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Posts Tagged ‘Civil rights movement

Why November’s Election is SO Important

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I’ve been trying to get this thought out, now, for almost a month.  One thing after another has gotten in the way of its completion.  Yet, I feel it’s vitally important for me to get it out.  Then, last Wednesday following the Scott Walker recall election, I was presented with just the catalyst I needed to see it through.

While out playing music, which is what I do, this local homeless Viet Nam vet came up to me and pushed my button!  “Well, those stupid fucking Democrats really took it up the ass yesterday!”  Now, I’m use to his vitriolic statements.  He’s still at war.  I get that.  I’ve known him for quite some time.  And, his conversations are usually right along that same line.  And, typically, I just listen to his rhetoric, smile, nod, and go on about my day.  It usually works.  Not today.  Today, he pushed my buttons.  He pushed my buttons because he reminded me, up close and person, of exactly why it is of extreme importance for Obama to win in November.

This isn’t about politics, really.  This is about loving and caring.  This is about tolerance.   This is more about right and wrong.  And, it’s about survival.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m no professional political analyst.  Not even close.  In fact, the only thing I am, as a professional, is a musician.  I’m a single, gay, black male.  I’m an older black male who was around, albeit as a young boy, when blacks were fighting for their own right to exist.

Our country is entrenched in a cultural war.  That should be no secret to anyone with a pulse.  We’re seeing a second-coming of the Civil Rights movement of the 60s as the LGBT community fight, essentially for their right to even exist.  Just as blacks did in the 50s and 60s.  The parallels are undeniable.

Of course, there are many who would vehemently disagree with me.  Over and over again, I’ve read this older black leader or another protest the notion that today fight for equal rights by the LGBT community is an extension of the Civil Rights battle of the 60s.  I can state as a black man who lived during those times as a young black boy in the South that it is, indeed, the same fight.  In truth, despite their efforts to distance themselves from today’s struggle, it is the same fight being fought against the same establishment.  The same hateful, mean-spirited, bigoted people who wanted to keep Blacks “in their place” 50-60 years ago now want to do the same with the LGBT community.  Well, of course not the same people.  That was a half-century ago.  However, it IS, in fact, the same establishment.  Now, before I get called out on this for not knowing my history, I’m very well aware that there were Democrats and Republicans, alike, who were fighting against Civil Rights back then, whereas today’s war is being waged solely by the ultra right-wing, Christian fundamentalists.  In that day, the political lines were a bit more blurred than they are today.  Today, there is an unmistakable gulf of a line drawn between the two parties.  And, that division has permeated our entire society.  We’re very much a “them and us” culture.  And, therein lies the problem.

Listen, I’m a Democrat, myself.  However, I can readily acknowledge that there’s a lot that Obama has not done during his current presidency.  He’s left a lot to be desired.  I get it.  At the same time, I was realistic enough from the beginning to know that he WOULDN’T be able to do but so much.  Why?  There was no way “they” were going to let a smooth-talking black President show but so much accomplishment.  The Civil Rights struggle of the 60s may have been won in theory, but in reality there are still struggles on the racial front, as well.

Today’s Civil Rights struggle is being fought by the LGBT community, making this the second Civil Rights struggle that I will be directly affected by.  As with the Blacks in the 50s and 60s, all we’re seeking is equality.  That’s it.  Simple equality.  We want to be able to marry the person we love.  Legally.  We want to be protected against discrimination in the workplace and in the housing market.  We want the hate crime laws to protect every single America, which include us.  We want to see an end to the incessant bullying of our LGBT youth, sanctioned legally in some states!, which is leading far-too-many of them to end their lives.  In short, we just want the right to live our lives, as who we are, just as freely as our heterosexual counterparts.  That’s really not asking too much, and it certainly isn’t asking for “special rights” as they try to make you believe

Why IS is so incredibly important that the current President of the United States win the election this year? The answer is quite simple, actually.  The short answer is if Obama fails to retain the White House, our culture will be doomed back to the days, and ways, of Ward, June, Wally, and the Beav.  It’s that simple.  That’s the utopian world they envision.  That’s the simple answer.  A deeper look reveals a much more disturbing picture.  Failure by Obama to win the White House in November will ensure:

  1. Every single hard-fought gain the LGBT community has made will be erased.  The few states that do have marriage equality?  Gone.  Anti-discrimination policies that protects the LGBT community?  Forget about it.
  2. The death rate amongst LGBT teens will continue to soar.  It’s as simple as that.  Look, let’s take off the blinders.  The ultra-conservative, far-right wing, Christian faction hates us.  Period.  Ironic, isn’t it?  Christians hating.  Yet, we’ve heard preachers tell their congregation that we should die.  These are Christians.  These are leaders.  These people are the driving force behind the Republican Party today.
  3. Today’s Republican Party is being spearheaded by some of the most narrow-minded, evil-spirited “politicians” I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.  That there are Republican senators working feverishly to pass legislation that will, in effect, sanction the bullying of LGBT teens should tell you all that you need to know.  And, that’s just a small fraction of the threat they pose to the LGBT community.

