Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The People vs. Bishop Harry Jackson

I read an article online at The Washington Post today about anti-gay activist, Bishop Harry Jackson, from Maryland. I have to admit I did not fully understand Jackson's argument against marriage equality until this article; and now that I know, it sounds even more absurd. Bishop Jackson's basic premise is that passing marriage equality will force the Black family into extinction. Of all the arguments one could propose, that registers right around letting people marry goats. What I would say about this argument in the company of close friends is probably not appropriate for an articulate, academically-based response so I will leave that behind closed doors. I will, however, like to challenge Bishop Jackson on the facts. His argument, while valid in his mind, has no merit in reality.

"If you redefine marriage, you have to redefine family. You'd have to redefine parenting. I'm looking at the extinction of marriage. And black culture is in a free fall." Really Bishop Jackson? Gay people are causing the extinction of marriage? How you forget your history, Sir. The disillusionment of the black family dates back to slavery. Slaves were brought to shore and then ripped from their immediate family, unrecognized as people so the thought of them marrying was obviously unheard of. The men were emasculated by slave owners who made them watch as they raped their "wives"; the children were stolen from parents and bred. The whole idea of gender and sexuality in the black community was an institution defined by slave owners. When black slaves were finally freed, the established roles of men and women were drastically skewed from what we might call normal today. Even in the period after the Great Depression, the institution of marriage and the idea of divorce centered mainly around financial interests.

Whether you call it marginalization, institutional hegemony, or cultural shifts, the Black family was endangered long before the gays came along. Black people are not getting married because we've stopped focusing on each other and started focusing on ourselves, the "get mine" mentality. Our grandmothers are in their 30s instead of in their 50s or 60s, teenage pregnancy rates are rising while access to family planning and contraception is dwindling. Black men are being taught that "pimping" and "Ballin" is the new fad; who needs to settle down and have one wife when you can have all the hoes that you want? When the hit songs have lyrics like, "I wish I could f**k every girl in the world", and "Have a baby by me, be a millionaire", the finger should clearly be pointing inward.

Gay people didn't do that, black people did. Black people go out and support the indecency that degrades our women, black people flock to read "The Down Low" but never ask themselves what institutions are set in place to make these men not be comfortable with coming out.

"I don't know of anybody black who says, 'I hate gay people'. But you overlap that -- homosexuality and gay marriage -- with broken families, and we don't know how to put it back together." I'll tell you how, Bishop Jackson. Increase child support laws and penalties, improve sex education in inner-city schools, start supporting more shows like "The Cosby's" and less shows like "House of Payne". Use some of the money you're raising for discrimination and hold couples counseling and relationship outreach. Support women's health and access to contraception. Get the young men in your congregation to understand that it's not cool to get three women pregnant at the same time, no matter what Lil' Wayne says.

And most important of all, let the gays get married so the gay, black families, who hang by a thread of law, will have some validity. They will be able to teach their children the importance of a loving, committed relationship. Perhaps the number of Black men who are stepping out on their wives, for other men, will decrease.

Allow gay people to adopt so that underprivileged children, whom most gays end up adopting, will grow up in loving families with two parents. Your concern is centered around the erosion of the Black family and yet your campaign is based on breaking up Black families. Yes, Bishop Jackson, there are gay black people. The whole idea that approving marriage equality will contribute to the deterioration of the black family is laughable. Perhaps your time would be better spent on a campaign to ban divorce.

You can find the article on Bishop Jackson's righteous campaign here:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Hypocrisy of Bigotry

As I watched the testimonies for and against the DC Marriage Equality and Religious Freedom act, what troubled me the most were all the brown faces testifying against equality. Most of their arguments were religious-based and included declarations of what "God" wants and what the Bible says. It is baffling that in the face of the immense discrimination that we have suffered as African Americans, there are still people ready to throw stones at another group who is discriminated against.

I'm an urban twenty-something, very likely half the age of the majority of anti-equality testifiers; but I grew up in a world where race was as much a factor as it wasn't. I was called a nigger at the early age of six, and though I knew it was wrong, it didn't stop me from being friends with people from every culture. People in my generation, for the most part, don't view race as starkly as people in my mother's generation do. In our world, discrimination is not about black versus white, it's about oppression versus anti-oppression. Yes, there are cultural disparages, even in the gay movement, but at the end of the day, what separates us is pro-LGBT and Anti-LGBT ideals.

That premise blends the color line drastically. In regards to the DC equality movement, you have people of all cultures advocating for equal rights and people of one predominate culture advocating against it: the African American religious fringe. This is particularly ironic, given that a majority of black congregations have a sizable LGBT population. And besides the obvious Stockholm syndrome of LGBT members of anti-gay churches, the history of Christianity and oppression in the black community should be argument enough for the opposition to take a look at what their argument is really saying.

African Americans didn't come here preaching Christianity. We were brought in chains, we were ripped from our language, our families, our culture, and our spiritual beliefs. Christianity was forced upon us by slave owners as a means to dissipate any potential unity. Fast forward three hundred years or so, Blacks were made to believe they had to straighten their hair, get rid of their slang, and assimilate fully into mainstream culture to be regarded as human. They could not marry someone of a different race, hell up until the 19th century, blacks were only 3/5 of a person. All of these institutions, anti-miscegenation, slavery, and voting rights were supported and prolonged by religious ideologies. Those same ideologies that said in essence, "you are the other; in order to be tolerated, you must be invisible". This is where the civil rights movement and the equal rights movement bear close resemblance.

By refusing to acknowledge LGBT people and relationships, we send a message that LGBT people are somehow the other. Black LGBT people, suffer the impact of marginalization two-fold, dealing with bigotry not only from racial discrimination, but from religious persecution. The same people who withstood fire hoses and beatings, who see what hate crimes and intolerance do to a people, have the audacity to seek to marginalize another group of people in the name of a "lord" that wasn't theirs to begin with. We as a people need to wake up and start acknowledging that the hatred for our gay brothers and sisters is doing nothing but perpetuating the denigration of our culture, killing our women, and holding us back from reaching Martin Luther King Jr's "promise land."

