This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, often cited as the beginning of the Modern Gay Civil Rights movement in America. It’s a little weird to realize that events which happened within my lifetime are looked on as distant history by a significant number of adults. To be sure, I was only 8 years old with the Stonewall Riots happened—it was the summer between first and second grade for me—and I didn’t hear anything about them at the time. What I do remember being in the national news was mostly the Black Civil Rights movement and the Anti-War Protests.
That was also a summer that I spent with my Grandparents, which meant that most nights I watched the news with my Grandpa, and during the day I listened to the radio, hearing hourly news updates of about 3 minutes duration, and then listening to Paul Harvey at noon. And the impression I had then and over the next couple of years was that there were a very small number of black people who were unhappy about… things. And any equally small number of completely unrelated people were protesting the war in Vietnam because war is bad.
My teachers mostly didn’t talk about any of this stuff until a few years later, and again the attitude was less than sympathetic to either movement. They didn’t go so far as to call the war protesters cowards, like my dad did, or the much worse words he used for the black people, but the overall impression was that people were upset about something that wasn’t a real problem. And, again, it was emphasized that it was a few isolated groups of troublemakers behind it all. Similarly with the Women’s Rights movement and the Native American Rights movements. Each of those things were treated as distinct, unconnected things.
And it only got worse in middle school and high school. By the time I was in high school the U.S. had pulled out of Vietnam and the consensus seemed to be that the whole war had been a mistake, but the people who protested it were still described by many of my teachers as a fringe group that hadn’t really been proven right, but more that their knee-jerk peacenik attitude just happened to coincidentally align with reality. Or something. The woman who taught my high school history class was quite in favor of women’s rights, and had a lot to say about how poorly Native Americans were treated by our society, but seemed to think that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 had taken care of any inequalities facing all other racial minorities.
By high school the Gay Rights movement was at least acknowledge, but none of my teachers (even the ones that many of the students thought might be gay) referred to at as anything but a small fringe group of mentally ill people (almost all of whom lived in California) who wanted their sickness treated a something deserving of special rights. And I do mean all of the teachers. The state-approved text book for my high school health class had an entire chapter on sexual deviancy, and it not only defined all kinds of kinkiness and homosexuality as mental illness, it explicitly referred to it as a single mental illness, in which straight kinkiness would always lead to bisexual and then homosexual behavior which would always progress to bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia. Yes, I’m absolutely serious. On the test we had to list all of the stages in the “correct order.” Note that this was in the late 1970s in a state that has been reliably blue for many decades.
But the one thing that all of them still agreed upon was that each of those movements advocating for a better society was a unique, distinct, and totally separate group. Even when I got into college and had not one but two stereotypical uber-liberal history teachers (one always wore turtlenecks, like the other alternated between turtlenecks and ponchos brought back from his summer sojourns into Central America) treated each of those movements as totally autonomous things. They portrayed the Civil Rights movement as solely the work of some African Americans. They portrayed the Native America Rights movement as soley the work of some Native Americans. They portrayed the Women’s Rights movement was solely the work of some women (usually white women). And they portrayed the Gay Rights movement as solely the work of a small group of (white) gay men and lesbians.
The truth was, that the people who stood up to the police and started fighting back at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago were trans people of color. There were a lot of lesbians of various races in the crowd and some gay men. But most of the white faces in that crowd that night were street kids—the homeless teens kicked out by the families who found their way the New York City and did what they had to do to survive.
And the bigger truth was that all of those civil rights movements and the anti-war movement had a lot in common. There were people who participated in all the fights. George Edgerly Harris III, the young man how put flowers in the gun barrels was a queer man who was part of a radical gay theatre troupe. He went by the name Hibiscus, and became famous for wearing the outrageous drag while keeping a full beard—a look that would later be labeled genderqueer or genderfuck. And in 1967 he joined a protest march on the Pentagon. He was active in the anti-war movement and the Gay Rights movements, obviously, and at different times in life worked with or supported the efforts of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movement.
Bernie Boston, the photographer who took the “Flower Power” picture, was a photojournalist who covered all of those events, at least one time famously getting into a conflict with some KKK members. And by frequently arguing vehemently with cops or MPs or National Guardsmen when they tried to interfere with the coverage. He was multiracial, of African American, Native American, and Irish American descent, and strangers usually assumed he was black. As a journalist, he was trying to cover the events, not be part of them, but sometimes that line blurred.
