and even some Gay religious folk do the same thing! They're quick to talk about Church unity, which they value over social justice. They evidently want the heads of Lesbian and Gay Christians bowed in shame as well as in worship! They decline to challenge their leadership's hateful proclamations against LBGT identity (yes, I'm talking about the Pope, but certainly not him alone), and they won't lift a finger to correct the Church's distorted Gospel. Have you ever asked questions similar to the ones Dr. King asks in this next excerpt?

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other Southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings, I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

And where were their voices when celebrity pastor Rick Warren likened Gay relationships to pedophilia and incest? When Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. equated homosexual love to ancient temple prostitution? When Bishop Eddie Long called Gay men "f*ggots" from his pulpit? When Rev. Ken Hutcherson joked about dismembering effeminate men? When the Pope characterized Gay and Transgender humanity as a threat to the Earth's survival?

Conservative evangelicals swear they don't engage in hate speech, but I beg to differ: The record speaks for itself! How many of their Sodom and Gomorrah sermons have motivated the fatal beating of a Gay man (or a presumed Gay man, such as happened recently in New York City)? How many of their misquotations from the Apostle Paul's letters have triggered the gang rape of a Lesbian? How many Transsexual teenagers have committed suicide because they validate a defunct Holiness Code that never even applied to Christians? Exactly how many LGBT youngsters are bullied and ostracized every day because of their reckless condemnations? Where is the Church’s support for victims of its own vilification? A vilification that has neither basis nor justification in Jesus Christ's teachings? More important, where is its repentance? There's a terribly urgent need for repentance here!

Dr. King wanted to know what God such cold-hearted "Christians" worshiped. I'd answer his question with one of my own: Can Satan be considered a god? Nearly half a century ago, MLK took critical note of how far the organized Church had strayed from its Gospel, and he warned that a day of reckoning was nigh:

So often the contemporary Church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church's silent, and often even vocal sanction of things as they are . . . but the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If today's Church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

We're living in the twenty-first century now, and there’s been no discernible improvement in the organized Church’s behavior! On the contrary, it’s gotten progressively worse. There’s nary a trace of authenticity left! As Jesus Christ did before him, Dr. King indicted the Orthodoxy in no uncertain terms, but he praised religious leaders who dared to defy their status quo-loving denominations and call for racial justice. His words of affirmation are also balm to Straight allies like Rev. Jimmy Creech and other Gay-affirming clergy who suffer the wrath of Church administrators today:

Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the Gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

Speaking of disappointment, you'll get plenty of it from reading Gay pundits! Right now the Gay blogosphere, as well as news-oriented sites like The New York Blade and The Huffington Post are riddled with stern op-eds from self-described “queer” activists and their heterosexual (heterosexist?) sympathizers. These op-eds scold Gay people for daring to want marriage equality, for objecting to hatemonger preachers like Rick Warren at a President's inaugural, for demanding full recognition of their American citizenship! That's not the worst of it, either! In an 11 December 2008 Blade article, Neil Giuliano, the president of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), declared: “It (the equality struggle) isn’t about demanding your Rights.” Incredibly, he saw nothing wrong with making such a spineless statement!

Giuliano and his oh-so-pragmatic colleagues at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund advised us to cease and desist irritating the powers-that-be with explicitly Gay concerns. They said we should concentrate on the economy, health care and other “big tent” issues. If the United States government failed to live up to its promise of equality for all, so be it; our “leadership” couldn't have cared less! According to them, brazen discrimination against LGBT folk can and should be tolerated for the greater good of society.

Dr. King was also interested in society’s greater good. The difference is, there was nothing exclusionary about his concept of society! He believed that discrimination against any minority group threw our justice system out of balance, and that such an imbalance threatened everyone’s Civil Rights:

I am cognizant of the inter-relatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Our “fearless” leaders seem to feel that just electing a Democrat to office is enough to set the stage for equality. We’re supposed to throw all our hopes on the Democratic candidate, work like crazy to get him elected, and then hurry up and wait while he attends to every other constituency’s needs but ours! Oh, he’ll eventually get around to Gay Rights, the pragmatists assure us. He just can’t proceed too quickly or aggressively on our behalf, because that would cheese off his other constituents who happen to friggin' hate our guts!