For more information on homophobia in Black churches, please join Metropolitan Network Against Homophobia for a panel discussion. 6:30 PM on Tuesday, November 10th at The Sumner School 1201 17th Street NW Washington, DC Inside Lecture Hall 102. More information can be found here:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sprinting to the Colorblind Finish Line

The National Equality March weekend begins in a few days and buzz is building throughout the community. Despite the criticism for the leadership's lack of organization, it is pivotal that we pull out big numbers for the march. For once, we can learn a lesson from republicans: stick together, be "homo", homogeneous that is.

More importantly, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Act of DC was introduced to the council this Tuesday, October 6th; announced by openly-gay DC council member David Catania at the 1st Annual LGBT Convocation for Marriage Equality last Wednesday.

It appears someone was listening when bloggers suggested moving forward with outreach and grassroots efforts. DC is a many-fibered diaspora of histories, cultures and struggles; it took an outside voice to make us realize we should be taking advantage of that.

Rev. Eric E. Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership laid out several points about diversity and solidarity in the movement in his speech at the convocation. "There are five tenets in organizing [all carrying over into one another]," said Lee. "Education, organization, mobilization, agitation and transformation." In CA, he mentioned, equality activists fell short of what they needed to do to frame the movement as a civil rights issue. While this can be a touchy subject, especially for African Americans, I feel we need to tackle the issue head on. DC could be the poster child for the world in regards to the equality movement. The LGBT community pays taxes like our straight counterparts, but not only do we not have a vote, we are at the mercy of congress to decide what rights we should have. We are a community without a voice and we must address that.

Our mobilization must include outreach and education to the people; per Rev. Lee's advice, we should also address the discrimination that exists within our community. "Justice must be universal," and not only will it strengthen us as a group, it will provide the rest of the world with an example of how to do diversity correctly. While simultaneously addressing our own prejudices, we must contact the moderate voters. We know now, from several preceding social movements, that targeting and trying to change minds of the extremists is a futile operation. We are not going to convince someone, who is fiercely against equal rights, to come all the way over to our side; however, the ones sitting on the fence may just need a little push.

Rev. Lee thoroughly explained agitation in the community, an area I think we're making improvements in. Instead of trying to change extremists minds, we need to call them on their discrimination with articulate and well formed arguments. According to Lee, "[We must be] an irritant in a society where the blemish of discrimination must be washed out. Do not bear the burden of oppression; it is not your responsibility. Make the oppressors defend their discrimination!" Powerful words with a more significant meaning. We must be out, we must practice solidarity by enlisting our allies to speak on our behalf. In order to transform the movement into an unstoppable force, we need people to join together and actively practice anti-oppression. That means speaking up when you hear the word "fag", or stopping your buddies from bullying a kid with anti-gay slurs. We need to stop being spectators and get on the field. We need our congressional representatives on the line and our sneakers on the street. We are sprinting to the finish line, standing shoulder to shoulder, with every color of our rainbow pride flag.

Information about the National Equality March can be found here:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Old Fight, New Flavor

Today brought news that 2 out of the 3 DMV areas were taking steps toward marriage equality. Even in the heat of the fiery health care debate, DC and Maryland are on the way to passing some key legislation. Now, more than ever, it is of the utmost importance for minorities, especially African Americans, to mobilize.

The fight over same-sex marriage in DC will more than likely be drawn on racial lines; apparently, according to marriage opponents, there are either no gay Black people or being Black means you can't possibly believe in marriage equality. This is not only wholly untrue, but completely underestimates the amount of Black, gay people who live in the DMV. We are out there, just come to Mezza Luna on 1st Saturdays or Saki Lounge on last Sundays. If the amount of people who pack into the club on Saturday night could spend Saturday afternoon canvassing in their neighborhoods, Black LGBT people could have a strong voice in DC.

If this reads like a slight criticism of the black gay community, it is. We partied all night during Black Pride weekend but couldn't get up on Sunday to go to the festival at Love Nightclub. We talk so much about how we want equality but don't want to come to any council meetings. Now, I will say there was an excellent turnout at the Ward 8 meeting a few months ago but we still have a long way to go. Yes, there is still racism/classism within the gay community but that should be no excuse for us not to fight for our rights in our hometown. When Michael Crawford gets on TV and talks about what he's doing to aid our efforts, we should be in the background waving at the camera, soaked in sweat and hoarse from all the outreach we've done.

Black people make up 55% of DC's population; the highest demographic in DC. Now you know why they call it Chocolate City, if you didn't know already. Being black and gay means making a community of your own; you have to battle racism in mainstream society and homophobia in your own culture. For many, it's not an easy line to walk, so we have things like men on the down-low and you garden-variety "convenient" gays. This has to stop. We have to stand up for each other. We have to be brave and vigilant and we have to make our voices heard.

The fight is here and we're sitting outside the ropes. We need to take each other by the hand and step into the ring. We cannot let Bishop Jackson speak for "us", we have to speak for ourselves. Black history is loaded with people who have done extraordinary things in the face of great adversity. The path has already been laid before us. Regardless of disagreements within the movement, we must make this our fight. This is our lunch counter, only this time the people who don't want to let us sit down look like us. The outcome of this fight will be determined by how many people we can mobilize. If it comes down to a vote, we'll hit the streets; if it gets held up in congress, we'll call our representatives. We can do this, we ca win this fight.

Stand up, speak out, fight on!