Just as Martin Luther King, Jr’s trusted righthand man, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay man long before Stonewall while he was helping organize things like King’s March on Washington, the New York Bus Boycott, and other events. A lifelong pacifist, of course he supported and worked with the anti-war movement. He argued for making political alliances with other marginalized groups, and was active in the Gay Rights movement, various anti-semitic groups, pro-labor groups, and women’s rights groups.
These are just a few examples. But the thing is that all those fights had both goals and people in common. They were (and continue to be) fighting the forces of oppression in our society. We should all be working together. We should not let people divide us and act as if they are separate fights.
Because nobody is free until everyone is.
And it isn’t even fair to say equally. There have been studies that show when women talk for more than 15% of a class or presentation or similar activity that the men perceive that the woman are dominating the conversation. Only 15%, the men describe it as “equal time.” I haven’t found similar studies about their perception of people of color or queers, but I have a life time of personal observation to say the participation of other marginalized people are perceived the same way. If queer characters exist in a story or movie or whatever in more than a restricted token manner, they scream “why are the gays ruining everything?!” And when it comes to people of color, well, a black actor was featured prominently in the first trailer for The Force Awakens and they lost their collective minds, calling for boycotts (and worse).
And I know it isn’t just angry straight white men. There are angry straight white women who make the same “why don’t we get a straight pride day?” arguments, too. Believe me, I know. I’ve had that one thrown at me by relatives at family get-togethers.
There are two different, completely true answers to the question of why there isn’t a straight pride day.
The first answer is: every day is straight pride day! Every day day society and strangers celebrate and cheer straight marriages. Every day society recognizes and approves of the existence of straight people. Every day thousands of television episodes are broadcast in which the straight characters are the protagonists and their stories and concerns are recognized, accepted, and celebrated. Every day little boys are described as future lady’s men, and little girls are called heart-breakers, and no one screams at the people who say it that the children are too young for that. 99% of all movies, books, songs, plays, and TV shows center straight people and their concerns.The second answer is: there is no systemic bigotry against straight people. There are no laws, and never have been, baring straight people from teaching or adopting children. There have never been laws against straight people getting married. No straight child has been thrown out on the streets by their family because they are straight. Straight people have never been barred from the military for being straight. No one has ever claimed that programs to stop bullying of straight children in schools is a violation of freedom of religion. No child or teen-ager has ever been forced into ex-straight therapy. People aren’t bashed and murdered for being straight. Straight couples holding hands in public have never been attacked by a mob and beaten for being straight. When a straight couple is depicted kissing in a movie no one organizes boycotts to stop straight sexuality being shoved down the public’s throat. No authorities have ever said that they don’t hate straight people, they just disapprove of their lifestyle. No medical associations or governments have ever officially defined being straight as a dangerous mental disease.
All that has happened is that when some straight people express bigoted opinions about queer people, society as a whole no longer chimes in to agree. Worse than that, some people actually point out the homophobia. In some circumstances the law doesn’t penalize queer people the way it used to. In some circumstances the law no longer privileges straight people to the detriment of queer people.
That isn’t the same as being oppressed. It isn’t the same as being bashed. It isn’t the same as being murdered. It isn’t the same as being forced into homelessness. You did not have to overcome adversity, bigotry, threats of violence, actual violence, family rejection, and more just to live as an openly straight person.
There were a lot of pink triangles. There were also rainbows, some lambdas, and some labryses. A lot of people had pink or purple hair. Most of the groups had at least some members who had their children marching along beside them.
There were people dressed very scantily. There were banners and floats that had some sort of sexual innuendo as part of the theme. There wasn’t any actual nudity, but there were a few costumes that were very close to it. But the thing is, not quite a year before my first Pride Parade, I had attend my first Seattle Torchlight Family Seafair Parade with a bunch of co-workers. And at that parade—an official city parade with the word “family” in its title—I had seen a whole lot more near nudity, many more sexual innuendos as themes for floats, and a whole lot of drunken participants in the parade.
I should mention that there didn’t seem to be many queers in the pride parade who were under the influence. Certainly nowhere near as many as I saw at the Seafair Parade.
