As we await the Supreme Court’s opinion on marriage equality we need only look at the continued racism in our nation to understand no matter how many laws we pass it will take much more to change people’s hearts and minds.
The massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was another stark reminder that racism is alive and rampant in our nation. To make change we must do more than mourn for those who lost their lives and pray for their loved ones.
The symbol of the confederacy still hangs from a flagpole at the State Capitol, though Gov. Nikki Haley this week finally said it should come down. African-American men are beaten by police in cities across the nation and the unemployment rate for black men is nearly twice the rate of that for white men. According to the New York Times, “Nationally, 21.6 percent of black youths are neither working nor in school, compared with 20.3 percent of Native Americans, 16.3 percent of Latinos, 11.3 percent of whites and 7.9 percent of Asians.” The feeling of despair in poor communities breeds violence both within and against the community. With this background Republicans are still trying to curb voting rights for minorities and the poor in states across the nation making it even harder for them to participate in our democracy.
Women ostensibly have equal rights yet there is a concerted effort across the nation to take away their right to control their own healthcare and they still earn less than men for the same jobs. The last effort to pass an equal rights amendment (ERA), first introduced in 1923 and finally passed by Congress in 1972, failed. It was sent to legislatures for ratification, but only 35 of the necessary 38 states ratified it before a 1982 deadline.
So what does this tell us in the LGBT community as we are on the cusp of having our marriage rights recognized in our Constitution? Can we expect that ruling to change people’s hearts and minds about our community and generate acceptance of us? Unfortunately the answer is no and made clearer by the backlash against the LGBT community in legislatures across the country passing new laws to curb our rights.
With lightning speed, we ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passed hate crimes legislation and will have won marriage equality. Yet LGBT children are still being thrown out of their homes when they come out to their parents and being bullied in school; transgender people are being beaten and murdered; and LGBT individuals are being fired from their jobs and denied accommodations based on who they are. As we see from the experiences of African Americans and women just passing laws to guarantee civil and human rights won’t solve all our problems, rather it is just a beginning.
A response to the massacre in Charleston should be to look within ourselves to see who we are as a community as we fight for our rights. We need to ask ourselves if we are as guilty of racism and sexism as anyone else. Is the lack of diversity and gender equality in our leadership a result of this racism and sexism? Can we really move forward to change the hearts and minds of the community at large without doing the work we need to do within our own community?
Speaking from her heart to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke truth when she said, “Race remains a deep fault line in America.” She went on to say, “Once again our country is trying to make sense of violence which is senseless. In this time of tragedy many of us struggle to process our rush of emotions and figure out how to turn grief and confusion into action. It is tempting to believe that in America bigotry is behind us and that institutionalized racism is a thing of the past. Many of us hoped by electing our first black president we turned the page on this history… But we have not, so we need to have this discussion no matter how difficult it is.”
Our community, too, needs to have this discussion if we are ever to see acceptance for us. We need to determine what action we will take both as individuals and a community to ensure our own hearts and minds are open as we fight to open the hearts and minds of others.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.