Amy Hunter

Unity, One Short Word

Filed By Amy Hunter | October 04, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Defense of Marriage Act, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Kalamazoo

There are many signature issues around which the gay, transgender unity-300x300.jpgand allied communities rally — repeal of DOMA and DADT, passage of an inclusive ENDA, same-sex marriage. Social justice today for LGBT people seems to be defined by bumper sticker acronyms and any one of them, indeed, all of them are worthy of our undivided attention.

Wait a moment though...are they really? What is the true measure of success? What is winning for the LGBT equality movement?

Before the rocks and bottles start flying, give me a chance to tell you why I ask.

Arguably, 2009 was a great year to live in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We saw gays and transgenders come together as never before. We, in unity and with our allies, passed what is undeniably one of the nation's strongest municipal non-discrimination ordinances. As part of the campaign team, I found myself privileged to experience firsthand the currents and eddies that swirled around our community. In retrospect, perhaps the most salient fact about the campaign for Ordinance #1856 is this: While Kalamazoo residents overwhelmingly believed everyone should be treated fairly and equally, a disproportionate number of them did not know that gay and transgender citizens were not protected by law from discrimination.

You heard right, most people in Kalamazoo did not know that it was possible to be denied employment because you were gay or transgender, or evicted, or refused service at a restaurant if the manager even thought you were. This is certainly a gross over-simplification, but it speaks to the underpinnings of what is truly important as LGBT people move toward fully endowed citizenship.

We live in a society that believes its own myths. Somehow, we think, if repeated often enough, we really will live in a place where everyone is fairly treated and considered equal. Not likely, the struggle for gender equality did not begin with Women's Suffrage and did not end with the women's liberation movement. Racial inequality and bigotry did not cease when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The issues mentioned in the first paragraph are indeed worthy, yet, not one represents an end unto itself. The road to equality for us did not begin at Stonewall nor will it end with repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Equality is an on-going, ever-evolving process--there is no end game.

Raising public awareness in Kalamazoo was a near Herculean effort centering on rights broader society believes to be essential and furthermore, takes for granted. Moreover, while any of the issues above may serve to illustrate fundamental themes of equality, picking them off one by one as they matter parochially will not suffice.

"We, in unity and with our allies..." This partial sentence illustrates the principal contributor to victory in Kalamazoo. Here, we measured success as unity being a pervasive quality throughout the community, not exclusively among gay and transgender citizens. Unity, one short but immensely powerful word without which, nothing much is possible.

Broadened debate must ask entire communities; if not the nation, in what kind of place they wish to live. If we fail to do this, then we may have nothing in our future but small, or local and eventually insignificant victories. We must come together to make not simply strategic, issue specific, but broad, unified decisions about the issues confronting us today and into the future.

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Great post.

I believe you had a successful "education" effort in Kalamazoo. That works.

I would disagree about the lack of an "end game." When the majority of our fellow citizens support our full equality we have reached the "end game." Religious "literalists" should be the "minority," not us. Two-thirds of America is willing to support our full equality and in the process marginalize those that do not - the religious fanatics.

Except for a few places (like Kalamazoo) we haven't united in a concerted effort to educate, enlighten and enroll. We need to. THAT is the path to victory.

Last evening the Traverse City City Commission unanimously adopted an Inclusive Non-Discrimination Ordinance a well. They strongly urged those who opposed such ordinances to just put this issue behind us and our country. Each and every one of the points those who spoke to oppose the adoption of the Ordinance were either invalid or just plain sounded crazy. Everyone knows Equality is the right thing to do if they take time to consider it fully without the background noise of hate and fear being thrown in to drown out the real the message. Let us hope that those words spoken last night in Traverse City and in other cities and localities who have passed such an ordinance echo loud enough to finally be heard in Lansing and Washington.

Joanna Sue,
Thank You for this great news! And Congratulations to Traverse City for doing the right thing. It seems the commissioners there know pecisely what side of history to be on. As a nation, we should be beyond sex and gender diversity as a basis for discrimination by now. Just imagine what challenges we can tackle once all the energy that goes into supporting the fear behind discrimination becomes available for positive change!

Paul Nepote | October 5, 2010 10:53 PM

FYI - And the word of the Gay victory in Traverse City is spreading across the country.
We need to secure the right to vote ASAP.
Win or Lose, we need to let Traverse City politicians know, This is not San Francisco!

Traverse City has no place for homophobes like you. Remember the Golden Rule? You're no Christian by any stretch of the imagination!

I agree wholeheartedly, Amy. One of the biggest challenges in Indiana was that most folks didn't realize we weren't already protected. They assumed we were.

I absolutely agree, especially with the part about the lack of an end game. This doesn't end. The world will never be perfect. And as soon as we wash our hands, go home, and pat ourselves on the back, everything will start to be rolled back.

Queer acceptance and dignity is a process, not a goal.