Sunday, February 24, 2008

An America as Good as Its Promise

And now Barack Obama has addressed the murder of Lawrence King. According to today's Bilerico blog, Mr. Obama released the following statement yesterday:

It was heartbreaking to learn about Lawrence King’s death, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. King’s senseless death is a tragic example of the corrosive effect that bigotry and fear can have in our society. It’s also an urgent reminder that we need to do more in our schools to foster tolerance and an acceptance of diversity; that we must enact a federal hate crimes law that protects all LGBT Americans; and that we must recommit ourselves to becoming active and engaged parents, citizens and neighbors, so that bias and bigotry cannot take hold in the first place. We all have a responsibility to help this nation live up to its founding promise of equality for all.

Kudos to Mr. Obama.

And now, as someone who has donated** to Mr. Obama's campaign, I challenge Barack Obama to continue to distance himself from "ex-gay" proponents such as Rev. Donnie McClurkin, who performed in the Obama campaign in South Carolina. The damages done to tender human psyches by bogus reparative "therapies" purporting to change sexual orientation are too well-documented to be dismissed easily. "Ex-gay" ministries are especially damaging to young people finding their way through the maze of gender issues in adolescence, youth whose families sometimes place them in "Christian" reparative therapy programs such as Love in Action in Memphis.

This weekend, there has been a conference of survivors of ex-gay ministry in Memphis, in which speakers and artists explore and publicize the damages of this spurious form of psychotherapy which has been soundly repudiated by all psychotherapeutic organizations of any standing. Peterson Toscano's a musing blog, to which my blog is linked, reports on this conference.

I also call on Mr. Obama to support the courageous stand his own church, the United Church of Christ, has taken on LGBT issues. This denomination was the first mainstream denomination in North America to ordain openly gay pastors. The UCC also supports gay marriage. Mr. Obama has stated that he is not in favor of gay marriage--that he has not yet found himself able to come to the place at which his church has arrived re: this issue.

Yet an editorial in today's NY Times reports that studies in New Jersey are showing that legalized gay unions result in a second-class status for gay couples. Gay couples in New Jersey report meeting obstacles in dealing with inheritance questions, in making medical decisions on behalf of one's partner or even in being permitted visitation rights when the partner is in the hospital. A horrific story from Miami last year, which is now resulting in legal action, reported that a woman whose partner collapsed and died when they were visiting Miami from Washington State was told that she might not see her partner in the hospital, since they were in an anti-gay state with anti-gay laws.

The NY Times editorial notes that gay couples of color are especially prone to meeting obstacles under gay union laws, since they often do not have the financial resources to hire lawyers to fight discrimination, or to prepare estate documents to protect inheritance rights. The editorial calls on Gov. Corzine of New Jersey to demonstrate courage in addressing these issues.

I call on Mr. Obama to show the same courage. I was heartened by the speech he gave in an Atlanta church some weeks ago, in which he challenged the African-American community to deal with its homophobia. As someone who has worked within historically black colleges and universities, as an openly gay employee, I can testify about this: homophobia is alive and well in the African-American community (as in the white community). And it needs to be addressed. Silence about this issue contributes to the HIV epidemic in the African-American community. The failure to admit that black men can be living on the down-low and spreading AIDS to female partners, the silence about the presence of LGBT African Americans in the black community, contributes to the alarming rise in HIV cases among black women.

The black churches have historically been silent about these issues and about issues of sexuality in general. It is time for honest, open conversations. It is time to forge a new, safer social space for LBGT youth of color. The black churches should play a significant role in this regard. They--and Mr. Obama--would do well to listen to the courageous testimony of African-American athlete Charles Barkley about these issues.

Thank you for speaking out, Mr. Obama. Please keep on keeping on. And as you do so, please remember the inspiring words of a powerful African-American woman (and a lesbian), who helped pave the way for your success today. As Barbara Jordan once said, “What the people want is very simple--they want an America as good as its promise.”

This is what many of us in America--gay, straight, black, white, male, female--long for today. Please do not disappoint those who have pinned their hopes on you.

**I certainly don't want to imply that I am a major donor to Mr. Obama's campaign. I have given the bit I can as someone who is unemployed and without health insurance. But what I have given is given with strong hope that the changes Mr. Obama promises will actually be enacted, should he be elected. For those of us who are LGBT Americans, whose vocational lives have often been disrupted by prejudice, who have no federal protection when we are discriminated against in the workplace, it is crucially important that laws be enacted forbidding discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing, benefits, medical care, and so on. When our jobs are ended due to a discrimination we can't challenge in the absence of laws protecting us, we lose access to healthcare benefits which, without an income, we cannot afford. For those of us in committed relationships, if one partner is lucky enough to obtain another job when discrimination interrupts both partners' lives, there is often no chance of carrying the other partner on the new health insurance plan, since the majority of employers do not provide partner benefits. All of this needs to be part of any serious platform of change in contemporary America. We all lose, when the gifts of some cannot be realized due to prejudice. When those being impeded by discrimination are talented young people beginning their careers, the nation as a whole stands to lose very much, if those youth cannot achieve their goals due to insupportable discrimination.

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