It’s in our best interests to always put his agenda before ours, and if he appears to renege on his promises, God forbid we should make a fuss! In other words, the Gay Rights struggle is a partisan political fight, to be waged according to partisan political wisdom, and no emphasis at all should be placed on the moral considerations that justify it. This strategy is so embarrassingly lame, it’s almost quaint! Dr. King had to confront the same retarded reasoning in 1963. Here’s what he had to say about trusting a political candidate to correct social inequities:

We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights.

Try substituting the name "Barack Obama" for that of Albert Boutwell, the name "Mr. Bush" for that of Mr. Connor, the label "heterosexists" for segregationists, and the term "Gay Rights" for desegregation. Try it, and you’ll see how Dr. King could easily have been referring to the last Presidential election! Certainly, Wayne Besen and other high-profile Gay activists spoke of Mr. Obama as if his victory were the linchpin that would trigger full LGBT equality. However, when they saw the President-Elect kissing up to enemies like Rick Warren, they had reason to worry about him keeping his promises!

They have yet to learn what MLK understood implicitly: No disenfranchised minority group gets its civil rights served up on a silver platter! You can hire whichever cook you want to cater the dinner party, but if you aren't sitting at the table, you’ll never taste the food! You've got to make reservations at the dinner party. If you can’t make reservations, you've got to disrupt the damn meal! You must make it absolutely clear to the power structure that it can’t dine in peace until your place at the table has been set! Never mind my clumsy dining room metaphors, though. MLK explains the process much better than I do:

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily . . . we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed . . . there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

“Echoes From A Birmingham Jail” concludes with Part Two.

Echoes From A Birmingham Jail (Part Two)

Coretta Scott King

Dr. King shared my annoyance with those who counsel the disenfranchised to wait for justice. Wait until a court victory is certain! Wait until there’s less bigotry in the culture! Wait until the political winds start blowing in your direction! He heard all those kinds of warnings. MLK certainly wasn’t blind to the political realities of his day; but as a minister of the Gospel, he saw himself spearheading a moral crusade!

He knew that a moral crusade couldn’t align itself to a partisan political timetable and retain its credibility! He also knew that African-American equality would never be a priority for politicians counting on the votes of racist constituents for re-election. In 1963, that category included John F. Kennedy, the man Barack Obama has frequently been compared to. Dr. King and his civil rights marchers couldn't count on President Kennedy to do the right thing. They had no choice but to crash his dinner party! They had to create tension in the Kennedy administration and lay groundwork for progress on racial issues. This is what LGBT "leadership" fails to grasp! Much of it blanches at the idea of protest rallies and marches. They seem to think the Democratic Party can and will do most of our work for us. Just when did "career politician" and "Gay Rights activist" become interchangeable terms? Far too many people are sold on this wacky idea, even though Dr. King yanked the rug out from under it nearly 50 years ago:

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well-timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied" . . .

Dr. King also shared Rosa Parks’ impatience with life as a marginalized citizen (see my 2008 Christ, The Gay Martyr essay titled "Save The Country”, Parts One and Two). He didn't suffer segregation laws silently, and I doubt he would understand today's calls for Gay people to tolerate ongoing injustices like DOMA and the US military's "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy! The most important thing about his Birmingham Jail letter is that it made palpable for millions of White Americans the sting of bigotry’s lash on the backs of their Black compatriots. See if you don't feel it, too, all these years later:

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim . . . when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your Black brothers and sisters . . . when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society . . . when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children . . . when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do White people treat colored people so mean?". . . when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you . . . when you are humiliated day-in and day-out by nagging signs reading "White" and "Colored" . . . when your first name becomes "n*gger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs." . . . when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments . . . when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobody-ness", then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

How can anyone counsel patience when every day, Lesbian, Gay and Transsexual citizens are victims of murder or attempted murder? When every day, LGBT school children are beaten up and taunted with ugly slurs they’re too young to even understand? When every day, mainstream preachers, bishops, rabbis, imams and Popes spew dehumanizing definitions of gender-blended people and call it doctrine? When every day, Lesbians and Gay men of faith are subjected to psychological torture in bizarre “ex-Gay” programs designed to stamp shame on their hearts?