Washington Post Article on DC Marriage Laws:

Friday, September 4, 2009

How Far We Have Not Come

In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, Twitter, pod-casts and the like, it seems Americans have run out of substantive things to say. One could argue that giving "everyone" a medium to express themselves might not have been the best thing after all. It is almost impossible to turn on the television and simultaneously fight the urge to become cynical about the direction of our nation. Everyday, lately, more and more attention is given to right-wing "Astro-turf" groups bombarding the health care debate. The Glenn Becks of the world are multiplying and the Edward R. Murrows are becoming extinct. America needs to flip on a signal light and throw a "U-ey" ASAP! The utter lack of respect we have relegated ourselves to is shameful.

I remember a time, not long ago, when end-of-the-spectrum egocentrics had a platform. It was called AM radio, and it gave them all day long to spew their extremist nonsense to a base of, say, twenty people. Families gathered Friday night and watched TGIF without commenting on the political implications of Steve Urkel cloning himself. The idea of disrespecting an elected official was rare and frankly unheard of. Criticism was delivered via civil discourse and not shouted at someone in a public forum. No matter what you may have thought of them behind closed doors, it was poor taste to bring that speech outside of the home. One could argue that technology has made us stupid and complacent, to which some blame could be delegated. The predominant culpability, however, is our own. Our apathetic fabrication of complacency has contributed to the lack of common courtesy in our country.

I was baffled to see the news of people in uproar over President Obama's address to grade-school children. The white house has to "pitch" the idea of a presidential address to the nation's schools. Pardon my poor use of language but are you freaking kidding me? The president has taken time out of his schedule to address a bunch of kids, who can't even vote, about the importance of working hard, staying in school, and becoming active in their communities and there's a question of the politics behind it? What the hell is wrong with people? There was no uproar when President Bush Sr. addressed schools, nor were people upset about Regan's school-time address. They were even okay with President Bush reading a book while New York and DC were under attack. The audacity that people must possess to even suggest they need to "review" his address before deciding if it's sensible enough to show to their kids. Why are we even giving these people airtime? He's the President! Whether he wants to address schools, churches, or Porto-potties it should be his prerogative. I'm sorry but I don't see how knowing that the President of the United States, yes including Texas, is counting on you to excel in your education is a bad thing for someone to hear.

America, we used to be better. The blatant disrespect of this president and his administration should not be tolerated. Criticism is one thing, but we have sank into an abyss of tawdriness. We don't even treat each other with common courtesy anymore. This past week, at one of the famous-but shouldn't be-town hall meetings, a sick woman in a wheelchair was berated with abhorrent rudeness from the audience. She sat calmly and prefaced her question while people shouted at her like she was a dog. Is this how we treat people now? Are we so self-absorbed that we don't care if we hurt others? Are we so polarized that we're reinventing ourselves into the new Montagues & Capulets, destined to bury ourselves in our own hatred?

We need an attitude adjustment; whatever has taken us down this road of verbal diarrhea needs a fierce application of Pepto Bismol. We need to stop being so self-important, stop living in blissful ignorance and start to relate to each other again in a way that doesn't involve 140 characters or less.

We need to acknowledge and own up to the prevalent existence of racism, homophobia and bigotry. We enable outright rudeness by standing idly and shaking our heads while people rip each other apart. This must stop! Bullies get power not from their victims, but from their audiences, people who do nothing. The right-wing and the bible-freaks aren't our greatest enemies; complacency is the thing that will tear our civilization apart. Albert Einstein said it best, “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it.”

Why step up on this soapbox? It's not that I hate this country, on the contrary, I love this country. I love it for its history, its great potential and it's pride. I love it because its the only way to truly change it. You will fight for something you love before you'll fight for something you hate. Conservatives are always going on about progressives being un-American but it's the other way around. The very definition of progress should speak for itself. History is on our side and we have the chance to create a better tomorrow. Let's make sure we get there by shaking our brother's hands instead of stepping on them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Who Will Protect Camelot?

In the wake of the tragic passing of long-time human rights advocate Senator Ted Kennedy, one wonders who will continue to carry the torch to protect our rights. Are we past the era where Kings marched or will new leadership emerge from the grassroots. I often wonder where our new trailblazers will come from. What names will history be emblazoned with? Who will fight for freedom and liberty? Who will protect the castle?

We are losing our leaders faster than we can gain them and on the surface it may seem like there are few who are stepping up. I humbly disagree with this notion. I think there are several fierce advocates who only need support from their peers and like-minded individuals. In history lessons that were most likely abridged, you learned that Martin Luther King Jr. did not single-handedly organize the black civil rights movement, nor did it start with Rosa Parks sitting on a bus; it took months and years of preparation, framing, and practice. Although Rev. King and Mrs. Parks were the faces of the movement, they were supported by a ginormous group of people who were willing to step up, knock on doors and join together in solidarity. Tom Hayden, in a quote from Freedom is an Endless Meeting, says of solidarity, "a group should strive for consensus because you need to count on other people putting their bodies on the line with you." Hayden, a coiner of the term "participatory democracy" also speaks of the great significance and coveting of solidarity and how it affects social movements.

The question is who will stand up. I believe the task rests with us all; Michael Crawford can't say we're leading the fight if there aren't people lining the streets, doing the work of the movement with him. Although Senator Kennedy's death is saddening - he was a fierce advocate for LGBT people and for all people - we must look at this as a symbol of what we should be doing in our own lives. If we are going to strengthen this movement, we must come to a consensus. We have to humble ourselves, map our priorities and frame our movement in a way that will promote success. Haphazard planning and exclusionary tactics will only serve our demise.

In addition to Mr. Crawford, there are others ready and willing to help LGBT citizens become more visible and rights more accessible; just recently The Advocate reported on the nation's first potential, openly gay, black, congressman, Anthony Woods. Want some local inspiration? Try looking up Phil Attey or Paquita Wiggins on Facebook. They were instrumental in the DC Council Vote and also organize political campaigns and participate in several non-profit programs.