I’m not naive. I understand that there will always be narrow-minded, bigoted people in the world and in our society. However, at this specific point in time, they’ve risen to positions of power. With that, they’ve seemingly made it their life’s mission to all but do away with anything gay. Indeed, there has been right-wing political and religious leaders calling for the death of LGBT people. They’re flexing their political/religious muscle, spewing extraordinarily hateful and intolerant rhetoric to their followers. In doing so, they are creating a very dangerous environment for members of the LGBT community. To wit:

  • Just last week, a landmark gay bar was set ablaze in Chicago.
  • The LGBT Headquarters in Washington, DC recently endured a bomb threat.
  • Schoolyard bullies are more empowered than ever in their attacks against those they perceive to be LGBT schoolmates, driving many to commit suicide.
  • In the news just today, an ultra-conservative mayor in Michigan added fuel to the already-raging firestorm directed towards her by way of a recall vote with yet another ridiculous statement about the LGBT community.

Indeed, Obama losing the election in November would be catastrophic for the LGBT community. Not just because he’s gone public in his support for marriage equality. It would be catastrophic because it would put in power the absolute meanest, most narrow-minded collection of “leaders” I’ve ever witnessed. Giving power to this group of people would take the LGBT community back to pre-Stonewall days. At least! Giving power to them would absolutely assure an escalation in the already-alarming suicide rate amongst LGBT teens. Why? Because they don’t care about you if you’re LGBT. In their eyes, we shouldn’t exist. And, quite frankly, people with this mentality have absolutely no business whatsoever in positions of power.

Honestly, this really isn’t about politics, per se.  It’s more about right and wrong.  It’s wrong for people to use positions of power to systematically destroy a group of people.  To call for the death of a group of people is called genocide.  How is that even legal?  Maybe within the next four years, they’ll get some people in their party who actually care about ALL people, including people in the LGBT community.  Maybe that’s asking too much.  Well, at the very least, we can hope for a group of people who aren’t as mean-spirited as this collection is.  Until then, I think we need to do everything in our power to make sure they don’t succeed in November.

A Culture of Hate

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It’s been said many times that this “war” that’s going on for equality, to end hate and intolerance, is nothing new.  We know from history that this is true.  History has provided us with instance after bloody instance of how hate permeates our culture.

As a reminder of some of the examples of extreme hatred and intolerance in recent history, it wasn’t really that long ago that a man named Hitler set out to exterminate anybody who wasn’t like himself.  It wasn’t that long ago when blacks had to ride on the back of the bus, were lynched just for being black, or couldn’t even vote.  I remember those days, actually.

I remember, as a very young boy, maybe 6, living in a small, backwards Virginia city called Portsmouth.  This was back in the early 60s, so racism was rampant there.  I was riding my bike farther away from home than I was allowed to, but I was a 6 year old boy.  Since when do THEY listen!?  As I went to ride across an intersection, this royal blue ’64 Ford Galaxie with a white top attempted to make a left turn.  We both screeched to a halt in the middle of the intersection.  The driver was a middle-aged white man with dark sunglasses.  We sat there in the middle of the intersection for what seemed like an hour, to a 6 year old boy, just staring at each other.  I was staring because I was 6 and didn’t know any better.  In addition, he was staring at me, so I figured it was what I was supposed to do in return.  However, thank God I was born with good intuition because, even at that early age, my young gut told me that this guy was dangerous.  Eventually, he peeled off past me and on down the street and I continued on along my way.  I saw him hang a hard right at the next intersection, and my gut told me that was not a good thing.  Sure enough, as I neared the approaching corner, which had a gas station on it, there was that very same 64 royal blue Ford Galaxie 500 with the white top.  My heart raced.  Thank God for my young intuition!  As I approached the car for a second time, the man with the menacing stare from moments ago lept from his car and lunged towards my 6 year old back with what had to be a 12″ dagger.  Already sensing that he was going to try and harm me, I was able to speed past him just ahead of the blade meant to tear into my back.  This man was willing to kill a 6 year old boy for no other reason than the fact that he was black!