When every day, Gay couples avoid kissing or holding hands in public for fear of being harassed, assaulted or killed? When every day, Gay policemen and firemen stay closeted for fear that their colleagues will desert them in a life-threatening situation? When every day, qualified soldiers, sailors and airmen lose their military careers because they refuse to lie about who they are? When every day, Gay or Gay-appearing men enter the prison system and administrators leave them vulnerable to terrorism and rape by other prisoners?

When every day, LGBT folk who work with or care for children live in terror that they’ll be fired by employers who equate them with pedophiles? When every day, textbooks and other literature depicting LGBT folk in a positive manner is challenged for curriculum inclusion and/or banned from libraries? When every day, children of blended gender are disowned by their parents, and parents of blended gender are forbidden access to their children?

When every day, a same-gender spouse is denied the right to visit her sick partner in the hospital, or claim her deceased spouse’s body, or attend her wife's funeral? When every day, religious Right Wing strategists huddle in their million-dollar complexes and dream up draconian ballot initiatives to separate Gay citizens from their Constitutional rights? When every day, our tax money funds “faith-based” public services from churches that not only refuse to hire us but also fuel the bigoted environment that creates the other intolerable situations I’ve discussed here?

It appalls me that so many of us have made peace with life under these conditions! We act as if second-class citizenship were a privilege instead of an insult! If I have to read another op-ed like this one by Pansexual actor Alan Cummingpresuming to tell me what rights LGBT folk should or shouldn’t want, so help me, I’ll go postal!

I'm sure that some of you will compare my list of grievances with that of Dr. King, and you'll come away saying: “African-Americans have suffered far more than LGBT Americans ever have!” Others will come away thinking the opposite. Personally, I don't go there. Why should I? Why should you? What's to be gained by comparing levels of oppression? That’s hardly the point.

The point is what Dr. King said about injustice: All Americans lose when any American is deprived of his rights! When we fail to honor our founding principles, our nation stops being a democracy and begins morphing into a fascist state. However, when we enforce civil rights for every citizen, we set a shining democratic standard that people all over the world are inspired to strive for. Organized Christianity’s stance on LGBT equality notwithstanding, we also set a standard similar to the one Jesus Christ set for His followers. You know . . . that mushy stuff about loving others as we love ourselves?

By the way, the Savior never said Christians should wait until it was easy to meet that standard! He commanded us to meet it immediately, or risk losing our souls to Satan. The Ken Hutchersons and Joseph Lowerys and Rick Warrens of the world are tardy in carrying out their boss’s orders. Please! Let’s not write an excuse for them! Let's not give them permission to dawdle any longer. Let's insist that they live up to the title "Christian", and do it right now and not later!

How about a couple more excerpts from Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"?  I'm sure you won't mind:

We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here . . .

MLK was referring to African-Americans here, but he surely could’ve been talking about LGBT folk. You know what? He really was talking about us! Does anyone doubt that there were Lesbians, Gay men, Pansexual and Transsexual persons among the Black slaves? We already know from historical accounts that the Native tribes Conquistadores found in the New World included Transgender people. What about some of those Pilgrims, too? We tend to marginalize ourselves so completely, we forget that we're all members of other social groups. It's high time we started remembering!