The difference was, that all of the sexual content and near nudity in the Seafair Parade was clearly aimed at the heterosexual male gaze. Just as I see a lot more sex in the typical set of Super Bowl commercials that I have ever seen at a Pride Parade. And that’s the thing: straight people are so used to straight male sexual desire used to sell everything from cupcakes to beer to automobiles, that they don’t even notice it any more.
Heck, in Seattle we have another annual parade called the Fremont Solstice Parade, and it is famous for have scores of nude bicyclists in it every year. Under Washington state law, if you have body paint on, it counts as not being nude. And it was a community parade put on by mostly straight people who was doing it for years before the queers in Seattle started doing it in our Pride Parade.So if you’re one of those people who objects to Pride Parades because you think they’re too wild or sexy or whatever, I am just going to laugh at your cluelessness. I’ve written a few times about the people from within the community who hate it, and I have yet to meet one whose arguments didn’t boil down to being equivalent of the bigots. So if you’re one of those people you don’t get my laughter, you get my pity and a hope that someday you will stop being a self-loathing hater.
If you’re one of those people who think Pride isn’t needed because bigotry is somehow far behind us, please take this does of reality:
- Religious leaders want to devalue and outlaw our families
- The attorney general thinks it’s fine that queers are being murdered in other countries
- 40% of homeless teens are on the streets because their parents threw them out for being gay or they suspected they might be gay
- People want to ban trans young people for school activities
- People still insist, despite overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary, that we’re sick and dangerous
- A small mob can beat and taser gay men on a train and witnesses will stand by in silence
- Gay men are assaulted on the streets of the so-called capitol of the free world
- Police routinely treat missing persons and violent crimes cases where the victims are queer as low priority
- Trans people continue to be murdered just because of who they are
- Queer children continue to be bullied and driven to suicide in shameful numbers
- Government officials and private citizens are actively fighting to take away what rights we have
Finally, if you’re one of those people who asks, “If you’re born this way, what’s to be proud of?” First, look up at that list. Remember that that is barely scratching the surface of the hate, bullying, and oppression that every queer person has survived. So, what do we have to be proud of? Some people want us dead, but we’ve survived. Some people wish we were invisible, and we have stepped out into the light and shared our beautiful glittery freaky selves. We have been told we aren’t worthy of love, but we have found loving friends and chosen families and yes, even someone to call husband or wife. People have tried to bury us in hate, and we have shown the world our love. They have knocked us down again and again, and we have gotten back up, fiercer than ever. They have tried to force us into the shadows, and we have shown the world our light.
I’ve quoted before the old Jewish joke that the meaning of all Jewish holidays is, “They tried to kill us. We’re still alive. Let’s eat.” In the spirit of that sentiment:
They wish we were dead or invisible. We refuse to hide.
You fight it on the ground: register, remind people to vote, help them get to the polls, and be ready to challenge voter suppression
But later in the evening, I peeked at my main twitter feed. And then I went the FiveThirtyEight.com’s live coverage. I skimmed through their updates (and wonky math-y talk about polls and margins). When I reached the point when they were calling it for the Democrat, Doug Jones—calling it with a margin large enough to avoid a recount!—I started crying.
A lot of people are going to try to say that this is only because of Moore’s sexual scandal. And while it was a big factor, I think this win in a deeply red state with a well-documented history of suppressing the vote of African Americans and other demographics believed to favor Democrats is a sign. So, how did they do it?
Propelled by a backlash against Mr. Moore, an intensely polarizing former judge who was accused of sexually assaulting young girls, Mr. Jones overcame the state’s daunting demographics and deep cultural conservatism. His campaign targeted African-American voters with a sprawling, muscular turnout operation, and appealed to educated white voters to turn their backs on the Republican Party.
“We’re trying to work all angles,” said Patricia Mokola, spokeswoman for the Alabama NAACP. “We’re trying to reach not only African Americans, we’re trying to reach millennials as well. They will be instrumental in this election … We’re not telling people who to vote for, but their vote is their power.
“We have got to find a way to come together, and we need leaders that are not going to divide us, and separate us, and cut us up, and dissect us, and stand in judgment over some, and lord over others,” [New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory] Booker said at a canvass kick-off in Birmingham on Sunday. “We need someone that is going to remind us of the calling of patriotism, the calling to love, and so this is the moment now. There are consequential moments in our American history, and this is one of them.
