12 June 2009

EQUALITY IN THE 21st CENTURY


Yes, I understand how irritating it is to hear "be patient" when we're .. this .. close. But, we are .. this .. close, so just wait a little .. bit .. longer. We are almost there. We really are.

Okay LGBT people; we're next...
With what happened today in California, the path to gay rights now has a timeline, thanks to President Obama.

In the face of what many people believe was a terrible blow to marriage equality by this president, I see it in another light. Bear with me here... but I think the president's actions, vicious though they appear, were actually well-intended. He is giving us the opening we needed to win the gay rights fight, once and for all... 

Think about it.

With just under a year of the Obama Administration, we already know he has been an incredibly effective negotiator and unifier. Every move thus far has been well choreographed and thoughtful, and all executed in a "West Wing"-esque style. There is a bigger plan afoot.

On July 1, 2008, Candidate Barack Obama said this: "I think DOMA was an unnecessary imposition on what had been the traditional rules governing marriage, and how states interact on the issues of marriage." 

Why, now, would we allow ourselves to believe that the release of this DOJ brief is ill-intentioned? 

These guys are doing their job. In doing so, they have also shown us - the lgbt community - that with the simple application of the law, very bad things can still happen.

Perhaps this is the message the president is sending us.
Is our support for him so tentative that we instantly think we've been "betrayed" at the drop of a brief? That reaction is melodramatic. It illustrates a serious lack of understanding how our government works.

Nevertheless, since Friday, many lgbt folks were claiming this was it! The president had burned the bridge. Done.

Okay.

Great.

Now where does that leave you?

Don't get me wrong, I would be extremely upset if this action by the DOJ turns out to be as sinister and evil as it is being characterized by some today. The fact remains, we simply don't know what is really behind this... yet.

In order to attempt to understand what just happened here, I think we must remove emotion as much as possible to see what the real ramifications are from this. And we must also examine what kind of ripple effects might we be able to control now that this has happened.

I maintain this was no accident. I think the president's got some kind of message for us. Here is the statement from the Obama White House in response to the release of the DOJ brief:
"The President has said he wants to see a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because it prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. However, until Congress passes legislation repealing the law, the administration will continue to defend the statute when it is challenged in the justice system." White House spokesman Shin Inouye
The president just confirmed that he still wants DOMA repealed. That is good news. But he is also telling us something else. Much in the same way he admonished "deadbeat dads" on the campaign trail, I think this is kind of similarly (and I am applying a really b-r-o-a-d definition to "similarly" here) a way for him to call us out. He is, in effect, saying this:
IMAGINED STATEMENT FROM PRESIDENT OBAMA (for effect):
"Okay, LGBT community, it's your turn. You have done your grassroots. You have won several victories on the state level to secure marriage equality. More victories seem likely up ahead. And, in the matter of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," you have managed to win a majority even of conservatives. Yet, there are still Americans who remain unconvinced. 
With this DOJ ruling today, you will find every ridiculous, off-base, unfounded, and downright insulting homophobic attack that your community has encountered through the years. Under today's law, those arguments are not unlike the things you'll hear when other LGBT-related cases come to Washington
How are you going to change their minds? 
With a nod to all the work it has taken activists who fought and fight this fight tirelessly; you were a community whose only real desire was - then and today - simply, equality. Our country has come a long way. Your community has come a long way. And now is the time. 
We are all created equal. And so, with this DOJ ruling, my fellow LGBT Americans, I am asking you if you are ready to do the necessary work to help me convince the entire country. 
Are you?"  
The work isn't done. But it's almost done. [Those who came before us did the majority of the work; and they must be acknowledged for it.]

In a recent interview with NBC, President Obama responds to Brian Williams' question about how it's been being the president thus far:
"I feel extraordinarily privileged and lucky to be in this job. One of the things that I came in believing is that if I can describe to the American people the choices that we confront; be as honest and as straightforward with them as possible, and tell them not just what they want to hear but what they need to hear. That the American people would be supportive. And that's where I draw a lot of strength from... and at heart, I think the people are optimistic; and that gives me optimism." President Barack Obama, June 3, 2009
"Tell them not just what they want to hear but what they need to hear."

Could the president have allowed - or played some role in allowing - the release of this DOJ brief so that it would trigger a kind of Stonewall 2 in our community? We have, thanks to gay activism today, yesterday, and the decades before us, come a long way, dammit... and shame on us if we lose it now.

So here's the plan.

With this DOJ ruling, it is our time to spin this hay into gold. Think of this as the "Guide to Equality in the 21st Century." Also known as "the other twelve step program."

STEP 1

Come OUT!