If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Allow me the liberty of paraphrasing Dr. King's words a bit: If the dark days of imprisonment and institutionalization prior to the Stonewall rebellion couldn’t silence us. . . if the pain of ostracism, ridicule and bullying as children couldn’t break our spirits . . . if the scourges of drug abuse, alcoholism, AIDS and breast cancer couldn’t wipe us out of existence . . . if relentless attacks from thousands of Right Wing televangelists couldn’t drive us back into the closet . . . if the passage of 29 marriage protection amendments couldn’t spoil our appetite for equal treatment . . . and if the traitorous boosters of heterosexism among us don’t succeed in their efforts to turn us off the road to full citizenship, the opposition we now face will surely fail!

We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation, the righteousness of LGBT identity, and the eternal will of God, upon whose Transgender image we are modeled, are embodied in our proud demands. Believe me, it’s no accident that the inspiring messages of Martin Luther King, Jr. transcend racial applications; they were meant to! The provisions of our Federal Constitution transcend them as well.

This Black vs. Gay conflict over terminology is beyond ludicrous! It’s nothing but thinly-veiled antipathy coming from a bunch of Black bigots (both African-American and African). What infuriates me most, though, is the apparently widespread notion among Gay pundits that Black Gay people don’t exist! Ever heard of actor Paul Winfield? He was born Black and Gay. How about playwright Lorraine Hansberry? She was born Black and a Lesbian. Jazz arranger Billy Strayhorn was born Black and Gay, too. So were Blues singer Alberta Hunter, Hollywood choral director Hall Johnson, writer James Baldwin, and Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. A couple of these people were important figures in the struggle for African-American equality, along with the aforementioned Bayard Rustin.

Being Gay didn’t make any of them less Black! Being Black didn’t make any of them less Gay! Most important, being either didn’t make any of them less deserving of their Constitutional protections. Quite a document, our Constitution; read it, if you get the chance! Ditto for the written works of Martin Luther King, Jr., a source of endless inspiration.  Whatever you do, don’t ever let anybody get away with telling you Gay Rights aren’t civil rights!

Read Dr. King’s complete, unedited "Letter from a Birmingham Jail".
Originally published on New Year's Day 2009.

07 March 2014

Save The Country (Part One)

Rosa Parks

For the benefit of LGBT folk who know little or nothing about Christianity (and there are quite a few of you out there), here, taken from Scripture, is a parallel between the treatment of Jesus Christ thousands of years ago and our treatment in modern times:

LUKE 23: 1-5, 13-24
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate (the Governor). They began to accuse Him, saying: "We found this man perverting our nation . . . saying that He Himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" (Jesus Christ) answered: "You say so." Then Pilate said to the Chief Priests and the crowds: "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said: "He stirs up the people by teaching . . ."

Pilate then called together the Chief Priests, the leaders and the people, and said to them: "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people, and here I have examined Him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against Him . . . He has done nothing to deserve death. (But) they all shouted together, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!" (This was a man who had been put in prison . . . for murder.)

Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept shouting: "Crucify, crucify Him!" A third time he said to them: "Why? What evil has He done? I have found in Him no ground for the sentence of death. I will therefore have Him flogged, and then release Him." But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that He should be crucified, and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for . . . and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

Like Jesus Christ, we speak and live the truth of our lives. Like Jesus Christ, we are condemned for telling our truth! We are told that we spread perversion. We are judged for transgressions that our enemies fail to articulate convincingly. Like Jesus Christ, we are found blameless by a judiciary (most State Supreme Courts). The judiciary sees no wrong in what we do (seek legal recognition of our committed relationships). Like Jesus Christ, we then stand by and watch the judiciary cave in to political cowardice! We see judges abdicate their duty as jurists and throw our fates to a hostile electorate. If nothing else, this infamous incident shows how outrageously unethical putting justice up for popular vote is. Anyone can see that Jesus Christ was railroaded! We’re being railroaded, too! And the worst part of it is, we’re helping to steer the train!