We all have a stake in this. Whether we're fighting for local marriage equality, national marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, health care or otherwise, the actions we take determine the overall outcome. If we can organize to change the world by electing the nation's first black president, there should be nothing to stop us from organizing and making America the leader in equal rights. Yes, the hill may seem more steep, but we have to power to change minds. I don't know about you, but I'm strapping on my "Doc Martin" hiking boots and getting ready for the climb.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Politics of Fear and the Equal Rights Debate

It's nothing new; fear tactics have steered political debate for several years now. Most even-minded individuals dismiss these irrational diatribes as pure fluff; but for those who blindly accept the opinions of the Limbaughs of the world, America becomes a world of cornering walls. What starts as a political ploy to divert supporters of a bill can turn into a swirl of hysteria and anger, to which the likely end result is violence.
One of the most disturbing images from the "Town Hall" protests was a lynching effigy of Congressman Frank Kratovil [D-MD]. An anti-health bill protester stood beside the wooden post, smiling from ear to ear, as a clothed, cardboard cutout of the congressman dangled from a noose. Frankly, just looking at the picture makes me sick to my stomach. It doesn't matter that it was an effigy, the imagery of someone being lynched and then posed beside as some sort of accomplishment is unfathomably monstrous. The idea that anyone would think lightly of one of the most grotesque actions in American history, is not only disconcerting, it's a symbol of how far we still need to go in this country.
Although health care is arguably wider in scope, the gay rights movement would be remiss to think that scare tactics will not aim to circumvent our efforts. We have seen it already in 2008 with Prop 8 and virtually throughout every gay-flavored debate in the last 30 years. Even though there is a lot more visibility of the gay community in the media, outside of Logo, we have a long way to go to change the public perception.
It's similar to what the Cosby's did in the 80s; a successful, middle-class African American family on television allowed people to see the diversity in the community and further engendered the idea that all black people weren't from the hood. Today, gay characters on television and movies are moving closer to establishing trademarks in society. People are slowly beginning to realize that we don't wear rainbows everywhere, that we are essentially, the same. I like to call this process humanization; it's a counteraction to the kinds of ideals that make people think it's okay to hang people from trees or drag them from trucks.
We are moving in the right direction, our efforts and community outreach will not only aid our efforts but will generate allies and promote visibility. Rest assured, the scare tactics are coming our way, most likely stronger than before. It's intolerable and abhorrent and it needs to stop. We can stop it with something as simple as a handshake. Don't just be out, live out; support your friends, rally your community, lobby your representatives. It is out job to get our bearings before the wave rolls in, I say, let's surf!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Being Out in the Closet

What does it mean to be out? Does it mean holding hands with your partner? Or is it placing a picture of your and your significant other on your desk in and HRC frame? What constitutes your out-ness?
This topic is particularly intriguing because it involves several different points of view. On one hand, the organizations advocating gay rights, LGBT places of entertainment, and community events are both enjoyable and essential to the prosperity of the movement. On the other hand, the question that's raised discusses the dependency of the LGBT community on these assets. Do they limit us from being as "out" as possible?
I look to the civil rights movement for suggestions. When segregation and Jim crow were prevalent in the south, blacks orchestrated sit-ins. Now, I'm not saying we should borough through town just sitting places, the framing of that movement will not be our own, but I think we should commit ourselves to more exposure. Social or political canvassing is a good way of being visible but I also think the act of attending an otherwise "Straight" event, can go a long way toward equality.
We need to practice being out, in our jobs, among our family, in our communities; we need to be in support of each other outside of the gay-bor-hood, that means practicing solidarity in places that may not be as receiving. This is not a chastisement of LGBT establishments or their patrons - I'm pretty sure I'll be at Fab lounge at some point this weekend - it's simply a different way of forwarding the movement.
LGBT people are no more or less perfect than their straight counterparts, however, as advocates for equal rights, we must use the vastness and diversity of the movement to reach our opponents. Think of it this way, Bishop Jackson and I may not agree on equal rights, but we may agree on eliminating poverty. I'm fairly certain there are LGBT people in his congregation, out or not. Although I may not be able to change his mind, by being a fervent supporter of gay rights and working with him on a cause we both agree on, I may change a few minds in his congregation. My visibility may expose people to the gay rights movement, and possibly sow a seed of doubt that their anti-gay stance is on the wrong side of history.
It's not necessary to "make everything about us", the gay rights movement will speak for itself. By just being out and actively pursuing community awareness, we make our mark. As Professor Richard Flacks says, "Historical action is not necessarily noted or recorded. A historical act may appear as exceedingly mundane behavior. A telephone call, a scribble on a memo pad, a push of a button can initiate a chain of actions and events that fundamentally reshape the live of millions."

We can't tell each other how to be out, we can only tell each other to Be Out; our personal relationships and connections can change minds. Don't wait for October, make your coming out day today. And to all the people who are actively practicing being out, reach out to someone who is on the threshold, support their journey, bravery will prevail most expeditiously when there is a glimmer of hope.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Get the Spirit at Black Church Maraca

