Over the few last years, I have found myself amused while giving a speech when someone stands up and demands to know why we picked this or that issue to fight. Especially in the early years of the marriage debate, concerned members of the community wanted to know why we were struggling with this issue now when clearly America wasn't ready. I was amused because often there is this image of a group of leaders sitting around the table deciding that we will go with this issue or that issue at any particular moment.
That simply has not been my experience.
Instead, I have found the leaders, including myself, running to catch up to an issue that was suddenly thrust forward by events rather than by carefully planned decisions. No one put Rosa Parks on the bus, she was just tired and the Montgomery Boycott took place. The police dogs and fire hoses of Birmingham did more to pass the 1964 civil rights bill than all the meetings in the world. The same can be said of the bridge at Selma and the role it played in pushing passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Average citizens exhibiting extraordinary courage forced the rest of the world to catch up with their sheer determination to be free.
With the war in Vietnam, it was the same. The Tet Offensive propelled Senator Eugene McCarthy forward in New Hampshire and Senator Robert Kennedy into the race. The Life Magazine picture of the naked young girl running down the street in Hue covered in burns from napalm helped turn a horrified America away from this war. The man burning himself alive outside the Pentagon to protest the war changed Defense Secretary Robert McNamara more than the tens of thousands who marched on that building. Again, the individual with courage suddenly was showing us the way. Challenging us to do more and to do it now.
For us in the LGBT community, there has been excellent work by such groups as Freedom to Marry and especially Evan Wolfson to prepare for such a moment. However it was the thousands and thousands who stood in the pouring rain in San Francisco waiting to get married that inspired a nation to embrace this cause. Those brave souls gave us clarity - not to mention humanity - on a complicated issue. Standing in that line, those renegades realized that marriage provided the solution to so many of issues that would give them total citizenship in America. The Massachusetts ruling gave the needed boost and caught many of us attempting to play catch up.
No one can deny that the crucifixion of young Matthew Shepard gave us a new energy around hate crimes. In good, part the hate crimes legislation was passed this week because of the agonizing hours that Matthew spent on that fence. So many others who were brutally murdered and beaten, especially in the transgendered community, forced us to fight back literally for our lives. Anita Bryant, who came out of nowhere in Miami, did more to define our issues in the late 1970's than all the planners who had a neat agenda. The first cases of HIV/AIDS changed our long term plans for gay liberation into a fight for survival and holding our own against hateful amendments introduced by the likes of Senator Jesse Helms. Bill Clinton saying "I have a vision and you are part of it" in 1992, led the community into a more political direction to seek answers and solutions to our oppression.
Now once again we are being transformed by the courage of individuals (especially our young!) and current events. There is no question that the passage of Proposition 8 and even more interestingly the Department of Justice brief on DOMA have transformed us to into an unstoppable civil rights movement. LGBT citizens are no longer willing to wait, to have their rights handed to them at the whim of or for the convenience of any politician. They want full equality now. They want marriage and they want to serve their country. They want to keep their lover from another country with them in America. They want our young to be protected against harassment in the schools. They want all the 1,000 rights and privileges granted to all our Americans under civic marriage. It is not about emulating traditional marriage or assimilating or losing our culture; it is simply about full equality and total freedom.
No longer is it about fighting this bigot in one state and another bigot in another state next year. Nor is it about picking our issues at pleasure and choosing which ones to fight and often basing that decision on the needs of some elected official. Quite honestly we don't care anymore if President Obama believes marriage is between a man and a woman or if Majority Leader Harry Reid has problems because of his Mormon faith or Speaker Nancy Pelosi worries about the 50 plus "Blue Dog Conservative Democrats" who are up for reelection next year. Their issues pale compared to the oppression, injustice and system of Apartheid being established against the LGBT community. They can deal with their own conflicts politically and we will proceed spiritually with sheer determination for our freedom.
We can't line up our issues like planes over Chicago's O'Hare airport, calmly allowing the easy smaller planes to land first and then saving for last the bigger more complex jumbo jets. That strategy could take decades. Can any of you imagine the civil rights leaders cheering President Kennedy if he told them in 1962 at a White House reception to trust him and they would be happy in eight years? As a group, they would have walked out, appalled at the suggestion that their freedom had to be stretched out nearly a decade in some nice plan. They simply would have not tolerated it.
Nor can we.
The community has let us know what they want. They want full equality now. Included in that package are all of our issues. LGBT citizens don't want to negotiate our freedom away and take years to achieve it. That is the issue: full equality. One day more of any denial of any of our freedoms is unacceptable. The brutality and anger directed to our transgendered allies is unacceptable. Creating a new language to describe our relationship thus continuing the march toward Apartheid is unacceptable. Tolerating our allies ducking and weaving to avoid taking tough stands on behalf of our freedom is unacceptable. Allowing our freedom to be an issue of majority rights is unacceptable.
We come from a proud history and culture, brought together by a common oppression. Many have died for us to be at this moment and many more have been beaten, lost their jobs, served time in jail and suffered in order for us to stand together now. We cannot dishonor them nor can we dishonor each other by accepting anything less than the honor, dignity and rights given to all other Americans. Until that moment, we will not stand patiently by waiting until others decide it is our turn.
We have too much pride for that.
Final Installment Tomorrow: "What Now?"