Why do we validate ballot initiatives designed to legally marginalize us? For the past twelve years, we've suffered the passage of "marriage protection" amendments in State after State, all bankrolled by religious denominations who are as hostile to us as the Hebrew hierarchy was to Jesus Christ. (Don't doubt that many of them would eagerly impose the death penalty on us if they could!) We decry these evil campaigns to disenfranchise us of our citizenship rights, but at the same time, we lend them credibility by launching counter-campaigns.

We decide that voting on marriage equality as if it were a proposed tax increase is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, as long as we win! We don’t win, but we still play the game. We willingly play a political crap game with our dignity that we're certain to lose! What other outcome could there be, given centuries of superstition and misinformation about Gay identity? Not to mention daily reinforcement of such ignorance by modern religious ideologues? Jesus Christ had good reason for playing a losing game: The salvation of humankind. What’s our excuse?

After these odious ballot initiatives inevitably pass (twenty-nine so far), some of us get to brag about having added another high-profile political fight to our activist resumes. That's an awfully shabby consolation prize, isn't it? How much good have we really done? Did we stand tall and give our enemies a tooth-and-claw fight to the finish (the lily-livered "No on 8" campaign in California would not be a good example), or have we once again allowed them to trick us into wasting our money and resources? More important, have we sacrificed democratic values to a panicked, tunnel-vision focus on marriage equality at the State level?

We don't seem to know what privileges American citizenship entitles us to. We beg for legal protections that are actually guaranteed to us in our country's founding documents! If you don't believe me, you don't have to take my word for it. View the evidence for yourself.

Exhibit A: 
Article IV, Section Two of The United States Constitution, 
adopted 17 September 1787:
The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.

This rule invalidates the Federal Defense of Marriage Act! States cannot choose which citizenship rights from other States they will or will not honor!

Exhibit B: 
The Fourteenth Amendment to The United States Constitution, 
ratified 9 July 1868:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The language of this amendment underscores the illegality of Proposition 8 and other "marriage protection" ballot initiatives! States are prohibited from cutting certain citizens off from the right to marry, file joint tax returns, adopt children, etcetera!

Exhibit C: 
Excerpt from The Declaration of Independence, 
signed 4 July 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

A long train of abuses and usurpations?  I think 29 "marriage protection" amendments to State constitutions meet that definition, don't you? Not to mention the ban on Gay people serving openly in the US military, bans on Gay people working for church-affiliated agencies and businesses, bans on students forming Gay-themed clubs in public schools, bans on Gay people adopting or foster-parenting children, and various laws that forbid "promoting homosexuality" . . . whatever the f*** that means! At last count, forty States retained some kind of anti-Gay legislation on their books. All of it violates the Constitution!

The excerpt from the Declaration of Independence that you see here, still startling in its boldness after 230 years, gives us the right as American citizens to challenge the validity of our government if it denies us basic human rights! Take a moment to absorb the full impact of what it says. The founders placed such high value on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that they all but advocated government overthrow in the absence of same! Such unabashed militancy on behalf of democratic values is hard to find today, especially in LGBT circles. Do we actually need to see the words “Gay”, “Lesbian”, “Pansexual” or “Transsexual” written down in order to realize that we're included within the scope of this paragraph?

Right now, the Gay blogosphere is filled with talk about how we should emphasize “outreach” to Straight minority voters and other culturally conservative communities. The idea is that we must do a better job of "selling" ourselves and our issues to the public. Sugar, please! What are we supposed to be . . . ward politicians?

I'm not running for friggin' office!  I just want to be treated fairly! Why on Earth should we lobby Straight America for rights already guaranteed us as citizens? Why do we beg their permission to live as equals? Why don’t we simply demand our Constitutional rights, as did the bus boycotters, sit-in students and racial equality marchers whose mantle we claim to have taken up? African-American Civil Rights activists didn’t win the support of White southern racists! They earned their respect! Do we honestly think we can earn the respect of bigots by presenting a shamefaced response to their bigotry???

"Save The Country" concludes with Part Two.

