Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Time of Separatism is Over

Deb Press is the co-founder of PFLAG Sandusky/Firelands in Ohio. She was asked to speak at a celebration of the First Women's Rights Convention, held in 1848 at Seneca Falls, in July. This is her speech.

What a joyful day. I am privileged to be a part of this beautiful gathering. And I celebrate that We are one. Today we stand together under one banner. The time of separatism is over.

We, like Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglass are male and female. But we are also transgender. Today our gathering is multi-racial...black and white and Latino and Asian and all the mixtures possible. On that July day in 1848, the gathering was not so mixed. The condition and rights of women at that first Women's Rights Convention was primarily a fight for the vote by white women. Today, we are Catholic and Protestant and Pagan and Jewish and Quaker and Evangelical and Muslim and Buddhist and Agnostic and Atheist too. Today we are from many classes, rich and poor alike. Today we hold many job titles, and in these difficult economic times, many of us are without gainful employment. Many women are nickeled and dimed to death working 2 and 3 part-time, low paying jobs at minimum wage trying to support their families.

As I look around today I see we are old and young. Today we are single and married and widowed and divorced and separated and because there is no right to legally marry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and those questioning their sexuality, we have a category called, "partnered" or "with a significant other." We are Republican and Democratic and Independent. Are there any Abolitionists in the crowd today? We are one.

Today we stand together under one banner. The time of separatism is over.

As a lesbian woman during the 1970s I felt that The Equal Rights Movement was primarily a straight woman's fight. Many of my lesbian sisters worked hard for the cause, but there was a fear that the day could be lost if women were seen as man-haters or too butch. The fear was strong and the separatism was hurtful. I remember feeling like Sojourner Truth who so eloquently asked, "Ain't I a Woman too?"

We are one. Today we stand together under one banner. The time of separatism is over.

In 1972 Jeanne Manford started an international movement when she marched with her son Mortie in New York's Gay Pride Parade. Enraged that her son had been beaten at a gay rights protest two months before while police did nothing, she carried a sign at the Pride march that said, "Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children". After many gay and lesbian people ran up to Jeanne during the parade and begged her to talk to their parents, she decided to begin a support group. The first formal meeting took place in March 1973 at a local church. 36 years later, Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) has grown to include more than 500 chapters nationwide, over 200,000 members, supporters and affiliates, representing the largest chapter network in the struggle for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights.

Today, the mission of PFLAG is tri-fold: Support, Educate and Advocate. PFLAG is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people (people who haven't figured out what sexuality they are yet). The mission statement is clear that no legislation will be accepted unless it includes us all. PFLAG won't ever be accused of omitting any segment out of fear that it would hurt the cause. I am proud to be a co-founder of the Sandusky/Firelands Chapter of PFLAG. We gather every 3rd Sunday at the Frost Center in Osborn Park. All are welcome. Next year we will celebrate our 10th anniversary.

I have marched in many gay pride parades. The biggest round of applause always goes up for the PFLAG contingents. You see, not all mom's and dad's are accepting of their GLBT children. But PFLAG gives us hope. PFLAG offers a safe space. No longer do GLBTQ people have to feel abandoned or rejected. At PFLAG We are one. Today We stand together under one banner. The time of separatism is over.

But, the work isn't done. Yes, women have come along way, but lesbians and gays and bisexual and transgender people are not yet equal. I can not legally marry in Ohio, or most states. There are no laws protecting partners in times of sickness or upon death. I can be fired from a job because of my sexual orientation. While I am pretty out, my neighbors don't know I am lesbian. I don't think they know. Fear does continue.

Judy Shephard has become a spokesperson for PFLAG. Judy is the mother of Mathew, the young man from Laramie WY, who was brutally beaten and hung on a fence post, left to die alone. How can we still tolerate hatred and bigotry? Let us remember her words:

"Every parent dreads the telephone call in the middle of the night. Our lives were changed forever by that phone call; we awakened to the realities of intolerance. We will not give up until every family can avoid getting that late night phone call. I owe that to my son. And that's why PFLAG is so important - because, together, we are working towards a safer world."

And so I say, "We are one." Today we stand together under one banner. The time of separatism is over.

1 comment:

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