STEP 2
We must not overreact and begin to think of the president as one of our enemies. That is entirely counterproductive. If we fail on this step, we almost don't deserve to move on to the next steps. Anyway, he isn't the enemy. He isn't the king either. He doesn't have the power to wave a wand and change our laws. Um, that's the kind of behavior we precisely don't want our presidents to have.

STEP 3
Come OUT!

STEP 4
You can be angry. I'm angry. We're all angry! (Thanks, Harvey Milk) But your anger must be channeled elsewhere. Do send reasoned letters and emails to friends, family - even nemeses - to engage them in conversation about homosexuality, homophobia, marriage equality, gays in the military, etc... This is not the time to be timid. You must make yourself and your beliefs known. But beware, this is not the time to scream either. Instead, challenge yourself to use nothing but kindness and patience as you debunk every single one of the fallacies contained in the brief. You get extra points if you can accomplish it in one conversation. 

Again, I may be polly-anna here, but this can work. We would get nowhere if we treat the side, with whom we are attempting to reason, as an adversary. So, this step is... Study the brief. Study each and every ugly stereotype. We can debunk them all. And we can do it without resorting to adversary politics. 

And also read up on LGBT history. There are tons of website dedicated to filling out the gay narrative. Know the history behind us. Because there's a reason we have to do this. 

Think of how shocking it felt for the community as a whole this morning, to read this brief. Thankfully, a lot of us no longer see homophobia like this in our immediate world. It is ancient history. To someone living in Manassas, Virginia, however, it is still what is believed. It just is. 

Now is the time to extend an arm and begin to talk. Or at least offer to talk. I think it's time to talk. 

So maybe this step isn't so easy... but it is vital that we overcome it. We must make our arguments on a national level - even on Fox - to make this stick. We have got to call on the gay community as a whole, Democrats and Republican, Indies and Libs... we have got to capture the hearts and minds of those that hate us. Study that brief.

STEP 5

Come OUT!

STEP 6

"Be soft on the people. Be hard about the problem." 

That's just one of the many useful recommendations from a fantastic book called "Getting to Yes," by Roger Fisher and William Ury. This is a book all about changing someone's mind. The catchphrase for the book is, "Negotiating an agreement without giving in." I must tell you; this is exactly the kind of book we all need to be reading now to help make all of these steps come to life. 

Here's another example from the book: 
"Trying to decide in the presence of an adversary narrows your vision. Having a lot at stake inhibits creativity. So does searching for one right solution. You can offset these constraints by setting aside a designated time within which to think up a wide range of possible solutions that advance shared interests and creatively reconcile differing interests. Hence, before trying to reach agreement, invent options for mutual gain." 
Perhaps we can look at this motion by the DOJ as our opportunity to find "mutual gain." You won't find too many people out there holding on to such beliefs about homosexuals. Find each other on Facebook and talk to each other. And do some good negotiating of your own. So I guess this step is... Read this book (or some kind of negotiation book); and brush up on being convincing... and be socially networked.

STEP 7

Come OUT!

STEP 8

Become a gay activist. What I mean here is to be active within your local gay community. It's obviously up to you to decide how much of an activist... but my message here is to get yourself informed. Grassroots can't spread if no one knows you're there. 

In addition to being vocal on the social networks, with your friends and family; join your local LGBT equality chapter and attend the meetings! 

If you don't have the time to do this, no worries. Visit their websites, at least, and sign up to get their email blasts. You'll have enough to read up on your local LGBT issues. Eventually, you may even see a note about some event, gathering or meeting that grabs your attention. 

Thus, the point of this step is... If you know what's going on, you'd have an easier time navigating through the storm we're about to walk into.

STEP 9

Come OUT!

STEP 10

And speaking of that storm... Though we're almost there, the storm ahead is the most challenging part for us. 

There is no telling how much hate we will still see until we win this, and so we must anticipate the worst. 

So this step, I guess, is... Anticipate. Just think about the next two years. President Obama is on healthcare right now. After that, it's the Supreme Court nomination. Then, I think he'll finally act on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." So, basically, we're next. 

At least that's how it appears with the release of this brief today. 

There are obviously random things on the horizon, which could shift the focus. But, it appears the broader "gay rights" debate is close at hand. So we've got to be prepared for the many more ignorant comments from the usual suspects. 

The worst thing we can do is to let ourselves be blindsided like we were today with the release of that brief. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (or something) is going to begin the national conversation with the president over gay rights... we'll have that one chance to win it all.

STEP 11

Come OUT!

STEP 12
Finally, just be patient. Please, for the love of God, be patient. 

Yes, I understand how irritating it is to hear "be patient" when we're .. this .. close. But, we are .. this .. close, so just wait a little .. bit .. longer. We are almost there. We really are.

And, oh yeah... come OUT already!

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PHOTO: Stonewall 25, New York City 1994