One of the most exciting things about moving to a new city is discovering the hidden treasures that lie within the side-streets, alleys and boroughs. Black Church Maraca is indeed one of DC’s greatest gems, combining music, poetry and the love of life.
Every second Saturday of the month, a throng of artists pack into a private residence and assimilate under the guise of true artistic expression. Upon entering you are greeted with a hug or a warm handshake, food and drinks, discussion and laughter. By the time you reach the middle of the room you are immersed in the feeling of family and community, one which knows no color, gender, or sexuality. Everyone exists as a representation of themselves, nothing more, and nothing less.
After what seems like the passing of a brief moment, organizer and host Jade Foster welcomes everyone, and explains what BCM is and why it is, “Black Church Maraca is a monthly poetry reading [that] manifests the power of genuine fellowship.” She explains that it’s a chance to get away from the “Busboys” pretentiousness and the cacophony of club-going, and enjoy some good words and good music with good people.
She then introduces the featured artist of the month, this month it’s Venus Thrash, professor of English at the University of DC, who delights us with stories ranging from a little girl who wants to be an angel, to the ins and outs of lesbian relationships. Her performance continues scripted by the discussions and feedback from the audience, her thirty minute set seems to fly by. After raucous applause, Ms. Thrash joins the congregation to enjoy an open mic session. One after another, first-time poetry readers, Black Church veterans and previously featured poets and artists take the stage and bear their souls before a room of welcoming hearts. Michelle Antoinette, AKA Love the Poet, stakes her claim as a proud lesbian of color, despite her family’s dissonance and intolerance; her partner in crime, Missy Smith highlights her smooth vocals and impeccable songwriting skills before accompanying Love on a comical serenade. Local female MC artists, “Hyll Factor” offers the “benediction” to the beat of an impromptu beat box from an audience member. The stage then transforms back into a living space and the conversations begin.
Black Church Maraca, despite its name, draws in people of all colors, creeds, religions, and sexual identities. It’s shrouded heavily in pulsating intellectualism, poignant artistry and, like Jade’s introduction, genuine fellowship. The word “Church” in the title, I think refers to the visceral experience you receive, and even if you have never believed in anything in your life, there is a certain truth that can be discovered within the four walls. So the next time you need some uplifting and are tired of the usual city scenes, go catch the spirit at Black Church Maraca.

You can find more information about BCM at

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lessons From a King

Is is not everyday one stumbles upon a black pearl, one of earth's most coveted treasures. It's aura and beauty is only grasped at the very surface, with so much more waiting to be discovered. You, Michael Joseph Jackson, were a pearl. Placed firmly at the top of music's hierarchy, you did what no one else could. You gave your childhood for our entertainment, your privacy for our satisfaction, your time and money so that children may eat, so that there may one day be a cure for AIDS, so that more people may live and less may die. You were our partner in crime, the soundtrack to our lives, the leader when we didn't even know how to follow. Today we mourned you, we celebrated your life and your legacy. You are more than a pop star, you are a legend. The mark you made on this earth will both be highly coveted and never reached.

It is my hope that in your passing you have left a significant mark of a different kind. I hope that people take Michael Jackson the person into their hearts, that they fixate their gazes higher than what was previously thought possible. We should look at your life, one of kindness, generosity, and unchallenged artistry, as a beacon for which to reach. We should spend more time finding ways to love each other and less time hating each other. We should love people while they're still here. If you have taught us anything Michael, it's that tomorrow is never guaranteed. We should extend more open hands, give more hugs, and send more blessings. We should talk more and text less. We should hold fast the belief that there is good in humanity. We should take the time out of our day to reflect. There should be more "We" and less "Me".

Your life wasn't about you, Michael. It was about us. The gifts you gave humankind, the barriers you broke for Black Americans, the bar you set in music and performance, the strides you made as a humanitarian will forever be immortalized in the hearts and minds of people all over the world. Let us all celebrate your life by improving our own and the lives of those around us. We love you, MJ. <3

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Gay Rights Tug of War

In the wake of recent news about the quickly emerging LGBT rights agenda, I have become increasingly troubled with the framing of the movement. As a young, Black woman, and not to speak for all Black women, I feel we have taken our eyes off what ultimately is vital for equality and empowerment of all LGBT citizens. My stance may make several people in the movement angry, but I feel it’s required to send a reality check.

Firstly, I would like to address the constant lashing of the Obama administration. While I agree that the president should be held accountable for his promises to the LGBT community, I think there are more pressing issues that he is lending his attention to. Frankly, I am elated that President Obama has come out in support for the LGBT community, both in his campaign and in his administration. I applaud him for the memorandum on domestic partner benefits, calling for a repeal of DOMA, DADT, and the passage of ENDA and DPBO and the hate crimes bill which passed in the Senate just yesterday. All of this, in just a few short months. If you “80s and before” babies will recall, it took Ronald Reagan until the seventh year of his presidency to even say the word AIDS. I think it’s safe to say Obama’s on our side. Criticizing him specifically is not helping us move forward.

The gay rights movement is unique because it encompasses all ages, genders, classes, and races like no other movement. This can be our greatest strength or our Achilles heel. We must consider all these social groups when deciding how to move forward and in numbering our priorities. By ignoring this fact we risk alienating our comrades and dissipating our solidarity.

This brings me to the topic of entitlement. As much as people want to disagree, the gay rights movement has been historically associated with white men, and lately, rich white men. Brace yourselves: The idea of a bunch of white men soap-boxing about how they’re being oppressed doesn’t look good. The badgering of the nation’s first Black president by a bunch of white men doesn’t look good either. If you hadn’t noticed, we live in the United States where there is a public and a counter-public, where race is embedded in our history, and where racism is still very prominent. We must be sensitive to that if we are to progress with all sectors united.

We cannot expect things to happen because we’re tired, or fed up. We cannot just throw money and complain that the president can’t snap his fingers and give us rights. The civil rights movement started almost fifty years ago; today there are still disparities in education, socio-economic classes, employment and wages. Congress just apologized for slavery last week, 150 years later. If we think for a second this fight will be won because of our huffiness, we deserve to lose the fight.

Marriage should not be our top priority; yes I said it, close your mouths. While it is very high up on our list of priorities it should not be the first. Say marriage is recognized federally tomorrow, great! That will directly and immediately benefit married couples. Out of the 30 million – I’m sure there’s more – reported LGBT citizens in this country, the percentage of married individuals is what, 20%? What does it do for LGBT youth who are homeless? What does it do to fight the AIDS epidemic among LGBT men & women? Does it stop someone from being fired from their job because they’re gay? Does it allow LGBT men and women to serve openly in the military? On a broader scale, does it provide an economy stable enough to allow a gay man or woman to start his/her own business? What does it do to open dialogue among LGBT people of color with their families? These are all questions the marriage issue will not answer.

