This past weekend’s 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, reminds us that much work still needs to be done to bring equality to everyone in this country. More importantly, it shows that voices united can make a difference. Without a united voice from people regardless of their race, ethnicity, creed, immigration status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, we could not begin to tackle issues like voting rights, economic justice, immigration reform, or the repealing of stand your ground laws.
This quest does not just fall on the shoulders of individuals like Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton; it falls on every individual in this country who believes that equality applies to everyone, not just a select few. Let’s face the facts we cannot just expect the individuals who originally marched back in 1963 or have fought for equality since to continue to push equality for my generation and the generation to follow. They will not be around forever and it would be a great injustice if we simply stood by idle and let their hard fought battle, which caused some their lives, to go for naught.
Fortunately, this commemorative march brought together people of all generations who are committed to fight the long hard battle for equality. Some may have been galvanized by the Travon Martin case, the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the push for immigration reform, jobs, LGBT equality, DC statehood or a variety of issues. Regardless of the individual goal, we see that so much has been accomplished in the past 50 years, but much more still needs to be done.
As we know, equality won’t be achieved simply by showing up on the National Mall on a sun soaked Saturday afternoon in late August. However, the strong showing of support for issues of equality at the seat of our government shows our elected officials and people around the country (and the world) that progress will not be thwarted because the strength is in the numbers. Now we as a country must turn our attention to not only a plan of action, but to being more civically and politically involved.
We must make being civically involved more than just a requirement to graduate high school or to be able to get into a good college or university. Don’t get me wrong this required civic engagement is important. However, when something is required it is often seen as just something to needs to be done quickly and never be done again. Instead, we need to instill in our friends, family, and co-workers that being civically involved is a lifelong commitment that makes us better as a society.
What’s the best way to do this you may ask? Well, you can start by volunteering for a cause that you personally connect with and bring a few friends, family members, or co-workers who feel the same way as you do. And if it is done as a requirement, focusing on an area of importance to you will help to eliminate the stigma associated with doing things as a requirement. Additionally, the organizations will benefit as well because they stand to gain committed volunteers who will show up year around, not just at critical academic times.
The work does not stop with finding an organization that you connect to on a personal level. We need to start thinking about why these organizations are needed in a society where we expect the government to protect and care for the people. This is where the political engagement comes in.
Volunteering may fill you with a sense of pride, accomplishment or civic duty, but it should also fill you with a sense of political engagement. The aim of the organization you so freely give your time for may be to provide job training and clothing for low income residents of your city for example. However, some thought should also be given to what is the government doing about employment and why is this organization filling this void?
The simple answer is going to be that the government does not have the money or the capacity to take care of every person in this country. Fair enough. In this case this organization is filling the void and you are helping to ensure that we live in an effective society. But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute and say that while this is true, this doesn’t simply mean the government can just release all responsibility. The government should at least be helping to subsidize some of these services or at the very least create a pipeline to government employment with these organizations.
But as we all know, we don’t live in an ideal world and things are not always so black in white. That is why we need to be political engaged to see exactly why the government may not be able to provide job training for these low income individuals in your city. It may be discovered that the root of the problem is your elected official who doesn’t see this as a pressing issue or the mismanagement of funds. If this were the case you would know how to act politically to try to rectify the problem— reach out to your elected official, vote another person in office, call for greater accountability, etc.
Simply, civic and political engagement is by no means easy or provides a quick fix to issues, but we all have the power to change things for the better because of them. That is a major take away from the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington; we have the power to change things and can do so with some hard work and a plan of action. If we as a society increase our efforts even a little bit, equality for all can and will be accomplished. We owe it to those who paved the way before us and the future generations of this country.
Originally posted at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2012/12/10/obama-leader-of-change-and-progress/
In the wee morning hours of November 7th, I like many Americans had my heavy sleep deprived eyes glued to the TV as President Obama addressed his supporters and the nation. Make no mistake about it; this was a moment for history. The first African American president in the history of the United States had been reelected to a second term, cementing his rightful place in history and showing the world that his initial election was not a fluke.
Let’s face it, President Obama was facing tremendous pressure in his reelection campaign. Would he end up going down in history as the first African-American president who was only able to serve one term? Would he still have the same support he had in 2008? How would his handling of the economy and stance on social issues sit with voter when they went to cast their ballots?
Therefore, President Obama’s decision to come out in support of same sex marriage so close to reelection was even more important. This decision showed us that President Obama was a leader who talked-the-talked and walked-the-walk. More importantly, his advocacy has shown Americans that equality is an issue that has been ignored for too long and now is the time to start making change.
His reelection coincided with a number of major victories for LGBT equality across the country. For the first time, all of the ballot measures dealing with marriage equality came out in favor of marriage equality advocates and allowed them to place a check mark in the victory column. Social conservatives were handed a defeat as they tried to remove an Iowa Supreme Court judge who had voted to legalize gay marriage in 2009 (despite the fact that they had previously succeeded in removing three judges in 2010). Additionally, 118 out of 180 gay candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund won their respective races—including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin who becomes the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate.
In many ways the LGBT community and advocates owe part of these victories to President Obama and his administration. Now I know some are saying that is absolutely absurd and are ready to write negative comments about how misguided I am. But I ask you give me a second to make my point.
I am in no way trying to demean the efforts by millions of Americans who have fought for years to obtain equality for the LGBT community. The successes to date are directly a result of their blood, sweat, tears, hard work, and determination. However, we have to look no further than the Civil Rights Movement to see how the support of an administration can mean the world to the quest for equality.
The election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 not only marked an era of change but a new era for progressives and their goals. President Obama with his mantra of change ushered in a new way of thinking and a more progressive government needed for modern times. President Obama was not about to let the old way of thinking get in the way of creating a greater America for all. As a result, we have witnessed an administration that has done more to extended equality to the LGBT community than any before it.