Jones’ victory is all the more remarkable in that it didn’t rely on many Republicans defecting to the Democratic side. Less than one in 10 Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Jones. But Democrats – who overwhelmingly favored Jones – came out in stronger numbers, trailing Republicans in vote share by just six percentage points. And Independents – who make up just one in five voters in this highly partisan race – also favored Jones by nine points: 52 percent to 43 percent.
They mounted a massive get-out-the-vote campaign and sustained it for months. They registered people to vote. They put out leaflets everywhere reminding people when election day was. They called. They went door-to-door. The campaign spent a lot less on TV ads and more putting up billboards in neighborhoods that had lower turnout in the 2016 general election. They funded programs to give people rides to their polling places. They put out information on social media, pamphlets, posters, and signs explaining what kind of ID you need to have to vote, and a phone number to call if a poll worker refused to let you vote. They had observers at polling places. They had teams and lawyers available to respond to those voter suppression issues at the polling places.
Exit polling showed that white voters overwhelming went for the pedophile, but they also showed that Trump’s approval rating even among them has gone way down, and their enthusiasm for the candidate they voted for was lukewarm. Meanwhile, the African American vote (especially women) overwhelming went to the Democrat. And because of the way that the state has reduced the number of polling places in Black communities, and reduced the number of voting machines at those few polling places, it means that those African American voters were more likely to have to stand in line for hours and hours just to vote—and they did!
The ground game—registering voters, reminding them when election day is, reminding them what they have to do to vote, offering them rides, and so on—is how we got results in leaning-blue Virginia, and it’s how we won in deeply-red Alabama. It’s the new strategy of the Democratic National Committee. It’s not the way they fought in 2016. One of the journalists I saw tweeting about this last night summed it up: less money on TV ads, more money to help people vote.
That’s a strategy that can turn the midterm elections.
We can do it! We can do it!
Each of those statements was a lie.
I was a teen-ager in the 70s when the Southern Baptist Convention finally endorsed desegregation of its churches. And it was as a teen that I learned most of what I’d been taught about the history of our denomination and the Civil War was untrue.
Historically, every state that seceded to form the Confederacy (not just Mississippi a port of whose declaration is pictured above), explicitly listed either slavery or the superiority of the white race (and some mentioned both), as their reasons for seceding. The infamous cornerstone speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained that the foundation of the new Confederate government was “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
It can’t be any clearer than that: the primary mission of the Confederacy was the perpetuation of slavery of black people and the entrenchment (nay, glorification) of white supremacy. And Confederate soldiers did not volunteer, fight, and die by the thousands because of some need to preserve the mythical idyllic pastoral culture of the Southern plantation—most of them were too poor to own plantations, for one thing! No, typical Confederate grunt believed that if slaves were freed, working class whites would surely lose their livelihoods. The collective self-esteem of the white working class was shored up by the explicit statement that at least they weren’t slaves, so while they might have worked hard in exchange for less than their fair share of societal prosperity, at east they were better off than those black folks! The abolition of slavery was then perceived as an existential threat to the white working class. Of course they were willing to take up arms to protect slavery!
In the immediate aftermath of the war, symbols of the Confederacy weren’t displayed publicly. There were memorials erected in a few places to those who died in one battle or another, and certainly individual tombstones were occasionally emblazoned with Confederate symbols, but there wasn’t a stampede to erect statues to the leaders of the Confederacy afterward. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of pride in having been on the losing side.
The first big rush of Confederate monuments was years after the war ended as Reconstruction officially ended and Federal troops were withdrawn in 1877. Across the former Confederacy, state legislatures started enacting Jim Crow laws, designed to make it difficult or nearly impossible for black people to exercise their right to vote and to enforce segregation of the races. And statues and monuments went up all over the South. The plaques usually talked about the bravery of the person depicted, but there were also language about the nobility of the cause for which they fought. Blacks living in those states, most of whom were former slaves, knew exactly what that cause had been, and the message the statues and monuments was clearly: “white people are in charge again, and don’t you forget it!”Most of the Confederate monuments were put up in the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with an increase in activity of the KKK and similar organizations terrorizing blacks. And the next big surge was in the 50s and 60s when civil rights organizations began having successes against some of the Jim Crow laws. The purpose of those monuments was not to honor the culture of the South, the message was still “stay in your place, black people, or else!” A great example of this resides not many miles from my home. Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery. There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one. And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers, a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.