06 March 2014

Save The Country (Part Two)

Rosa Parks

A lot of people criticized San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for sounding too defiant in a “No on 8” campaign commercial. He told California voters that, whether they liked it or not, the time had come for marriage equality! Too defiant? Compared to what? Would that most of us could be even half as defiant as he was!

If Conservatives get offended by strident denunciation of discriminatory public policy, tough t*tty! Lord knows, they've offended us often enough! Mayor Newsom's righteous indignation inspires me and reminds me of Rosa Parks. When she refused to give up her bus seat to a White man in 1955, she demanded of the policemen who arrested her: “Why do you push us around?” She put herself at risk of a beating, but she was too angry to care! Years later, she reflected:

It’s not that I was fed up (that day). I was fed up all my life, as far back as I can remember, with being treated as less than a free person . . . as long as we continued to comply with these rules and regulations that kept us crushed down as a people, then the power structure would always say: "Well, they are not complaining, and they accept this, so they (must be) satisfied with it.”

Mrs. Parks wasn’t satisfied! Mrs. Parks was cheesed off! Mrs. Parks felt entitled to equal treatment as an American citizen, and she wasn't shy about saying so. Neither are the Black, Latino and Asian advocacy groups who have filed Friend Of The Court briefs on behalf of Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and others who are challenging the legality of Proposition 8. Per Reuters News Agency reporter Pete Henderson, one of those briefs reads as follows:

The entire purpose behind the Constitutional principle of equal protection would be subverted if the Constitutional protection of unpopular minorities were subject to simple majority rule. This case is not simply about Gay and Lesbian equality. The history of California demonstrates with sobering clarity the potential for disfavored minorities to be subjected to oppression by hostile majorities.

Indeed, it does; the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II immediately springs to mind! (Wouldn't it be ironic if the same groups some White Lesbians and Gay men are blaming for Prop 8's passage end up supplying the legal arguments that convince California's Supreme Court to reverse it?)

Let me clear up a misconception here, one that has been given currency by a host of misguided Gay bloggers and op-ed writers: It is not necessary for a majority of Americans to approve of equal rights for LesBiGay citizens in order for us to exercise those rights! When women won the right to vote in 1920, did the majority of men approve? I seriously doubt it! And I know for a fact most White people weren’t thrilled when the Civil Rights Act passed Congress in July of 1964; White backlash against that legislation partially explains why the Republican Party took control of our southern States in subsequent decades!

As long as Pat Robertson and his ilk are allowed to ply their Bible-based heterosexism openly, we will continue being vilified by a sizable number of our fellow citizens! This doesn’t mean that their hatred will always be reflected in the laws that govern us, though. As proof, just look at current realities for women, Latinos and African-Americans. Social progress can and does occur despite lingering prejudice!

It’s not group popularity that wins struggles like ours. It’s perseverance! If you really believe your cause is just, then you won’t let legal or political setbacks stifle your activism. You use the courts whenever possible, civil disobedience whenever necessary, and you press your issue constantly until you achieve your goal or something close to it!

The incremental victories of the anti-abortion movement ought to teach us that much; three decades ago, the odds were stacked against "pro-life" activists, too! The level of tenacity they've demonstrated is something we should strive to match. Too many of us act as if LGBT equality isn’t worth having unless we can get it with relative ease. Duh! If it were easy to get, then it wouldn’t be worth having! Freedom is never easy to get. We can't lobby ourselves into full equality, and political candidates can't deliver it to us on a silver platter! We need to get serious, and get real! A successful Civil Rights crusade requires an awful lot of time and effort and courage.

Courage is what we’ll need most when the next batch of “marriage protection” ballot measures come down the pipe. We must have the courage not to respond as we have in the past! We must have the courage not to mount another no-on-whatever campaign. We must resist the urge to join the political crap shoot that’s stacked against us!

