"No Excuses. No Delays." Do we really mean it?

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Posted on May 29, 2009 - 8:55am by Anonymous.

At a recent speaking engagement, I asked a group of people what the world would be like if from the day they were born prejudice had never touched their lives.

No homophobic bullying in school. Supportive families at homes No trans-bashing humor on TV.

No workplace discrimination. Equal treatment of all families regardless of orientation or gender identity.
No closet, ever, because you had never, ever needed one.

Most of the people responded by talking about new laws that would be in effect but they struggled to name the deeper, more personal impact on the texture of their daily lives.

A few talked about what they would no longer fear but struggled to articulate what affirmative attitudes would replace those fears.
And one man wept and said it broke his heart that he could not imagine, even for a moment, what his life would have been without the constant presence of the bigotry and hatred he'd endured for more than 60 years.
I encourage everyone to try this exercise because it is surprisingly difficult, and because I believe it is the pathway to our most potent tools in response to government-imposed second class citizenship: a sense of urgency and the willingness to sacrifice.

We need urgency and sacrifice to harness the transformational power of living "as if." "As if" the laws had already changed. "As if" society were just.
Sitting at a lunch counter that bans your presence is living "as if". Keeping your seat when ordered to relinquish it to someone the law has designated your superior is living "as if."

As a child I was told that Rosa Parks was tired and fed up one fateful day and decided right then and there that she would not give up her seat. I was impressed by her courage.

Later, when I learned that her protest had been contemplated at length with the consequences fully measured, I was inspired even more deeply by her willingness to intentionally sacrifice her freedom and safety to make the country confront the ugliness of Jim Crow.

So where are the places where we contemplate the consequences of living "as if" equality had already arrived. Housing discrimination, workplace discrimination, adoption/ custody issues and hate violence are constant threats in LGBT lives, but not in inevitable or predictable ways. Where are the "sit -in" opportunities for the LGBT movement that can expose the contradiction between what our fellow Americans believe they stand for and what they allow to be done in their name?
Certainly discrimination in marriage laws and the military provide the most direct opportunities. These are the places the law defines us specifically as unequal, where we can make a reliable appointment with discrimination and be certain it will show up right on time.
Servicemembers who come out while on active duty and fight for the right to continue to do their jobs are a model for this kind of personal commitment and sacrifice. They decide not to participate in their own discrimination. They and the organizations fighting for them are shifting public opinion in dramatic ways.

What is the civilian equivalent? What can we do that demonstrates not only the rhetoric of equality but the personal sacrifice that will awaken the conscience of a nation?

What if those of us who are married lived as if our marriages are universally legally recognized? What if we literally refused to deny our spouse on any form, under any circumstances- ever?

When the Federal government asks legally married couples in Massachusetts to file as 'married' in their state and then mark 'single' on the Federal Tax form, they are asking that couple to participate in their own discrimination so that the government doesn't have to dirty it's hands.
They are literally demanding that we lie, to tell an untruth about our marital status, so they can avoid confronting the difference between the ugly discrimination they impose on us and the reality of our loving families.
Imagine the ripple effect of government-issued letters to married gay couples ordering them to deny their spouse on federal forms.
We have to compel these moments by deciding that our lives will be about honesty and self-respect. Even if it comes at a price.

Rosa Parks showed us that even one family refusing to participate in their own discrimination will have an impact.

But thousands of us, all of us, can decide to leave the discrimination up to the other side. We can refuse to collaborate in our own discrimination.
If we refuse to deny our spouses even when the law tries to force us to lie.
If we insist on paying our taxes as married couples, even though the Federal government assessed our taxes as though we were single
If we risked being detained at the border by customs agents who insist we mark single on Declaration forms despite the marriage certificate we hold.

With growing frequency I hear from people who are weighing the consequences of refusing to deny their spouse ever again. I find myself asking the same questions as well.

Even with expert legal guidance detailing the risks, a good dose of uncertainty would be inevitable for anyone taking such a stand into uncharted territory.
Am I willing to take that risk? Are you? Are we all?
We march, we lobby, we educate, we protest as we should and we must. But it seems increasingly clear to me that we must now do what civil rights movements have always done: with forethought and solemnity place ourselves visibly at odds with an unjust law to provoke the consequences that can prick the conscience of our country.
Are we willing to pay the price that civil rights movements require at this critical moment when a reinvigorated national dialogue is raging about our place under the law?
Are we willing to compel the government to be as ugly as it will have to be to enforce its determination that we are not married?
Are we willing to say we are married, regardless of the costs?
'No excuses, no delays' is a fine rallying cry, but it's one that has to cut both ways.

When we call our on our government to take action we must also call upon ourselves to do more.

