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: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/10/AR2009091004414.html

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.