Last weekend Spartanburg, SC hosted its first Pride celebration, and it was a tremendous success. Below is the op-ed piece that Junie White, Spartanburg Mayor, wrote supporting Pride and the GLBT community. We send out a huge thank you to Mr. White for taking an unpopular stand in a very conservative area and not backing down.
Do we really have civil rights for all in the city of Spartanburg?
I grew up in Gaffney in the 1940s and '50s. We shared a lot of simple joys back then, growing up in a small Southern town. But a lot of folks did not enjoy the same privileges and rights as I because they were not white. We accepted things then that are unthinkable today.
I had white and African-American friends. If I went to the movies with black friends, we would go to the theater together, but when we entered my black friends would have to go to the balcony and I stayed downstairs. We just accepted it. Afterward, if we wanted to have a soda or a snack, we couldn't go to the Blue Bird soda fountain and sit together. So I would go buy the drinks and we would sit outside. I just accepted that this was the way things were, never questioned whether it was right or wrong.
Is that what is happening to the gay and lesbian people today because we think they are different?
Well, the time for just accepting the way things are is over. We have laws that protect against racial discrimination, and it's time to protect those of different sexual orientations. No one should be discriminated against for whom they love, for wanting to walk down the street holding hands, or for sharing things a free American should have the right to share.
Great leaders of our time understand that the civil rights of gay people must be recognized. They express it better than I can.
In 2008, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond gave the keynote speech at the National Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality. He stated, "When I am asked ‘Are gay rights civil rights?' my answer is always, ‘Of course they are.' ‘Civil rights' are positive legal prerogatives — the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by all — there is no one in the United States who does not — or should not — share in these rights. Gay and lesbian rights are not ‘special rights' in any way. It isn't ‘special' to be free from discrimination — it is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship."
The King Center in Atlanta lists homophobia under racism, as one of the triple evils that must be remedied. The late Coretta Scott King said, "We have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say ‘common struggle' because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender or ethnic discrimination."
It is difficult to address Mike Smith's recent remarks about religion. A newspaperman should know that we live in a nation built on laws to protect our civil rights, not a nation where religious authorities control the government and the people.
I think it is wonderful that we live in a nation where all people are protected under the law to worship according to any faith, how they please and when they please, a nation where everyone can speak freely without fear.
I believe that in time, just like with the right of American women to vote, and the right of people of any race to marry people of another race, most people will come to agree that all people should be afforded the same right to love and marry whom they please, work where they please, and enjoy these rights without worry.
All the LGBT folks want to do is have a march, to be recognized in their struggle to have the same rights as all other Americans. As mayor of the city of Spartanburg, I am proud that their organization came forward to ask for the proclamation, because they believe in our city, that Spartanburg is a place where all persons can speak up without fear.
This is a quote that has stuck with me, by Congressman John Lewis: "Rather than divide and discriminate, let us come together and create one nation. We are all one people. We all live in the American house. We are all the American family. Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles and dreams. It's time we treated them as equals, as family."
Spartanburg is a great city and can be even better. Let us come together and create one city, where we treat everyone as equals. We have come a long way. Let's continue to march forward.