Sunday, June 28, 2009

40 Years Since Stonewall and We Still Face Legalized Discrimination - We Have A Lot of Work To Do

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that took place in Greenwich Village in New York City. Though some riots had occurred before Stonewall, such as the 1967 protest at the Black Cat Tavern in Silver Lake, CA among others, Stonewall has been marked as the turning point that launched the LGBT civil rights movement.

The video from Democracy Now covers the history of Stonewall (after some news items).

Forty years later, we still have a lot of work to do. Despite the tide turning in our favor in public opinion, Washington is lagging behind, as usual, because politicians are too selfish and scared of pissing off any constituents in fear of losing their coveted seats. Even more disappointing for the LGBT population is the lack of movement from our "fierce advocate", President Obama. (Or in our case, the biggest move he's made is to have his Department of Justice issue a discriminatory brief defending one of the biggest LGBT discriminatory law, the Defense of Marriage Act.)

Today, Frank Rich of the New York Times write in his op-ed "40 Years Later, Still Second-Class Americans" writes, "It’s a press cliché that “gay supporters” are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws. If the president is to properly honor the memory of Stonewall, he should get up to speed on what happened there 40 years ago, when courageous kids who had nothing, not even a public acknowledgment of their existence, stood up to make history happen in the least likely of places."

President Obama keeps passing the buck to Congress, stating that he would be happy to sign any legislation giving LGBT equal rights if it reached his desk. The Administration repeatedly uses the refrain that fundamental change can only come from legislation while doing nothing to push it forward. Not the qualities of a "fierce advocate" but a passive politician not willing to take risks for what is right. (But thanks for the parties, Obama. You know us well.)

Just yesterday, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network organized a protest outside the White House, urging the president to act on Don't Ask Don't Tell, the repeal of which was a campaign promise, after he rejected an appeal from 77 members of Congress asking him to issue an executive order that discharges under the discriminatory legislation be stopped until repeal legislation is passed.

Joe Sudbay of America Blog covered the protest and issued this video:

Congress is finally beginning to listen, but again, it's taking gay and lesbian members of Congress to actually get the ball rolling. Roll Call reports:
After five months of virtual inaction on the gay rights agenda, House Democratic leaders on Wednesday met privately to chart out a strategy for advancing the constituency group’s priorities in the 111th Congress.

Headlining the meeting was Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who with her leadership team and the three openly gay Members of Congress — Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — sought to map out a way forward on several key gay rights bills.

According to sources, the Members discussed workplace discrimination, health care benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees and a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bars gays from openly serving in the military. The lawmakers also discussed how to help the Senate pass hate crimes legislation that has already cleared the House.
Though this is encouraging, including Frank's introduction of an inclusive ENDA bill, many concerns have been raised that it's already too late for any LGBT bill, especially with time running out for the congressional session and two major bills still needing passing - health care reform and climate change legislation.

So 40 years after Stonewall, we still have a lot of work to do to achieve the equal rights that we all seek and deserve. But the tide is turning in our favor. Never before in history has public opinion of the LGBT population been so supportive. However, that doesn't mean any real change will take place until we take responsibility for our own freedom.

We have to act. We have to not only blog, Tweet, email and Facebook events, we literally have to get up off our asses and hit the pavement, old-fashion style. We have to come out of the closet (however that may look - leaving the gay ghetto, being more open at work, talking to family and more); we have to knock on doors and canvass for LGBT rights campaigns; we have to literally pick up the phone and call our state and federal congressional representatives; we have to actually show up to rallies, protests and fundraisers, and yes, meetings instead of just pride parties; we need to act.

Now is the time in history to seize the moment. Not to win crumbs, but the whole meal. EVERYTHING. Full state and federal rights. We have, despite appearances, a willing president who will sign LGBT rights legislation and a Congress that's our best bet in over a decade. We have been given an opportunity. We have been given the chance to make Stonewall worth it. Change won't happen overnight. But if it doesn't happen because we don't act, as a full LGBT population, then we only have ourselves to blame.

Use Stonewall as inspiration and win.

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