We must boycott the vote on principle! What principle? The one that the aforementioned Black, Latino and Asian organizations articulated in their legal brief: Citizenship rights cannot be voted up or down! This is something that, theoretically, even those who oppose marriage equality can relate to. I'm not saying we should sit at home on our asses and veg out in front of the TV while hetero-bigots target us. Not at all! We must make withholding our votes a cause celèbre, complete with media blitzes, press conferences and protest rallies. Not only that, we must urge our Straight allies to withhold their votes, too (especially our Straight allies of faith)!

What will happen? No doubt the ballot measures will pass, but that was going to happen in any event. This time, we won’t have squandered our resources in vain! Instead, we can put those resources behind ballot initiatives of our own design (tax rebates for disenfranchised minority groups, perhaps?) and the very necessary court challenges to these exclusionary amendments.

Right Wing conniption fits over “activist judges” notwithstanding, the courts are exactly where this fight should be waged! That’s where the odds are more in our favor. It’s high time that we viewed marriage equality as the Federal, Constitutional issue it always has been! I know some Gay Rights attorneys are apprehensive about doing that, but even they acknowledge that this issue will inevitably end up at the Federal level. We can’t be afraid to go there!

To be sure, Supreme Courts don't always live up to their mandate of dispensing justice; it's painfully obvious that the Constitutional protections I cited earlier haven't been fully enforced. Given the partisan justices two President Bushes have seated, we could very well come out on the losing end of an important lawsuit!

However, American history shows how a loss at the Federal level doesn't necessarily spell defeat; on the contrary, such a loss can be turned to a movement’s advantage! The Dred Scott vs. Sanford decision (1857) was a devastating setback for the anti-slavery movement. It defined Black slaves as chattel instead of human beings! Yet the outrage it sparked among Northern abolitionists lit a white-hot flame under their crusade. That flame raged into a horrible Civil War, and a President was assassinated, but America emerged from the carnage a more just nation; the Thirteenth Amendment, passed in 1865, finally outlawed the American slave trade.

Sometimes, it takes an injustice most glaring, like a Dred Scott decision, a Prop 8 passage, or a Savior’s crucifixion to set the stage for positive change. Good can eventually come from bad, provided the bad is bad enough!

This case is not simply about Gay and Lesbian equality. So true! What's more, marriage rights for Gay people aren’t the most important concern here. We should be far more concerned about our democracy, and the way these unconstitutional ballot initiatives eat away at its inclusive definition!

That doesn't mean LesBiGay issues aren't central to this matter; they absolutely are! Homosexual love is no longer a criminal offense, yet those of us who practice it are still being punished. Punished, I hasten to add, in the absence of indictment or jury trial, which violates yet another Constitutional protection! Therein lay the core injustice of anti-Gay ballot questions: They are a means of skirting the judicial branch of government, of re-criminalizing people who've been exonerated! In other words, we’re getting the same kind of "justice" Jesus Christ got, and getting it from the same kind of self-appointed moral guardians! It's hard to imagine a more appalling abuse of the electoral process, and of the United States Constitution.

As my excerpts from our nation's founding documents prove, the United States Constitution is where Gay Rights protections lie! This fight isn’t about adding them, but affirming them, and mandating their enforcement. Any attempt to weaken our Constitution threatens those inherent protections! Such attempts deserve the vigorous and concerted opposition of every patriotic American, regardless of ethnic background, religious affiliation, political persuasion, sexual orientation or gender identity!

Let's face it: When polling places are used to express animosity between groups of citizens in the form of punitive laws, it's not just unpopular minorities that need saving from society's worst impulses. It's the whole country that needs saving!

Come on, people/Come on, children,
Come on down to the glory river!

Gonna wash you up/Gonna wash you down,
Gonna lay the Devil down!
Gonna lay that Devil down.
I got fury in my soul!
Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal.

In my mind, I can't study war no more.
Save the people!
Save the children!

Save the country!
Save the country!

Originally published during Christmas 2008.
*Excerpt from "Save The Country", 
words and music by Laura Nyro, 
copyright ©1972 EMI Blackwood Music (BMI).