Is It or Isn't It: That is the question

Is it or isn't in the best interest of the LGBT community: that is the question.
Whether it is nobler to think of the long-term implications on our community, the struggle for full equality for all Americans, and move cautiously, or to accept the many overtures to our community by politicians, political parties and coalitions at face value, hoping that these alliances will lead to long-term transformative change.
That is the question facing LGBT political leaders and organizations, not just as we get closer to the November elections, but as we look forward to future federal, state and local elections.
Our dilemma is every bit as dramatic; our lack of full equality in the work place, in marriage and for our families every bit as tragic; and the consequences of the actions we take in response to the enticing promises of our would-be allies, including politicians on both sides of the aisle, are every bit as epic as the dilemmas facing Shakespeare's Hamlet. This situation is not new. It has been played out again and again in every struggle for equality and now it's our turn.
For years the LGBT community has received the crumbs off the table, been tossed the scraps and told to wait until the time is right. As recently as 2007, we were asked to settle for a partial, non-inclusive ENDA being cautioned to settle and again wait for the time to be right for equal rights for all LGBT Americans. Repeatedly we have been asked to be a part of coalitions for social justice only to find we still have to wait for justice for us.
In voices reminiscent of the generations of African-Americans who toiled against the yoke of Jim Crow, segregation and discrimination, we too have cried out "How long, America? How long?"
After signs of our growing political influence in the 2006 elections and being a part of the political discussion throughout the 2008 primaries, not the topic of discussion as a wedge issue, it is understandable that we look enthusiastically towards the future. We stand on the fresh hold of a new day in the history of this country – a new politics. A politics built on the shared understanding that pulls us all together, embraces our diversity, our vision and our role in defining the fabric of America – a politics that at long last promises us our seat at the table.
But our enthusiasm needs to be tempered by the knowledge and wisdom of other struggles. History is our ally and best defense, but you can't learn from the past if you don't know the past. We must ask ourselves what these invitations to collaborate, endorse and support actually mean.
Is it to sit at the table or just serve the food? Are these steps for permanent, lasting inclusion in political landscape, or are these overtures for inclusion on limited terms? When our endorsement is courted but then asked to be kept on the "down low," what does our endorsement really mean? Will we be for candidates perceived as our allies if they aren't prepared to publicly acknowledge our endorsement and their support for LGBT issues? Does our participation mean they tell us when, where and what our role is? If so, then we are only serving as political pawns to indicate broad-based support. We might be dressed up to appear at the table but there's no seat for us; we are just serving the same old decision makers.
I find myself looking back at my own political history to assess the value of today's invitations. Back in the day, as a community activist, I was part of the Save Our Spirit Coalition in Detroit. Each year this coalition would go to the budget hearings at City Council and advocate for funding to go to neighborhood and community endeavors. It was always a huge fight.
In 1992, a candidate promising change and hope came to the mayoral race. His campaign actively courted the community, promising change and a greater voice for neighborhoods. We, activists in the nonprofit community, welcomed this change and campaigned vigorously for him and the promise of our seat at the table.
Once elected, he drew the best and brightest from our pool of activists, forming a blue ribbon team to be a part of his transition team. We were elated, thinking at last our community was being asked to sit at the table. We served tirelessly on this and developing the proposal that helped Detroit be selected as one of the few "Empowerment Zone" cities in the country.
We also pushed to get some of the community's best and brightest on his staff, only to discover that once we had done the work, we were given a deaf ear by the administration. Our friends on his staff had their hands tied because they were paid staff members and lost their independent voice. We were in the dining room alright, but only to serve.
Now it's our turn. The spotlight is shining brightly on the LGBT community, its strengths, its resources and its voice. I have the audacity to believe that we will make a difference in November as we exercise our right and duty as Americans to cast our vote for change. Our chair at the table of equality is waiting, but we must have the commitment, foresight and presence to clearly say we are not here just to serve any political ideology, but to participate in the evolution of equality for all – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and all who have suffered the agony of discrimination. We are here to participate in the healing of our communities and lead the way to a more compassionate society.
In his 1994 inaugural speech Nelson Mandela said, "Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all."
Is it or isn't in the best interest of the LGBT community: is not the question. The question is if our daily deeds as LGBT Americans will produce an actual American reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all. With this question as our moral compass, the answers will be clear.

Topics: Opinions

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