Don’t think of me as anti-marriage, I want to be able to marry a partner of my choosing as much as anyone else; but right now, I think it’s more important that the children of today and my future children be able to go to school without the fear of being bullied; it’s more important that the future gay rights leaders have a home, and support and access to health care. It’s more important that we stop the Carl Walker-Hoovers of the world from contemplating/committing suicide. While fighting the good fight of marriage equality is a good thing and should be continued; I think we should spend less time badgering each other about an issue that will affect some of us and focus our strengths on issues that will immediately affect all of us.

We cannot expect one man, no matter what station he holds, to wave a magic wand and create utopia. The pressure we’re placing on President Obama should be redirected to congress; they are the lawmakers who represent us. Our voices should be released into the streets. We should be knocking on doors, engaging in dialogue with people who may not support us and winning them over. We must provide solidarity and unity among all groups that color our rainbow flag. We cannot risk ignoring, chastising or neglecting any of these groups, and we cannot afford to make enemies.

We must use the auspices of “Social Movement 2.0” to educate ourselves, to get the word out, and to empower each other. We must continue in the fight for marriage equality, but we must also recognize the bigger picture. We can learn a lot from past movements; it is important that we take advantage of the knowledge gathered from movements before us, and even more important that our work and vigilance leave a mark for our future.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What The Prop 8 Decision Means for US

What the Prop 8 Ruling Means for US

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yesterday was a big disappointment and setback for the state of California and the US. By upholding proposition 8, CA Supreme Court declared to the nation that if you have enough money, and can lie to/scare enough people, you can take away someone's rights by simple majority. The CA government stood behind bigots and fear-mongers in upholding a law that stripped rights from an entire group of people who, before Nov. 4th, had them. I have no doubts that there will be uproar in the gay community & in the communities of our allies. The anger, however, is only the beginning.

This presents an opportunity for education, framing and organizing in solidarity. This is where DC, especially, comes in. Instead of spending the next few months waxing and brooding over yesterday’s decision, we should take this opportunity, this slap backwards, to mobilize; we must ask ourselves, "What can we learn?"

Social movements and struggles have historically, and for the most part, been fueled by an expressed indignation. People, who collectively decide to stand against oppression, have a unifying rallying call directly related to the principal fight. This indignation, however, is also the reason most social movements end up dissipating. The way a social movement is framed will determine whether it is one of lasting tenacity or is a short explosion where the flames quickly die out.

One of the protestors decreed last night, “We must stay angry”. It is the fuel which ignites our passions. This ruling has granted us an opportunity to ask ourselves some tough questions, re-evaluate our framing and move forward to a certain success.

Firstly, we must confront some of the flaws in the foundation of our movement. The gay rights movement has been historically associated as a “White Man’s Movement.” This needs to change first and foremost. Those minorities who are out and active in the community need to reach out to their peers, friends and families, share their stories and ask for their support. LGBT minorities need to come out! Of course with minorities, coming out is a sensitive and sometimes dangerous step. The responsibility falls on the LBGT community to provide support and safe space for those on the threshold.

We must also continue to be inclusive in other areas; we are not a separate entity of the transgender community so we must make their fight our own. The movement must be restructured to include people from all races, age groups, classes and genders. We are making some strides with that here in DC. Michael Crawford, president of DC for Marriage and a Black man, has gone to great lengths in the community and made great progress. I applaud Mr. Crawford on his hard work and look forward to the progress we, in the DC community, can make in the future.

We must educate ourselves in the process of educating others. There have been several, well-framed, social movements in the past. We must study them, modify them and adapt their strategies and tactics for our own. We must consult other seasoned social activists on how we can improve. We must also recognize that we can not be narcissistic in our approach. Marriage is just a small part of a much bigger struggle for equal rights; we must strive to be humanitarian first, activist second. The Black Panther Party, before it’s destruction by the Hoover era FBI, fed more children in ten weeks than the government did in ten months. They stood for equal rights for all, not just blacks. In fact, they have a specific clause which proclaims a zero-tolerance stance on discrimination against homosexuals. We could learn a lot from movements like this, we need only pick up a book.

This goes without saying, but we all must master the web 2.0 tools and resources. Yesterday, word about the DuPont protest lit up local “tweeter’s” homepages, Facebook/MySpace profiles and blogs; I believe it was a big reason why there were over 400 people present on a rainy night. We must utilize these tools to aid us in achieving the ultimate social guise, solidarity.

This practice of solidarity will promote unwavering success in the face of great adversity. The movement itself flourishes only because it involves the human condition. The right for our love to be equally acknowledged under the law is not just a talking point, it’s our American dream. We have to humble ourselves in the face of opposition; if we continue to polarize and separate ourselves from our enemies, we will be no more or less separatist than they are. Remember, although our journey will work out in history as a step forward in social progress, both sides hold firm the belief that they fight for righteousness sake. If we cannot agree with our opponents on the right to marry, perhaps we can join forces on something we do agree on.

For example, we can stand together with the Christian right to combat poverty, another pressing issue in the world, especially with the economic downturn. And although they are against “us” as a people, perhaps coming together with them to tackle a universal problem will allow them to see the true faces of the movement, to associate an actual life with what’s at stake, and perhaps change their minds. All this made possible while also doing a good deed.

We must continue to hold flame under our representatives. This country voted in a “left-of-center” congress and they deserve to reap the rewards. They are not in office to shore up their vote for a new term, cater to corporate lobbyists, or impress an interested “investor”. They sit in the halls of congress to make laws based on the will of the people and the people want serious democratic changes. It is not President Obama’s job to hold them accountable, it is our job.

In closing, let us take this set back as rather an opportunity to move forward. Equality will win in the end; it is up to us how soon that end will be. Let us be smarter, stronger, vigilant, and level headed, together. We have the power to shape our own destinies; we need only join enough hands to shape the mold.

In Solidarity,

Jamelle Thomas

P.S. Here is a list of all of my tweets from last night; enjoy!

INDC: Michael Crawford from DC for marriage & the president of EQ Maryland are here already.

