Monday, January 21, 2008

Straight for Equality

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Rev. Martin Luther King
Letter from Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963

I've had a link to Straight for Equality on my blog for a little while now, but I've never written anything about it. So today, Martin Luther King Day, seems like an appropriate time.

Straight for Equality is a national outreach effort sponsored by PFLAG. It's designed to empower "straight" allies for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in three primary areas: home, workplace and community. If you go to the Web site, you'll find a list of things that you can do as an ally. They're as simple - and important - as speaking out when someone makes a bigoted joke or comment.

Too often, it's the bigots, the haters, who make the loudest noise and get the most attention. And the rhetoric can turn especially ugly during the campaign season. But in my opinion, they do not represent who we are as Americans or the values of equality and justice that we hold dear.

A study last year by the Pew Center for People & the Press found that 4 in 10 Americans have close friends or family members who are gay or lesbian. About half of all women, young people, college graduates, political liberals and mainline Protestants say that someone close to them is gay, the survey found. Yet too often, we don't speak up loudly enough for our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers and our family members. Someone has to tell the bigots that they're wrong.

If you're straight, and you wonder why you should care, well, I don't believe that it's solely the obligation of gays and lesbians to fight homophobia any more than it's the sole obligation of Jews to fight anti-Semitism or women to fight sexism or African-Americans and Latinos to fight racism. We all have an obligation to do what's right.

And this is not about your political views or religious beliefs, just as the civil rights movement for African-Americans was not about politics or religion. It's simply about equal rights for all Americans regardless of the sexual orientation they were born with. That includes right to be treated equally in the workplace, the right to live openly and be a full participant in society, the right to be free from fear, the right to marry the person you love.

When I was in high school, I had the honor of briefly meeting Coretta Scott King. It's an experience that I will never forget. Before she passed away, Mrs. King spoke eloquently on the connection between the fight for equal rights for African-Americans and for gays and lesbians. Her words are truly inspiring and worth remembering today.

Here's some of what she had to say:

“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people.... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

"Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group."

"Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions."

"We have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say “common struggle” because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination.''

"Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others."

"I've always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy."

Putting a link on my blog isn't a very big or courageous act. I know it's not going to change the world. But one thing I've come to realize is that I get visitors from all over the United States, from all over the world. This is just one small way of showing where I stand. And if Martin Luther King Day means anything, it should be a day for rededicating ourselves to the fight for equal rights for all Americans.

It's a day, as Mrs. King wrote, to commemorate "the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership.''

Forty-five years ago, Dr. King wrote that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." It's an eloquent statement that still rings true today.

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