Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stone By Stone, Destroying Jericho

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's not just a theory. There really was a Mormon conspiracy to suppress same-sex marriage in California. Michael R. Otterson, a P.R. guy for the Latter Day Saints came clean to the Times. "We've spoken out on other issues, we've spoken out on abortion, we've spoken out on those other kinds of things... But we don't get involved to the degree we did on this."

All I have to say is... Thanks. Really. We owe you one. That ass-kicking of queers at the polls jump-started a dying LGBT civil rights movement, and got us on the streets en masse for the first time since Matthew Shephard was killed in '98, for the first time since ARV's demobilized the AIDS movement.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Otterson. Without you and the masses of fundamentalist bigots, a million queers wouldn't have answered the Join the Impact call to demonstrate last Saturday. They wouldn't be planning for next month. And the one after that. If you hadn't dumped gasoline on what wasn't much more than a smoldering cigarette butt, we may never have caught fire.

Hell, we'd still be relying on campaigns like No on 8 run by salaried queers that erased us from ads, kept us off the street, and ignored communities of color in California. Without you, we'd still be indentured to the Democrats and their gay-hating, vote-gathering preachers because they're the only game in town, or were. Not any more.

Now, we have each other. We've started to feel our strength again. One young queer wrote Andrew Sullivan to say, "For younger gays, this is the first time we've had the chance to take to the streets and fight for our basic humanity. Now that we've gotten a taste of what it feels like, I don't think we're ever going to give it up."

I hope not. That feeling is why I've stuck it out. Why so many of us have. It's what street activism gives you. That sudden overwhelming sense of unity, of pride. Of feeling your voice and your life amplified by a hundred, by a thousand, by ten thousand every time you step into the street.

Enjoy it. Protect it. If there's one thing I know about civil rights organizing, it's that you can knock your head against that wall for years, but if elements don't converge, nothing rises. I think it was Obama's historic victory converging with our defeat at the polls that gave us the short, sharp, shock we needed to rise. And in Minneapolis and Nashville, San Diego, Missoula, Boise, Evansville and Honolulu, in Seattle, San Francisco and New York, you can feel the walls trembling.

All we have to do is keep our distance from corrupt queer leaders who whisper, "No, you can't." Or "Not now. Maybe later." "Not like that." "You really need an expert." Let them take their CV's and amnesia elsewhere, those who have forgotten that rights aren't negotiated in backrooms by ghosts, but seized with both hands in the street.

And now's the time, no matter what you think about marriage itself. I admit I was reluctant. For most of Western history, and Eastern, too, marriage was essentially a contract for men to buy woman like breeding cows. My mother's mantra was equally discouraging: "If only I hadn't married your father and had you kids."

Deeply ambivalent, I may have sat this battle out if California hadn't slammed the door so emphatically in our collective faces. Now, I don't have a choice. Change, like god, moves in mysterious ways. The black civil rights movement didn't begin with a vague call for equality, but with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott.

Probably some activists didn't care much about where they sat. The miracle of activism is that symbols emerge, chosen or not, and it's the fight for them that rearranges the terrain like an earthquake. And like bus seats and lunch counters, marriage is suddenly the battleground that counts for LGBT civil rights and our growing struggle against the bigotry of religious fundamentalism more and more embedded in the state.

To win, queers must stick together, and welcome support when it comes. In California, a coalition of Asian, black and Hispanic organizations are already submitting a petition to the California Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8.

On Monday in New York, the city's largest Spanish-language daily, El Diario La Prensa, printed an editorial supporting same-sex marriage, firmly reminding the Latino community they had their own lesbians and gay men, and just as firmly reminding queers that LGBT people of color fight on more than one front. "The gap between the struggle for LGBT rights and the struggles for economic and racial justice needs to be closed."

Maybe it finally will be. Change is coming. Like a wave, like a trumpet blowing.

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