First of all, congratulations on the end of one journey and the beginning of another. We are all looking forward to your presidency, and many of us, I am sure, are thinking about how to share your burdens. So much of what happens next is about activating what already works: I was thinking about this after our third snowfall in so many days here in Shoreline. I didn’t want to get up and shovel again — but I did, because there are a lot of elderly people in my neighborhood who have worked hard to be independent and stay in their own homes, and a bad fall could end that in a matter of seconds. So I was out shoveling and scraping, along with the Italian sons, who drive in from the suburbs to make sure their parents’ walks are clear; and the Black and Latino kids from the projects around the corner, who were trying to make a little money before school started. Then a couple guys came down the street and said to me “Put that shovel down Dr. Radical!” and it turned out they had been sent by my old college friend, Tim, an African-American man from Louisiana who used to play professional football, and has invested the bulk of his earnings in Shoreline neighborhoods. By doing this, a great many of his efforts go towards providing decent housing for poor people. Tim also hires guys from Shoreline who have been in prison and gives them the jobs they need, both to get parole and try to make new lives. Did I mention that Tim is busy developing land for a school back in Louisiana, and that he is particularly concerned about the educational prospects of girls?
So you see what I mean? There are a lot of people who are ready to step up, because they are stepping up already by thinking about somebody else every day and doing something about it. I think you know that, or you wouldn’t be investing so much of your presidency in talking to us about it.
But I don’t think you know much about the gay agenda. Oh yeah, yeah, there is one — it’s not just some right-wing scare tactic. There is. And part of what makes me think about this is the story in today’s New York Times about queers of color and their allies picketing Pastor Rick Warren’s Martin Luther King Day appearance in Atlanta. King’s message of tolerance, protesters said, would have included gay and lesbian people. But actually, that is not true. It did not. We know that Bayard Rustin was marginalized from the movement because of his homosexuality, and only brought back to coordinate the 1963 March on Washington because of the highly-principled A. Philip Randolph, president of the influential Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
My point is that on that day when Martin talked about his dream, Bayard had a dream too, which was that the sexual acts he performed and his love for other men, Black and white, would not subject him to the double jeopardy of being a Black gay man. And that dream has also not yet been realized.
So without further ado, let me tell you what the gay agenda is:
That when anti-gay activists talk about special rights that queers are asking for, you remind them of the special wrongs we have endured. Like losing our jobs, being subject to arrest for gathering socially, being beaten and raped by the police, having our intellectual life censored, being imprisoned, being committed to mental asylums, having our children taken away, being thrown out of our homes as children and being forced to survive by selling sex acts to strangers, being bullied and beaten at school and on the street, electroshock treatment, being killed, being expelled from school, being subjected to endless public denigration and hatred as a group, having our belongings and money be stolen by the families of our deceased partners, being evicted from our homes, being excluded from hospital rooms when our loved ones are ill, being dismissed dishonorably from the military and losing our benefits, being permanently excluded from all benefits, financial and legal, that accrue to people who are married, and employment discrimination. To name a few. You tell them that, ok?
That you put all the reports that have been commissioned over the years that have reluctantly concluded that GLBTQ people are not only as good, but better, soldiers than straight people, in the public record; and by executive order, end all discrimination against GLBTQ people in the military. While you are at it, you might remind the Joint Chiefs that people in the military do not have access to freedom of speech as civilians do. You can order them to immediately issue a standing order to all commissioned and non-commissioned officers that they will no longer be permitted to voice their opinion that gays in the military are disruptive to a good national defense. They will convey explicitly, if they feel the need to discuss us at all, homophobia in the ranks, and all forms of prejudice and discrimination, is disruptive to a good national defense.
You can solve your Rick Warren problem by getting religion the fuck out of politics. Everybody is entitled to hir own faith, but they are not entitled to bludgeon the rest of us with it, and that act should not be facilitated by the President, the Congress, or any other elected official. This is not about being against religion per se; it is about the separation of church and state. Church and state may, and should, speak to each other; they should not speak for each other.
Issue an Executive Order canceling the Defense of Marriage Act. Leaving marriage “up to the states” when the federal government does not recognize gay and lesbian marriage as a legal contract is a punt. When people cannot take advantage of federal tax laws, transport their families over state lines, keep their health benefits, or know that they can retain custody of or access to children when they move to another state, their marriages are not equal to the marriages of straight people.
Tell the IRS to immediately investigate the non-profit status of churches that are investing large sums of money in anti-gay initiatives. Tell the IRS to agree back off when they agree to stop engaging in discriminatory activity.
There’s more, but you have a lot to do, my friend, so I will stop here. So as you move forward, Barack, don’t be tolerant like Martin Luther King, Jr., great as he was in so many ways. Be tolerant like A. Philip Randolph, who truly knew how to accept a person for who s/he was and the talents s/he brought to this great country.
This post goes out with love to Cheryl Clarke, poet, activist, intellectual and friend. Popsie did not live to see today, but he left his great lesbian daughter to carry on the mission.