I have seen a bit of blogosphere conversations lately about the need or lack of need to demand progress from the President on LGBT equality issues. Just wanted to add some thoughts to that particular line of discussion with some observances from the left coast.
First, a story. (Oh Gawd, not one of those!) A few years back I worked in San Francisco and had the very great fortune to get to hang out with Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the founders of the first lesbian organization in the country. I would ask questions about history and their opinions on current events.
Before the marriage debate heated up, before there was a ruling in the California Supreme Court and when we talked about marriage equality in Massachusetts, I asked them about marriage. This was a couple that had been together for over 50 years at this point. They had seen the changes in the city, in LGBT politics, in the progressive movement from the days of Eleanor Roosevelt to the age of Hillary Clinton.
The answer? "We won't see it in our lifetimes." So, of course, I queeried, "Well, why work for it, marriage equality, then if you are not going to benefit from it?" Del said, "Well for the people coming after us." Simple, and to the point, just like Del.
Luckily, they were wrong. Del and Phyllis became the first couple married in California in June of 2008. Del died in August of 2008. She died a married woman.
I was reminded of Del last night listening to President Obama's speech on health care. He talked about the letter he received from Senator Ted Kennedy after the Senator's death. The portion which resonated with me was the Senator's call:
"But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."
The character of our country.
Can we look at our own LGBT movement and reflect on the character of that movement?
How many of us can work in coalition on issues other than LGBT without needing to draw attention to ourselves? The ego is strong but the cause is greater than ego.
Can we do something that will not make our lives not one bit better but will help another being? Can we be the ones we are waiting for and not tell anyone?
Del Martin was one of the first people in the country to write about battered women. She didn't write about lesbian battered women, she wrote about battered women. Her and Phyllis worked within the National Organization for Women to make women's lives better, not just lesbian women. Although they surely made many, many lesbians' lives better, there is no argument that we are better because of the wide range of work.
So the point? Can we as a movement work in coalition with groups tackling racism, sexism, environmental justice, an end to war and not have it just be about LGBT issues? Can we be queer without a parade?
Can we make change in the world and not be the center of the universe? Only time will tell if we truly have the character to make our movement about change and not just change for us.