Now that some communities are rethinking these monuments—many of them extremely cheap bronze statues erected during times of civil rights tensions—other people are claiming taking them down is erasing history. No, taking down these post-dated monuments in public parks and so forth isn’t erasing history, it’s erasing anti-historical propaganda. The other argument that is put forward in defense of the monuments is that “both sides deserve to be heard.” That’s BS in this case, because there aren’t two sides to racism. There aren’t two sides to bigotry. There aren’t two sides to genocide. White supremacy is not a legitimate side to any argument.
When we defeated Hitler’s armies, we didn’t turn around and erect monuments to the government that murdered millions of people in concentration camps. We destroyed their symbols. When we liberated Iraq, we tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t enshrine his image in an attempt to give both sides equal time. Those few Confederate monuments that list off names of people who died are fine (even if a lot of them have cringeworthy language about the cause they were fighting for). Cemeteries where actual Confederate veterans are buried of course can have symbols of the Confederacy on the tombstones and the like. But the other monuments, the ones erected years later, they don’t belong in the public square.
They belong in the dustbin of history.
And some people seem to be most hung up about the fact that we have parades and festivals. Especially the parade seems to bug them. They are always quick to say that they don’t have a problem with gay people, but the truth is that what bothers them is us being visible. When they ask us why we have to flaunt who we are, what they are really saying is why can’t he be quiet and stay hidden and not remind them that anyone who is different than they exist.
And you know how you can prove this? Ask them if they have ever raised the same objections to St. Patrick’s Day parades. The earliest St. Patrick’s Day parades in colonial times were about Irish Nationalism, since all of Ireland was under British rule at the time. By the mid- and late 1800s the St. Patrick’s Day parades were about Irish equality in the U.S., since anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment was quite high, and yes often encoded in laws and government policy. While the anti-discrimination purpose of the parades has faded away, the parade is still about taking pride in one’s Irish heritage. If a person doesn’t object to Irish pride parades (which is exactly what St. Patrick’s Day parades are), but they do object to LGBTQ+ Pride parades, the only logical reason can be that they object to the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans, and all other Queers in particular, and not the idea of a parade celebrating identities in general.
I can pretend that the question isn’t a passive-aggressive exercise of bigotry and give you some simple answers. Why do we need Pride?
- We need Pride because people are still trying to kill us.
- We need Pride because religious leaders are still cheering on the people who kill us.
- We need Pride because people show up at memorials for murdered LGBT people with signs saying they deserved to die.
- We need Pride because people still target gender non-conforming children in schools, and now adults aren’t just making excuses for the bullying and discrimination, they are writing it into law!
- We need Pride because it’s still legal to fire us just for being gay in 29 states.
- We need Pride because some lawmakers and governors hate queer people so much, that they don’t just pass laws to hurt us, but spend huge amounts of taxpayer money to defend that discrimination in court.
- We need Pride because people are more offended at the idea of selling us a wedding cake than they are about queers being murdered.
- We need Pride because people get angry when other people acknowledge our existence.
- We need Pride because U.S. religious leaders demand that we be prosecuted simply for asking for equal rights.
- We need Pride because people get offended if we mention the gender of our significant other in casual conversation.
- We need Pride because religious parents still kick their queer children out onto the streets just for being gay, and it isn’t considered child neglect or abuse to do so.
- We need Pride because people will go to great lengths to take away any rights we managed to get.
- We need Pride because queer kids are born everywhere, not just into families and communities that love and accept them, but often into families where they are bullied (sometimes bullied until they kill themselves) and they need to know that they aren’t alone.
- We need Pride because the world tries to make us hate ourselves, tries to make us be ashamed to love, and most importantly tries to convince us we are utterly alone.
None of those reasons apply to straight people. No one bullies straight children just because they are straight or gender conforming. No parents kick their straight children out on the street because they are straight. No one is targeting sports bars to kill straights because they saw a man kiss a woman somewhere. No preachers are going on the air to say that straight people deserve death. No one is passing laws saying gender conforming children aren’t allowed in public school bathrooms. No one is passing laws trying to ban straight people from adopting children or getting medical benefits for their partners. Straight people and straight people’s sexuality (ever seen a romantic comedy?) is the subject of at least 99% of all movies, television shows, et cetera. So straight people don’t need pride. But if you really think you do, no one is stopping you from organizing your own parades (though I’ve argued before that you already have those, too).