INDC: Crowd is at 250 Thalia was just on fox B roll lol

INDC: DuPont is packed! & I'm short so the amount of ppl escapes me

INDC: Willow from Join the Impact speaking about Nov protests. Equal rights now!

INDC: Willow "Our community is strongest when we stand together"

INDC: it's great to see religious & clergy members here tonight!

INDC: Willow “There are over a hundred organized events across the country”

INDC: Dana Beyer, president of EQ MD speaking now.

INDC: Beyer: "it is now our responsibility to make pres. Obama & Dems (pass equal rights)!"

INDC: Lativa, pres of National Org Women, DC, "We have to be for ALL women"

INDC: Lativa "We are not going to be silent, and we are not going to be moderate"

INDC: Rev.Laurie McPherson speaking now.

INDC: McPherson "To my brothers & sisters in the cloth who are against [equal rights], you do not speak for me & you do not speak for God"

INDC: McPherson "If any clergy member tells you you're not a child of God, their collar isn't worth the twenty-five cents they paid for it"

INDC: Phil Mendelson, DC Council member, speaking now

INDC: Mendelson "we're going to keep the momentum going"

INDC: Rev. Cheeks speaking

INDC: Cheeks "Next Tuesday, there will be clergy members coming to dc in support of same-gender marriage"

INDC: Cheeks "They need to understand, we're not going away! If we cook the food, we're sitting @ the table"

INDC: Marta Every, straight ally, local leader of courage campaign, speaking now

INDC: Every "go to, watch the video Fidelity”.

INDC: Michael Crawford for DC for Marriage about to speak.

INDC: Crawford "National Organizations from every part of the country have come out in unprecedented numbers"

INDC: Crawford "When they come at us with lies, we will come at them with openness & honesty"

INDC: Leslie, no political affiliation, speaking now

INDC: Leslie "No matter how many names the Christian 'Wrong' call us, we have what they'll never have, social progress"

INDC: Leslie "we rally because we are here to say Equal Rights Now!"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Equal Rights Through a Different Lens

One of the most fascinating aspects of society, I find, is the ability for people to act rationally. It seems that the most intellectual and intelligent people are capable of arguing any given topic rationally. Once religion or their belief system is introduced, however, they lose that ability. There are people walking around with doctorates who sound like they barely have a grade school education.

I offer them a scenario, listen up DC Black People - who according to Marion Barry are all straight, bible-thumping, anti-gay activists. You say that it is your moral duty to prevent equal rights? That, by your standards/belief system, homosexuality is an abomination and thus by preventing equal protection under the law you are doing God's work? May I offer some points of logic?

1. Do you agree that there are other people in the world who either believe something different than you or believe nothing at all?

2. If yes, then is it your assertion that they should be governed by your beliefs? And if so, does that then give them unequivocal opportunity to govern you?

3. If extreme environmentalism was the predominate perception shared by a majority and they wanted to enact a law to stop the use of automobiles, would you support that bill? They would still allow you to drive your cars, but only when no one was looking, perhaps just in the woods. Any other use or visibility would be severely sanctioned.

4. Assuming the former hypothetical scenario sounded absurd, do you agree that such a law would affect your ability to prosper, that it would hinder your livelihood, your ability to secure the "American Dream?"

5. If you can concur with the above four items, then why is it so difficult for you to even remotely qualify the argument for equal rights? Why are you, as thinking individuals, unable to rationalize the supposed "LGBT Agenda" as nothing more than a pejorative label intent solely on marginalizing a community? Why can't you see that LGBT families are only looking to secure their right to prosper, maintain their livelihood, their ability to secure the "American Dream?" Is it your assertion that it will somehow deprive you of your rights?

6. You can read, can't you? Has it ever occurred to you to look up HR 1913 and see that it protects against violent acts and does not infringe on your right to free speech or religion or any other guarantor of the first amendment?

7. Is your view of the world so jaded that the idea of your child learning about different families makes you associate tolerance practices with LGBT recruiting? Really, you would go that far? You have every right to teach your child that you don't agree with Heather having two mommies, but that doesn't mean that your child has license to taunt Heather everyday, thus depriving her of her equal right to an education.

8. Do you not agree that equal protection legislation might have helped fund stricter anti-bullying programs in schools; that it may have prevented two 11-year-old boys from taking their life? Does the idea that a child feeling like he had no other option, not sadden you?

9. Statistically, countries, and even states, who have enacted equal protection laws see a drop in hate crimes. People are being educated.

10. Equal rights and equal protection are as vital to the livelihood of LGBT people as yours are to you. Regardless of your personal beliefs, it is illogical to assert your ideals should govern the rights of others. The first amendment protects our choice of religion and also protects us from religion. Your moral debate should go on in your homes, and not in the halls of congress.

Just another look at your glorious equal rights debate, that shouldn't be a debate at all.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How Many More? A Republican Disgust