In focus groups we hosted several years ago, a panel of straight people who knew gay people said they did not believe discrimination was real or nearly bad as we described it because their gay friends or family would have told them these things. Then, in the all-gay focus groups, participants were asked: Do you share your fears and experiences of discrimination with your straight friends and family? They said "NO, if they cared they would ask." They don't ask, we don't tell and rarely are they required to see with their own eyes the deep harm and real pain inflicted by laws that tell us we are less than our neighbors.
Every civil rights struggle in this country has required people to sacrifice and make institutionalized discrimination so visible no one could avert their eyes.
People stepped forward knowing they could lose their homes, lose their jobs, their safety, They walked willingly toward hateful mobs and police with snarling dogs.
They turned a proposed one day bus boycott into 381 days of solidarity. They sacrificed and the country watched and changed.
Every civil rights struggle in this country has required people to sacrifice.
The country is watching. Are we ready to do the same?
Nadine Smith

Comments

banchukita (not verified) says:

July 30, 2009 - 6:42am

@flygirlaviation - I think the article lets us straight folk know what to do - ASK. Start the conversation.

Start it with our gay friends and keep it going with our straight ones.



Anonymous (not verified) says:

June 11, 2009 - 12:38pm

At this point in time we are up to six states that have marriage equality, and there could be more by the end of 2009. Florida is one of many states that have legislated discrimination into it's ocnstitution. What is being done to over turn this blatant act of discrimination in our home state?



flygirlaviation (not verified) says:

June 7, 2009 - 4:48pm

I teared up when I read this article... and I did not lose any of my rights. I'm straight, but that doesn't stop me from feeling outraged.

I have been to many protest marches and rallies against Prop 8. I am following as many LGBT ppl, blogs, groups, events, etc. as I can find... I am boycotting marriage (got the ring and everything. lol). I have signed plegdges to repeal Prop 8, DOMA, DADT and I'm sure a few others. I am trying to get phrases like "that's so gay" & others using "gay" as a synonym for lame/bad out of ppl's vocabulary... I no longer just ignore it when I hear it, but I want, no... I need to do more to help!

But I am having a hard time figuring out what I can do as a straight ally that would be the equivalent of "coming out under DADT" or "refusing to deny my spouse on any form". I feel obligated to do more and I am willing to sacrifice. Please let me know how I can help.

Yours in the struggle, Jen
[email protected]



Patrick Yaeger (not verified) says:

June 6, 2009 - 3:14pm

Please fix this blog post so that the paragraphs break properly. It's difficult to read unless formatted with basic standard formatting implemented. It would also be nice to see a picture of Nadine. :) I'm featuring this post at the GCRM (Gay Civil Rights Movement) Media Center on Facebook where we showcase select powerful LGBT focused movement media. Link: http://tinyurl.com/gcrmmediacenter



Anonymous (not verified) says:

June 6, 2009 - 7:18am

What a powerful article... ;_;
With people like you, Nadine, we will achieve equality for the LGBT community. We'll overcome the lies and bigotry of those right-wing groups.
Let's just hope that the day for LGBT equality will come soon.

Sincerely,
TheYaoiSurgeon



Susan (not verified) says:

June 3, 2009 - 5:45pm

Nadine,

You write--and THINK--so well.

Of course, this is so true. This is exactly what it takes. The other side is not just hateful, it is scared as hell. Anything different or unknown, to people who have been taught not to think, is bloody scary. I know that I don't like being scared, so I follow it quickly with anger. Lots of people follow that with hate.

It takes more than a bunch of letters to our representatives to break down the fear and hate.

I'm pretty sure Karen Doering is ready. And I think there are probably a lot of people who are where Rosa Parks was when she refused to give up her seat. It felt that way the other night at the rally, it just seemed like 1963 and '64 again--really. But will it continue? I don't know.

I know that I wasn't up for facing snarling dogs even in the early 60's, to show you what a wimp I am! I marched and picketed, but I never faced the dogs or the horrors of the firehoses--or the hateful people holding them--and those of "Mississippi Burning." I felt guilty as hell, too, dang it. To calm my guilt feelings, I kept trying to tell myself that, heck, I was only 12 and 13; but it didn't work. I believed the very same things that those who were on those front lines did, so I should bloody-well have been there.

What this means for this current civil rights movement is that I am probably still a wimp when it comes to physical pain. I haven't been arrested before, haven't even thought about whether I'm up to it. But if my principles--and those of our Founders'--are as strong as they certainly seem to me, then, dang it, I ought to be able to take what comes.

And yet, I AM a wimp! Nothing important is easy, is it?

take care,
Susan



Carol (not verified) says:

June 2, 2009 - 1:11pm

Thank you Nadine. You've brought me to tears. I've struggled with this issue since I married my wife in California nearly one year ago. I am ready to step up and she is too. We travel internationally on Friday and we'll start then and there. Again...thank you.



Jim Watson (not verified) says:

May 30, 2009 - 10:19pm

Great article. Well timed for me as I have been thinking about this a lot since finding The Dallas Principles website. I've answered your question on my relatively new blog. Click my name to take you to that post.



Lorna (not verified) says:

May 30, 2009 - 2:31pm

Excellent.



Charlie (not verified) says:

May 30, 2009 - 1:30pm

An excellent article! I haven't yet filed my 2008 tax return; now I'll talk to my partner (we're one of the 18,000 legally married couples in CA) about filing as married, even though we're not supposed to. Thanks, Nadine, for the idea and inspiration!



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