The reason queers like me have been able to stand up and be ourselves is because other queers before us were brave enough to be out and brave enough to protest when necessary. Be it staging sip-ins to protest laws that made it illegal for a bartender to knowingly allow two homosexuals be served in the bar, or fighting back when police raided a gay club, or picketing in front of federal buildings, or boycotting industries whose spokespeople lobbied for laws to take away our rights, or protesting laws making it a crime for us to be intimate with the person of our choosing, or marching in the first ever Pride event in June 1970. Those of us who can stand up for ourselves now owe a debt to those earlier generations of queers. We can’t pay them back directly, so we have to pay it forward. We do that by standing up and being counted and being visible for all of the people (especially kids) who can’t safely be out themselves, yet.
We need Pride not because we’ve come so far, but because there is still a long, long way to go.
Seriously, during part of the George W. Bush administration, U.S. Attorneys were ordered to make finding voter fraud a higher priority than any other case they were investigating. And after a lot of time and effort was expended, they came back and told the administration what state officials who run elections have been saying for decades: voter fraud is virtually non-existent. The most common forms of voter fraud, which add up to far less than one percent of the votes cast, are relatives of recently deceased people casting an absentee ballot for the dearly departed. The next most common is a relative who has been appointed a legal guardian of an elderly relative believing (incorrectly) that the power of attorney they have been given over the relative with a diminished capacity gives them the legal right to fill out the relative’s ballot. And the third most common are people who are wealthy enough to own homes in multiple states registering in all of them and voting there under the mistaken notion that because they pay taxes in more than one place, they can vote.
The Republican party of my state several years ago famously spent more than a million dollars tracking down four voters who had voted illegally in the very tight governor’s race that year: all four of the convicted felons who hadn’t had their voting rights restored had voted for the Republican (because the Democratic governor had been the state’s Attorney General before, and the four felons held grudges against her).
A lot of people ask, “What’s so hard about showing your ID?” Which seems like a reasonable question to a person who enjoys a certain amount of privilege. The funny part is, that the people asking this know how hard it can be and you can prove it to them. All you have to do, is ask them whether they look forward to going to the DMV to renew their driver’s license. They will either brag about how wonderful it is now that their state allows people to renew on line, or they will tell you a horror story about being trapped at said office for a long period of time. While it is an inconvenience to someone who is able-bodied, has access to their own transportation, and has a work schedule that allows them to take the time to go stand in line, to anyone who isn’t in that situation, it becomes an insurmountable obstacle.
Most poor people in the U.S. work multiple jobs. They aren’t hanging around on street corners waiting for a welfare check (that’s an even bigger myth). The typical low income family has trouble finding the time to sleep and cook meals for their kids, let alone try to find enough time during one of the days a licensing office is open to go stand in line for hours. That’s if they can even get to the office. The states that have passed strict Voter ID laws also happen to be states that have fewer offices where people can get an ID. And coincidentally, they tend to only have those offices in locations convenient to affluent neighborhoods.
So you have to add many miles of travel (and the time and expense involved) to the difficulties to overcome to get an ID. That’s if the person has their own transportation. And it just so happens that the same states the have strict Voter ID laws also spend the least amount of money on public transit. Yet more barriers.
I think about the hassle my mom went through a few years ago after a move when she was trying to get her license renewed and updated with her new address. I don’t remember how many times she had to go back, but it was several. One time it was because whoever she talked to before she went in didn’t tell her the right documents she would need to prove what her new address was. I don’t remember what the problem was the next time, but then after she finally got it after her third or fourth visit, they mailed it to her and several pieces of information on it were incorrect. So she had to go back to get it corrected, and that took more than one trip.
My mom is retired, so she theoretically had the time, and she can drive herself, and the office wasn’t very far from her apartment, but she’s got a lot of health issues, and some days she just doesn’t have the stamina to sit in a non-ergonomic waiting room chair for who knows how long, right?
And then there’s the matter of the fee to get the ID. The constitution forbids poll taxes but the requirement of having state provided ID for which you are required to pay a fee is essentially a poll tax. And even if you argue that the ID serves other purposes, the fee is yet another barrier for low income and fixed-income people.
So, Voter ID laws effectively take the vote away from low income people, people with disabilities or mobility issues, and people living in certain communities. And the lawmakers who pass the laws are well aware that those populations tend to vote in favor of one party more often than the other. They want to take that vote away.