On any given day, I can typically argue a policy point on logic alone without inserting any personal feelings. Today, however, I feel compelled to share my feelings on the actions taken by a select group of republican congressmen on the Matthew Shepard Act. It sickens and disgusts me that anyone would possess the audacity to seek to limit or make a mockery of a bill that could very well help prevent violent, bias-motivated crime. Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Congressman Steve King (R-IA) sought to stall hate crime legislation in congress by proposing asinine amendments and changes in nomenclature. Gohmert & King, who have been quoted as against all hate crimes legislation, introduced specious amendments to protect “immutable characteristics” such as eye color, hair color - or lack thereof - to the classes covered by the bill in order to make a mockery of the legislation’s purpose to protect actual targeted minorities from hate violence. – HRC Backstory.
In the wake of not one, but two recent suicides of children because of bullying, how can you not take this bill seriously? How can you possibly make a mockery of hate crimes legislation when people are being brutally murdered with fire extinguishers or shot in the head, or robbed, tortured and left to die alone in a field? How many more kids need to commit suicide before you realize that your government bid is not equal to a human life? It is baffling to me that people think their “moral values” somehow give them license to leave minority groups unprotected. You may not agree with homosexuality, but does that mean people should be able to beat LGBT people to a pulp? Is it okay to kill a “perceived” LGBT citizen because they’re immoral in your eyes? What about black people? A little over 40 years ago, racism was a social norm, was it okay, then, for a group of white men to rape and kill a little black girl on the way home from school? What will future generations, those who will most likely see a more equal world, think of your ideals, Congressmen? Why is it so hard for you to get past all the religious, bible-thumping smut and see that whether you like it or not, LGBT people exist and they deserve to be protected like every other American citizen?
The minute an LGBT issue arises, people play the child card. “My children will have to learn that homosexuality is okay”. The fact that this argument is recycled from when schools were desegregated doesn’t change the counter-argument. Adults let their cynical minds get in the way of rationality. Firstly, there are very few schools that actually teach about “marriage” itself. It’s not something kids need to know about at age 3. What they do teach is tolerance; it helps children to interpret the world around them. The idea of right and wrong has no bearing on actuality, and frankly, if children are taught that some families have one dad and some have two, it can only stand to help them become tolerant of people who are different from them. People hear this and think, “I don’t want my kid learning about that.” But what’s so wrong with teaching a child that not everybody is the same, and that we should respect each other’s differences even when we do not agree. Maybe a review of the different types of American families can potentially stop a child from torturing someone who happens to have two moms, or two dads. After all, children learn to poke fun and ridicule differences from none other than their parents. So, Congressmen, can children be tortured, relentlessly, to the point of suicide, all while teachers and administrators turn a blind eye? What needs to happen for you to realize that this is not a joke? People are dying over ignorance and it has nothing to do with anyone’s “agenda”. The Hate Crimes Legislation Bill is ten years overdue; all the while tens of thousands of people have been targeted and brutalized because someone thought it was cool or funny, or their duty under “God’s Will.” It is disgusting that people let their ideology blind them into refusing simple humanity for others. It especially baffles me that people stand behind Christianity-the alleged religion of love-to justify the endorsement of hate and discrimination. How dare you tell someone that they are less of a human being because they don’t believe what you believe? How can you close your eyes to the violence that impacts LGBT families every day? You, Congressmen, and those who support your opinions, are vile, loathsome, detestable human beings and I am absolutely comfortable generalizing all of you with regards to this topic. Wake up!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why Our Children Need to Know

It seems odd that someone like myself, a generation X twenty-something, would discuss a topic such as this. I assure you that this blog, in no way, attempts to profess my mastery in child-rearing; rather, it will address significance in youth education in both foresight and retrospect.

With the fast-moving 21st century cycle of news and information, people have infinite sources from which to draw. If you’ll recall, my previous blog on education discussed the lack of literary prowess in school curriculum. In this blog, I feel it necessary to discuss the lack of historical significance in the public school curriculum.

Yesterday, America inaugurated the first African-American president in front of an estimated 1.5 million people, I being one of them. Walking back with the masses toward the subways, I pondered several different theories. For the past eight years, we have been in a slump; our education has dwindled, our morale has taken a nose dive and our reputation around the world has been greatly tarnished. Yesterday marked both a turning point and a huge opportunity to help our newly elected president and representatives restore America to its rightful place. One place that should begin is in our schools.

America, with all its faults, has one of the greatest historical accounts in the history of civilization. Unfortunately, this has been watered down and proselytized before delivered to our public schools. Accounts from the different cultures that make up America have all been relegated to one-month-out-of-the-year mini-lessons instead of integrated into standard curriculum. Theories on why these have been left out, or rather have been included “affirmative-action style” can stem all the way back to the early 17th century.

Regardless of the reason for the oversight, the reality is crippling. My point being, if children were educated like other countries, with a rich history of their nation and others – including the good and the bad, we would have adults who are less complacent and more active in their government. Yes, America’s history is very short compared to several other countries, but our achievements and accomplishments saturate the small end of the timeline where we reside.

Perhaps omitting certain historical accounts served as a vehicle for those in power to hold steady the hand of marginalization over those it shadowed. I’ve heard so many people talking about how President Obama’s administration will do so much for the African-American youth by setting an example of the potential all of us possess. But what if the cultural legacies of all who inhabited the United States since its birth, were included in the rich history lessons of grade school? What if the lives of the Little Rock Nine were included in the everyday lessons of middle school children? What if the accomplishments of 19 year-old Mexican-American activist Carlos Montes were taught to high school students, or memoirs from Bobby Seale or Huey Newton were addressed on a history final? In fact, if the adolescent history of the country were juxtaposed with the stories of all its youthful pioneers, would the idea of an African American president be so far-fetched? If American children were immersed in the rich history of where we have been and how far we have come, would the glass ceilings be so thick?

It is said that Obama’s victory cemented him as a role model for African-American youth and there is no doubt about that. But what we should look at, while taking a step forward, is revitalizing education so that the students who graduate tomorrow will have a solid pride in their country and their culture. Frankly, the idea that there has to be a Black history and a Mexican history and an Asian history, is and should be found, ridiculous. These stories, milestones, defeats and achievements are an integral part of American history. They serve as the spine and foundation of our country; regardless of the transgressions they make up American DNA. Yes, the American story may be a sobering one, but its fabric binds us together.

In the days ahead, what we face is a long journey up a steep hill. But we have been here before. Ordinary people, often young in age, have faced these kinds of mountains and they have reached the summit over and over again. By bestowing upon our youth the history of American ingenuity, we give them both a hammer and a leg up toward the glass ceiling. By canvassing both America’s tribulations and achievements, we can sustain them with the idea that we are and have always been greater than our lesser ideals. By highlighting the impact of ordinary people to endeavor upon extraordinary things we instill in our youth a lingering responsibility to live up to their predecessors, to take interest in our government and to feel entitled to their rights, their liberty and their prosperity.