Of course, there’s a much longer list of instances of pure hatred and narrow-minded, fear-induced intolerance.

Today, we’re in the midst of yet another struggle of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, love vs. hate.  The LGBT community’s battle for equality and acceptance is, for sure, today’s Civil Rights Movement.  And, just as the case with that small 6 year old black kid in southern, racist Portsmouth, VA, there are people one “the other side” of the battle who have so much hatred and intolerance in them, they would use extreme measures rather than see us achieve simple equality.  One only has to look at the level of violence against members of the LGBT community to get a sobering snapshot of just how intense this battle truly is.  Watching from the sidelines are tomorrow’s LGBT community:  the LGBT teens.  Watching with the hope that we’ll win this war so that they will be able to simply live their lives happily, safely, and with the one they fall in love with.  We can’t let them down.

A regular reader contact me recently.  Inspired by the recent blog post about Daniel Zamudio, and himself a writer, he sent me a poem that needs to be shared.  It fits seamlessly with the emotion of the day and with the theme of this post:

If history had gone another way
Non-whites would be second class citizens
If history went another way
Jews would  still be in death camps
If history went another way
Gays would have been shot on sight
If history went another way
Hate and fear would control the hearts of leaders
So tell me now!
Tell me if you condone of such hate
Tell me now!
If you wish this upon others
Tell me now!
So I can sleep at last
Or lie in my bed  waiting for the nightmare of hate to become reality once more
TELL ME NOW!
If you so wish to kill or harm such a person
For little more for their religion
Their race
Their love
TELL ME NOW!
So that I can have a clear path ahead of me
Tell me now
So that when the time comes
I know where to stand
Tell me now.
Because as I witness hate I shall not stand idle no more.                           Written by Devin Callan

We cannot afford to stand idle.  Not now.  No more.  Each voice needs to be heard.  Our message needs to be clear.  Hitler was defeated.  The Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s was won by the black community.  Today’s Civil Rights Movement focuses on the LGBT community.  It’s a battle that can, and must, be won.

The Values Tour

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Ok, this is going to seem as if I’m stepping from under the bullying/teen suicide umbrella.  However, in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not.  It’s actually bullying on a much grander scale, and it’s sanctioned.  And, it’s because of people like this that the LGBT teen suicide issue is on the front burner.

Pop quiz:  Who is Art Pope?

Art Pope is one of the most influential political money men in North Carolina and a close national ally of the billionaire Koch brothers.

Art Pope is a North Carolinian with lots of money.  And, he uses that money to fund Republican anti-gay groups around the country, including the two groups who are doing the grunt work for the North Carolina swing of this tour.  I do everything in my power to keep from getting political with this blog.  However, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid.  First, let me say that I live with a Republican, devoutly Christian woman whom I’ve known since high school, and she is absolutely nothing like the mean-spirited, hate-filled, narrow-minded Republican “leaders” we have running for our country’s top office today or their followers.  So, this is certainly not a condemnation or attack on all Republicans and/or Christians.  That said, this entire lot of “contenders” is a very dangerous group of people.  And, anyone who disagrees need look no further than this video.  I’ve said it here before that if any of these candidates were to happen into the White House, they would plunge our country back to the 1950s.  This trailer will give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.

One candidate has boldly stated during his campaign that if he wins the presidency, he will make all existing same-sex marriages illegal.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think there are many, many more important things for a candidate to be obsessed with besides who loves whom.  Imposing ones biased views on the nation is not part of the job description of President of the United States.  I’ll stop there.  This topic gets me really heated!

There was a comment left on the facebook blog page today that, I thought, was quite telling:

…look at your country’s history. “Enough of thinkin’ everything that you’ve done is good”, just saying (in Rufus Wainwright’s words). Here in Germany a politician who makes homophobic remarks would have to step down the next day. We have a gay Foreign Minister and Berlin has a gay mayor. In the US homophobes can become governors and run for president.

Wait.  I thought we were supposed to be the “world leaders”!!!  Enough said.