Fortunately, there is something you can do about it: Donate to and/or Volunteer with Spread The Vote (spreadthevote.org). Spread The Vote helps people get their required ID. They provide volunteers to help people collect the required documents, transportation to the apply for their ID, assistance with fees, and so forth.
If you want to help with the fight at a legislative and legal level, consider donating to Project Vote (projectvote.org). Project Vote is working to improve voter registration processes and remove the barriers to make it difficult for people to get registered and to vote.
It’s George H.W. Bush’s fault. During the 1988 Presidential Debates, then-Vice President Bush sneered at his opponent, Gov. Mike Dukakis, for being a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Mr. Bush claimed that the ACLU was out to make child pornography legal as well as make it legal for children to see X-rated movies. Both of those claims were, at best, distortions of actual ACLU goals (the ACLU has long opposed a rating system used in the U.S. because the system is secretive, favors large studios over independent ones, and sometimes serves as a form of de facto censorship, for example), but it almost certainly shored up support from Republican-leaning voters. But the other thing that happened was that, in the days after the debate, tens of thousands of people called the ACLU and asked what it took to become a card-carrying member.
And then they donated and joined.
I wish I could say I was one of them. I didn’t become a member for a few more months. I was in the process of transitioning from college to working full time, and my wife was still a full-time university student (yes, I used to be married to a member of the opposite sex; it’s a long story). And in 1988 you couldn’t just google the ACLU and in a few clicks sign up. It was after the election, and after I got a better job, so it was sometime in the spring of 1989 that we signed up as members.
I’ve been a proud member ever since.
When school districts try to discriminate against queer students, it’s the ACLU that sends lawyers to sue the school and get kids their rights. When peaceful protesters are arrested, it’s the ACLU that sends in lawyers to get the protestors out of jail, to defend against the bogus charges, and sue the appropriate government officials to try to prevent future violations. When high school students are unconstitutionally strip searched by school officials, it’s the ACLU that sues the school district. When states enact unconstitutional voter suppression laws, it’s the ACLU that sues and often gets the measures overturned. When federal authorities tried to hide documents about torture progams, it was the ACLU that sued to get the documents brought to light so that citizens and legislators could demand changes. When states fail to provide required medical and mental health treatments to people in state custody, it’s the ACLI that sues to get people the basic care they are guaranteed under the law. And as everyone saw this weekend, when a narcissistic megalomaniac issues an unconstitutional executive order resulting in people being illegally detained or deported, it’s the ACLU that goes to court for stays to try to halt the illegal actions, and send lawyers to try to meet with detainees to help them.
I could go on and on.
If you believe in liberty; if you believe the Constitution guarantees that everyone is equal before the law; if you believe that everyone deserves legal representation and the full protection of the law; then the ACLU deserves your support.
Oh, and if you’d like one of those spiffy blue pocket Constitutions to keep on your person in case you need to assert your rights (or just correct a douche bro who doesn’t understand what the Constitution actually says), the ACLU sells them in very affordable 10-packs. Because you want to pass out extras to your friends and loved ones. And if, like me, you have a lot of freedom-loving friends who are also bibliophiles, you might want to pick up some Bill of Rights bookmarks. Not to mention stickers and other things.
If you can, support the ACLU!
A lot of people, not just the moderates that Dr. King talked about in that quote from Letter From Birmingham City Jail, rationalize and deny the existence of bigotry by making appeals to certain fallacies. Academically, we often state those myths as five fallacies:
- Individualistic Fallacy: racism/homophobia/antisemiticism/etc is perceived as being only interpersonal, ignoring the systemic structural realities (such as underfunded schools)
- Legalistic Fallacy: the belief that abolishing racist/homophobic/religious laws automatically ends the bigotry.
- Tokenistic Fallacy: the inference that the presence of members of the marginalized class in influential positions in society proves that all bigotry has ended.
- Ahistoric Fallacy: the belief that the denial of basic rights in the past has no lasting effect on subsequent generations (“but slavery is over!”).
- Fixed Fallacy: assumes there is one and only one kind of discrimination, not recognizing new forms that emerge in context of societal and legal changes.
