Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where's the Fire in Your Belly?

Equality Alamaba held its annual gala on Saturday night, and the keynote speaker was Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a native of Troy, Alabama.

Pam Spaulding, of Pam's House Blend, wrote a powerful entry about this event on Tuesday's Bilerico blog. You can read the full version here. In part, she said:

"Rep. Lewis played a legendary and fearless role in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. He is a man who believes in LGBT civil equality with equal conviction, and he immediately signed on to DOMA repeal legislation.

This is significant in a day when there is a clear dearth of support in the religious black community. Lewis has the moral standing that a homophobe in the pulpit like Bishop Harry Jackson can never touch. John Lewis took batons to the head and was beaten to unconsciousness multiple times for equality - courage and moral conviction that Jackson and his fellow charlatans of bigotry are bereft of.

Rep. Lewis could have let someone else take the baton to the head for his rights. He didn't; his rights were too important to him to not lead by example.

Rep. Lewis spoke eloquently about the simplicity of the government staying out of the lives of gay and lesbian couples. He said that there is no need to "save" marriage from two people who simply want to love one another and be legally affirmed in the same way that heterosexual couples are when they marry.

But perhaps the most powerful message was to those in the LGBT community who are waiting for equality to come to them. Lewis charged us to seize the moment, to not accept being told to wait our turn, to demand our rights through our representative, and most of all to take personal responsibility. The message we all heard was loud and clear. Too many LGBTs are in the closet waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting and lead. We are all capable of leading by kicking that closet door open.

I asked Rep. Lewis what, as an LGBT person of color, I can do to encourage more of "us" to come out, to address the issues of faith and reconciliation with one's sexual orientation when there is both hostility toward faith in many slices of the out gay community and denial of the impact of the closet in the black community.

He said that as he travels to conferences he sees more and more out black and gay representation. Steady, he says, but still very slowly. He said that the walls are slowly breaking down among pastors who are seeing that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" social policy within the community can not hold sway forever.

I have to tell you -- what is our problem, people? John Lewis wanted his rights badly enough to take personal responsibility to act on it. There are many in the LGBT community -- take the folks in Washington State and Maine right now -- who have their shoulders to the wheel because so much is at stake.

It's pretty clear, however, that if there's not a galvanizing issue of that magnitude, in most places people would rather show up to a rally, party or Pride event than write a letter to a state legislator, knock on a few doors to speak to neighbors about the fact that there are no protections for state employees, or heaven forbid, personally meet with their elected officials (if they even know who they are).

What's wrong with this picture? I am asking this in all seriousness because I truly do not understand the inertia and disinterest in playing a more active role (at any level) for their rights. Is there the fire in the belly? Will the people who attend the National Equality March really go home and participate in the more mundane but equally important ways to move equality forward with the same level of enthusiasm that motivates and energizes them to go to DC in the first place? I'm just tossing it out there for discussion."


David S. Fishback said...

At the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG, we have educated local officials and sought to advance issues of equality in the public square. We have also gone to court to defend (successfully) efforts of the Montgomery County, MD, public school system to implement sound health education curriculum dealing with matters of sexual orientation.

Right now, the big fights are in Washington State and Maine. But for PFLAGers who are coming to the National Equality March on October 11, in our nation's capital, we invite you to march with us, Metro DC PFLAG. Please contact the Metro DC PFLAG Office (202-638-3852 or e-mail We will be meeting at the beginning of the parade route and plan to march as a group to the rally at the Capitol.

David S. Fishback
Board Member, Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG

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