Back to Art Pope.  Mr. Pope is funding what’s called the “Values Bus Tour”.  It’s an anti-gay marriage campaign, really an anti-gay campaign, that started in October and is slated to go nationwide.  Ok, for those of you chomping at the bit to scream First Amendment right at me, save it.  I’m well aware of that.  I’m not going to suggest that he needs to be stopped.  His views are dead-wrong; however, He’s entitled, under our Constitution, to his views.  And, whether I agree with them or not, he’s also entitled, under our Constitution, to voice his opinion.  I get that.  However, under that same Constitution, I get to voice my opinion:

 These are extremely dangerous people.  In fact, they are extremists.  To be sure, one of the Republican presidential candidates is PART of this “Values Bus Tour”.  AND, HE WANTS TO LEAD OUR COUNTRY!!!  It is my opinion that it’s totally okay to have your differences.  However, for a person, or a group of people, to not only believe that their opinion is THE ONLY opinion that matters but try to shove THEIR opinions down a whole nation’s throat is beyond reprehensible.  To spew hatred in the name of God will get you a ticket to Hell much faster than my being gay will get me there.  And, to that end, in accordance to the Bible that these maniacs love to wave in everyone’s faces, only God can judge me.  Therefore, if by chance you’re right that I’ll go to Hell for being gay (and, you’re NOT!), it’s NOT your place to condemn me there.  That is between me and God.  Worry about your own eternity.  I’ll stop there.

One of their members had this to say about LGBT teen suicide:

…gay teens kill themselves because they know that they’re “abnormal”.

Worse, he does “fundraising around the idea that gay kids are immoral and telling them otherwise is ‘disgusting’.”  Oh, and did I mention that they take their message of hate to Christian high schools?  What feeds the bullying that we’re seeing in schools against LGBT, or even suspected LGBT teens?  Hatred and intolerance.  And, where are they learning that from?  Keep in mind that one of the members of this group of extremists is running for the Presidency of the United States!

My whole issue, and I point I’ve raised before, is that we need to a.) keep increasing in numbers…and conviction; and, b.) speak up and be heard.  Every single voice is important.  If you look at the comments on the blog about the “Values Bus Tour”, it becomes obvious that there really ARE people in this country who agree with this type of backwards, narrow-minded thinking.  For the record, though, there were real people, back in the 60s, who vehemently opposed the Civil Rights movement, then, as well.  However, the people who opposed the oppression continued, undaunted by the oppressors.  It was a hard-fought battle.  Lives were lost.  But, in the end, it was worth it.  Well, the struggle continues.  The battle line is drawn.  To win this fight, and I wholeheartedly believe we will, we need voices, voices, and more voices.  We need people who are not afraid to stand up for what is right.

Lastly, if there’s any question as to how all of this connects to LGBT teen suicides, I’ll simply say two words: Anoka-Hennepin.

Historic Moment

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While we’re enjoying a moment of relative calm, and I’m knocking on wood as I say that, I figured this is a good time to do a little reflecting.  And, sharing.

We’re in a time period right here and now that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a much younger man.  I’ve always said that the only way things were ever going to change would be for every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangender person to come out of the closet and make themselves known.  That day is here.  We’re coming out at the workplace; we’re coming out in middle and high school.  And, our voices are resonating around the globe.  It’s a beautiful day.

Of course, it isn’t coming without resistance from “the other side”.  That just means that we’re doing something right!  We’re standing up and telling the world that we are no less equal than anyone else.  And, it’s scaring the hell out of “them”.  That’s fine.  Change scares people.

And, of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done.  The issue of bullying and LGBT teen suicide is a black eye on the face of this, the new Civil Rights movement.  Slowly but surely, as more and more people are standing up to be counted, changes are being made even on that sore spot.  In some cases, sadly, the change isn’t coming fast enough.

We’re at an exciting time in our history.  Not just LGBT history!  History, period!!  Within the next 10-15 years, marriage equality will be the norm.  The LGBT teen suicide will be next-to-nil because the changing environment will no longer tell them that they’re freaks, sick, or damaged.  It will embrace them.  At the very least, it will accept them.  What a major boost to their collective self-esteem that will be.  We’re on the forefront of that movement right here, right now.  And, years down the road, people will look back upon this time as the turning point, the point in time where we stood up and told the world ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, and made them listen.  And, there will be names that will stand out.

Kevin “Kel” O’Neil has created a monster of a facebook community, and website, that is truly changing and saving lives!

Lyndsay Winegarden created a safe haven for at-risk teens in her effort to STOP Teenage Suicide.  That’s no small feat.

Charity Smith created a forum for people to come out anonymously.  How huge is that!?  That’s a major step for many people.

When Jamie Hubley committed suicide in October 2011, several tribute pages popped up on facebook in his honor.  One in particular, though, has morphed into the most loving and caring support community online.  People there know each other by name.  When people have struggles, there’s always, always, always people there ready to rush to their assistance.  Amazing.