While some may counter and say that President Obama has not done enough, we cannot discount all that has been done for the LGBT community. I personally would have liked to see an end to work place discrimination with the passage of sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act. We have far too many LGBT workers either suffering from high unemployment or are a decision away of losing their jobs simply for being who they are. But we all must acknowledge that all of the issues affecting the LGBT community cannot be solved in four short years.
The president’s support of LGBT issues and his evolution on marriage equality are a tremendous boost to progressives everywhere. Regardless if LGBT equality may be the “sexy” issue, leaning too far left on these issues could have ended up being a political liability. Even in the face of a reelection campaign where social issues may not have been the biggest hot button issue, President Obama’s decisions on these issues could have cost him some critical votes. Yet, he chose to stand on the side of equality. He did not waver. He did not back down.
That is simply what we ask of a leader—to stand up for those in need and ensure that they are treated fairly and equally with the rest of society—especially the President of the United States. President Obama has done just that. He should be commended for that. He could have buckled under the pressure that he has done much for the LGBT community but did not do nearly enough in other areas like immigration.
When the leader of the free world throws his support behind something, people take notice. Knowing that the president makes equality a priority helps to elevate reservations that some may have when it comes to progressive measures. I am sure that some voters who were on the fence about LGBT equality were swayed with the fact that the President of the United States was able to evolve on equality issues, so why shouldn’t they?
Simply, we need to be thanking President Obama for his unwavering leadership when it comes to LGBT equality. He has allowed equality to be the topic of conversation for a number of people who otherwise would not because his presidency has galvanized people politically. His leadership is ushering us forward, not back. Full LGBT equality is closer because President Obama has had the courage to make it so.
Even though Hurricane Irene may have thwarted the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, a number of events were held all over the area to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy. Among these events was “Building the Dream for LGBT Equality: Reflections on the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” which was presented by a number of LGBT organizations. Events such as this have allowed the issue of LGBT equality, particularly in the Black community, to once again be discussed in the context of civil rights. After attending this event and reading opinion pieces from Rev. Dennis Wiley, Ph.D. (a contributor for the FIRE initiative at the Center for American Progress and pastor of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ), all I could think is, how can some individuals in the Black community not see LGBT equality as a civil rights issue?
Being a child of the ‘80s who grew up reading about the civil rights movement in textbooks and hearing recounts from older members of my family, I’ve always had a strong emotional connection to the fight for equality. I could not fathom why at any point in our nation’s history, such disregard could be had for a race of people to treat them as mere property and eventually second-class citizens. I am not sure why I had such an emotional reaction to the stories I read or videos I saw about the civil rights movement; after all, I could turn on the TV and see people like me on weekly sitcoms or the news and I did not have to use separate entrances or attend segregated schools. But what I did know is that it was fundamentally wrong to treat a group of people with such disdain just because they were what God intended them to be—Black.
In its simplest form, the fight for LGBT equality has a lot in common with the civil rights movement—equality. Millions of LGBT Americans are suffering because of legislation that is preventing them from being able to obtain items such as equal housing, employment, and health care. This is particularly the case in the Black community. I could talk at length ad nauseam about the number of studies that show that Black LGBT individuals and families disproportionately have lower wages and higher rates of unemployment than their White LGBT counterparts that make obtaining basic necessities an everyday battle. But these are statistics that we all already know. What some in the Black community don’t seem to realize, however, is that these issues are civil rights issues.
Let’s take a moment to think about if the shoe was on the other foot. Hypothetically speaking, let’s imagine a young Black man was unable to marry his fiancé, receive quality health care, and was in constant fear of violence because he was Black and minimal legislation was on the books to protect him from discrimination. What would we say? His civil rights are being impeded upon because he is being denied things that every other member of society can have, simply because he is Black. And I am pretty sure one would have no problem finding hundreds if not thousands of people who would rally around this issue and work hard to get legislation passed to stop this infringement of civil rights. Unfortunately, this hypothetical situation plays out every day not on the basis of skin color but on the basis of one’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.
Yet while many people are rallying to change these discriminatory laws, just as many are fighting to keep them in place. As a society we are so consumed with the sexual acts that occur between two LGBT individuals that we cannot see the forest through the trees. The Black community is no exception. We either condemn or totally ignore one’s sexual orientation or gender identity if we do not agree with it, even if it is slapping us right in the face. The Bible is often used to condemn homosexuality, without any regard to the person that one is inflicting the condemnation on. At the end of the day, it does not matter if you do not agree with what LGBT individuals do in the privacy of their homes. What does matter is that a group of people are not afforded the same measures of equality that non-LGBT individuals enjoy.
It breaks my heart to hear individuals like Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr. (an NAACP board member) say that the gay community needs to “stop hijacking the civil rights movement.” No one is trying to hijack anything. It is deplorable that some members of a group that was denied equality (and in many ways is still fighting for equality) would turn their backs on their own just because they identify by a different sexual orientation or gender identity. If nothing else, Blacks should be sympathetic to the struggles for equality that Black LGBT (and non-Black LGBT) individuals are currently facing. It was not that long ago that the rights of Blacks were impeded simply because their skin color was Black and not White.
At the end of the day, civil rights are just that: civil rights. They know no color, race, gender, or religion. These boundaries are placed by people who think it is in their power to deny equality to others. But I say, who are we to deny the rights we ourselves enjoy because we do not like the way a person expresses who they are? I challenge those in the Black community who oppose LGBT equality to take a long, hard look in the mirror. I am sure you will come to the conclusion that Black LGBT equality is simply a civil rights issue—one of equality.