There’s an academic paper that explains all of this: WHAT IS RACIAL DOMINATION?, by Matthew Desmond & Mustafa Emirbayer of the University of Wisconsin—Madison, if you want to get into it. It’s rather long and involved, but if you open the PDF at the link and search for Five Fallacies you can jump right to their discussion of the fallacies. The paper is focused on racism, but the fallacies apply to all kinds of bigotry.
All of those fallacies contribute to that preference for an absence of tension rather than a passion for justice that Dr. King talked about. It’s the classic “Can’t You Get Past it/Live and Let Live Fallacy.” Or maybe another name could be the “Respectful Disagreement Fallacy.” It’s the belief that as long as a person isn’t physically attacking you right this moment, and is framing their critiques in polite-sounding language, than it can’t possibly be racist/homophobic/antisemitic/misogynist/etc.
So the bigot talks in dog whistles (coded language that doesn’t sound overtly like bigotry to people who don’t know the code), claims to respect or even feel love for the community targeted by their language, and if we point out that they are being racist or misogynist or antisemetic or homophobic, we’re the ones causing a problem. And people who think of themselves as moderate or enlightened turn on us. They don’t just look the other way from the bigotry and bigoted policies that the community is enduring, they actually enable it.
Which means they’re part of the problem. They’re not being neutral. They’re not seeing things from both sides. They’re not being nuanced. They’re oppressing other people.
I wish there was a simple solution. I wish I had some words of wisdom. Instead, I’m just stuck with this regrettable conclusion, having to try to educate people who don’t think they’re being an enemy.
“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed in the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice: who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
— Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail (1963)
This is not a post where I’m going to tell you I’m getting over it.
I’m still more than worried, and it isn’t idle anxiety. Trump’s running mate is a man who signed a so-called Religious Freedom bill when he was governor of Indiana that explicitly gave people and corporations the right to refuse to obey laws that conflicted with their religious beliefs. That means that an employer can decide not to offer health coverage to same sex partners of their employees. That means an employer can literally fire someone explicitly because they are queer and the employee can’t sue and that state can’t otherwise penalize the company.
Last year, before any judges appointed by someone like Trump were on the Supreme Court, the Court ruled that a private company could refuse to pay for birth control as part of the health care benefits for its married employees if it cited religious objections. And Trump has promised to appoint judges recommended by an anti-gay and anti-abortion group. And he has an open seat to fill.
Other Republicans have been itching to pass a law like the Indiana Religious Freedom law, but they haven’t because they knew Democrats in the Senate would try to derail it, but more importantly that Obama would veto it. But Obama is only going to be there for a couple of more months. So they can pass such a law, and suddenly people like me start losing our rights.
So when someone tells you that we’re fearmongering and gay marriage isn’t going to go away, tell them they aren’t paying attention. Maybe the marriage equality ruling isn’t going to be reversed right away, but if people, including government employees, corporations, and so forth, are free to discriminate (free to withhold legal rights, et cetera) against queer people who have gotten married under the ruling, the ruling stops meaning anything.
Texas has already tried to assert that the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t obligate them to extend health benefits to the spouses and children of same sex couples who have gotten married. Think about what states like that are going to do when the U.S. Justice Department is headed by Rudy Guillianni instead of someone appointed by a pro-equality President.
And this is just one of the millions of ways that a Trump administration can make life hell for queer people. Or people who want or need birth control (some of the people in Trump’s transition team have, in previous parts of the political career, argued that straight married people shouldn’t have a right to birth control). Or women who file sexual harassment claims. Or…
So there are very good reasons for a lot of us to be scared.
I said yesterday that I plan to fight, and I do. And I know a lot of other people plan to, too. But it isn’t going to be easy. We’re going to be suffering the death of a thousand cuts, all of us will be, and at the same time trying to defend each other.
I know that I’m going to find my hope again. I’m getting by right now by imagining what it will feel like to have hope back. I know how it feels to be confident in the justice of my cause. I know how it feels to be determined not to back down. I know how it feels to be righteously outraged at injustice. I know how it feels to feel strong enough to stand up. And I got through a day of going into work and trying to act as if everything is fine by imagining that I was that person feeling those things.
It really does feel as if I’m a character in one of my own stories, at the moment. I’m imagining how a character who feels these things would act, and then trying to do it. It’s a little bit surreal.
I know that I’ll get past the point of faking it. I know that I will start to feel able to step up and face the opposition. I’m just not emotionally there, yet. And I’m not the only one.