Young people are coming forward bravely and very effectively and reaching out to their peers in an effort to make a difference.  Brett Simpson created a video encouraging other teens to contact him personally if they needed someone to talk to or if they were struggling.  Not satisfied with that, he turned his personal social network page into a support community AND started a second one.  The response to both has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Jonah Mowry is part of a group of teens who have decided to take the matter of bullying, as well as their future as LGBT teens, into their own hands.  They are organizing what they’re calling the Monster March Against Bullying, with the goal of having tens of thousands of teens from all over the country (world?) march with them to San Francisco’s City Hall in October.  That’s incredible stuff!

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that it was Jamie Hubley’s suicide that made me decide to roll up my sleeves and get involved in trying to make a difference.  This blog was created, and will always be written, in his honor.  He gave me my true voice.  And, since its inception on November 7th, I’ve been humbled by the response it has received.  It’s being read by hundreds, and sometimes thousands, per day.  More importantly, it’s making a difference in people’s lives.  That wouldn’t be happening, however, without every single one of you who are reading these words right now!  You read it; you respond to it by way of your comments and emails; and, you get involved when it’s called upon you to do so.  So, it’s actually YOU who are making the difference!!

Together, we are changing history!!  I’ve dreamed of this historic moment forever.

Gay Rights = Civil Rights: Remembering Bayard Rustin

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I heard this story on “In the Life” maybe 10 years ago.  Then, it was placed right back on a hanger and put back in the closet.  It couldn’t have resurfaced at a more significant time.  For as far as we’ve come, we do still have work to do.  More importantly, it’s crucial, in this day of rampant LGBT teen suicides, for the young people to understand that they truly ARE part of the fabric of this world, that their contributions have the potential of being significant.

Bayard RustinBayard Rustin is a name to remember. (even though I’d forgotten the name for the past 10 years, I always remembered the story)  For as much as Dr. Martin Luther King was the face of the 60s civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin was the architect who made it all come together…and, work.  It was Dr. King’s vehicle, but it was Bayard Rustin’s well-designed road it traveled on its way to prominence.

Stories of Rustin’s homosexuality began to surface in 1960 forcing King and the Civil Rights movement to part ways with him.  To their thinking, exposure would certainly derail their uber-important efforts.  Unfortunately, they were probably right.  But, by 1963, Rustin had resurfaced with the Civil Rights movement, albeit more behind the scene, and went on to architect what we now know as the 1963 Freedom March on Washington which gave birth to the timeless “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. King.

Why is this important?  Well, for one, I believe that it is crucial for young LGBT teens to understand that we DO have a voice, that we ARE important, and that their own lives ARE definitely worth living.  Seeing the accomplishments of Bayard Rustin, and the universal importance of his efforts should inspire anyone, especially a confused and questioning LGBT teen.  Without Bayard Rustin, Dr. King’s rise to legendary leader of peace may have never happened.

Of equal importance to me at least, as an older black and gay man, is the realization that the Civil Rights movement of yesterday and the Gay Rights movement of today are one and the same.  Intertwined.  I recently read a comment saying, basically, that the black community had taken issue with people linking the two together.  Quickly, I responded.  Paraphrased, I told them that they are absolutely the same fight.  More to the point, it’s the same fight against the same establishment.  What this means is that, for all of our gains we’ve experienced over the past decade (and, certainly, over the past 18-24 months), we still have a ton of work to do.  The battle is not won.  Not yet.  Then again, neither is the one for racial equality, proving that we must continue to press forward and fight those who would delight in seeing us all locked back in the closet.  That way, they can go back to pretending that we don’t exist.

I guess the message here is that we all, whether we’re straight, LGBT, black, white, green, or Venusian, have a voice and a contribution to make to the well-being of our society.  Bayard Rustin’s contributions will resonate forever.

The Good….

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In the grand scheme of things, this is a battle that’s been fought for as long as I can remember.  In the ’50s and ’60s, it was the Civil Rights movement.  That torch was passed on to the Women’s Rights movement.  And, here we are today.  Same fight; new warriors. (well, on one side of the battle, at least.  If you look deep enough, I’m thinking you’d see the same core institution on the OTHER side of the battle in all of these cases.  Makes you wonder…)

This battle for acceptance, gay rights, gay marriage, tolerance, ending gay teen suicide all fits under one big rainbow-colored umbrella.  Our army has some strong leaders.  Fighters.  When you have a 14-year-old openly gay student taking on the school board, that’s a fighter!!
In seeing and listening to young people like Graeme Taylor gives you the sense that, through the darkness, there really is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.  The message here for young people is it can and will get better if you just hang in there.  Pass it on.

Written by Ron Kemp

November 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm