Tag Archives: civil rights

RFRA, Language, WorldViews

A couple of days ago, a group of Indiana Pastors gathered at the Statehouse to deliver a long letter accusing the Governor and legislators of “betrayal” for amending RFRA to include a modicum of civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers.

I encourage readers to click through and read the letter in its entirety, because it is a (rather chilling) window into a world in which words like “liberty” mean something very different from their meaning in the world I inhabit.

This “fixed” RFRA legislation has opened the door to a trampling of our liberties….You received godly counsel from strong and knowledgeable leaders from across our nation who encouraged you to stand strong and to veto this legislation. You failed. In doing so, you betrayed the trust of millions of Hoosiers who elected you to protect the liberties we hold dear….

You state that you are committed to an Indiana where religious rights and individual rights coexist in harmony. While this sounds wonderful, we all know that the demands of the LGBT lobby make this untenable with those who profess faith in Christ and faithfulness to the Scriptures. It was clear from the press conference that the next “discussion” will involve the creation of sexual orientation and gender identity as a special protected class in Indiana. Leadership from the gay community told all who were listening that this will become a reality in Indiana….

God’s Word is very clear about the proper expression of human sexuality, and homosexuality is one of a variety of sexual behaviors God expressly condemns. For Christians, therefore, sexual sins can never be treated as civil rights.

There is much, much more.

Let me be clear: drawing a line between the right of people to the free exercise of their belief systems–no matter how foreign or even repugnant those beliefs may be to other Americans–and the civil rights of their fellow citizens is not simple, nor is the placement of that line uncontested. The Pastors’ letter highlights a consistent and probably unavoidable tension in an America that values both liberty and equality.

That said, the letter vividly demonstrates the worldview of would-be theocrats who believe they speak for God– who believe they have the right to demand laws that privilege their beliefs and impose them on everyone else, and who believe that failure to occupy that privileged legal position victimizes them.

This is the worldview of the Taliban.

Brace for Blowback…

Or was that Brownback? As in retrograde Governor of Kansas?

According to AP,

Brownback rescinded an executive order issued in August 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The order applied to hiring and employment decisions by agencies under the governor’s direct control and required them to create anti-harassment policies as well.

 Brownback has defended his state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage,  which was recently invalidated by the federal courts. Apparently, this was his “I’ll show you” revenge.

At the same time he rescinded the order, which he criticized as “unilateral” (I think Executive Orders are “unilateral” by definition…) Brownback issued a new order reaffirming the state’s commitment to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, gender or religion. In other words, Kansans shouldn’t pick on people unless they’re gay.

“This executive order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a brief statement. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the Legislature and not through unilateral action.”…

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, said the jobs of hundreds of gay, lesbian and transgendered workers are now at risk, after they’ve spent nearly a decade believing they were safe on the job after disclosing their orientation or gender identity.

Two steps forward (aka same-sex marriage), one step back.

Kansas should be ashamed.


This is a Test

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” He was right; and that vigilance can be taxing. Similarly, social progress requires persistence, and most of us tire of activism in the long run. “Cause fatigue” is human–but not helpful.

I’m beginning to see that fatigue in Indiana’s gay community. The national trend is toward equality; polls show that once my generation is dead, the fight for equal civil rights, including marriage, will be won. So a lot of well-meaning folks–gays and straight allies alike–are easing up on their support for the organizations doing the heavy lifting.

In Indiana, dwindling support can have very significant, very negative consequences: the right wing may yet get a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot. And of course, Indiana still doesn’t protect even the basic civil rights of its gay citizens. So it isn’t a good time to let up on our support for groups like Indiana Equality.

That support can be as simple as attending the upcoming holiday party being held to benefit IE. If you are one of the people who’s feeling burned out, at least party for equality! And if you can’t go, send money. You’ll feel better, and so will Thomas Jefferson.

Progress is Hard Work

How does change happen?

Too often, we think of broad cultural changes as part of an inevitable sweep of history,  sort of like the process of maturation we go through as individuals: as we grow up, we understand more. This analogy conveniently overlooks the people who grow older but do not grow up. And it overlooks the role that parents, peers and educational institutions play in molding individuals.

Cultural change does not come about accidently either. A lot of blood was spilled in the fight for legal equality for African-Americans—and by forcing legal change, the civil rights movement began the lengthy process of changing attitudes. The evolution from “a woman’s place is in the home” to a society in which working women are a commonplace didn’t begin with bloodshed, but it did begin with suffragette marches and continued with the establishment of feminist organizations like NOW and NARAL. Similarly, the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians has been the product of hard work by gay civil rights organizations.

I mention that because, in my city, it is the time of year for Lambda Legal’s big fundraising dinner. On September 16th, members, supporters and supportive public officials will gather in downtown Indianapolis to hear Zach Wahls, a remarkable young man whose speech to the Iowa legislature went viral a few months ago. At 19, he is representative of a generation that symbolizes the changes in attitudes about gay families—changes that have occurred largely because of the work done by organizations like Lambda.

No organization of which I am aware has been more important than Lambda, although there are certainly many organizations doing great work on behalf of the LGBT community.

The reason I raise the importance of civil rights organizations is that there tends to be a “trajectory” of support for any cause. Early in the movement for equality—whether for African-Americans, women or gays—there is generally a dedicated, even enthusiastic, core group that supports and funds the organizations that have been formed. As those organizations experience successes, as they see progress, and as time passes, the early support dwindles and the enthusiasm flags. (Most recently, you could see this in the fight against AIDS; as new medications were developed and discrimination lessened, so did awareness. The sense of urgency abated.)

It’s well to remind ourselves that winning any battle, let alone the battle for equality, requires persistence above all.

It can be difficult to constantly pump ourselves up, to attend yet another fundraiser, yet another rally. We all get tired of emailing and calling our elected representatives, writing yet another letter to the editor. That’s why organizations are so important—they do the day to day work that absolutely has to be done if a movement is to be successful. Through our donations, we are paying others to be persistent for us. Writing a check is a lot easier for most people than doing the necessary nitty-gritty work.

Writing that check is the least we can do.

The Pace of Progress

Civil rights activists often disagree over tactics. That was (and is) true of the African-American civil rights movement, and similar disputes characterize those working for equal rights for women, Latinos and other minorities. So it should not surprise anyone that gay rights activists often disagree about where resources should be deployed and when, or whether to be confrontational or to work behind the scenes.

There aren’t “good guys” and “bad guys” in most of these debates—just idealistic people of good will who have different ideas about the best way to proceed.

 The most recent evidence of such disagreement was this fall’s March on Washington. It is no secret that many people in the so-called “gay establishment”—HRC comes to mind—were less than thrilled at the prospect of diverting energy and resources from places like Maine, where the recent recognition of same-sex marriage faces a Proposition 8-like repeal effort. (HRC did get on board when it became obvious the March would be held, but its early reluctance was hardly a secret. Barney Frank never did support it.)

At the March itself, another fault-line became evident.

Many members of the gay community are clearly angry that the Obama Administration has not yet acted on several promises to advance equality for gays, lesbians and transgendered people. A number of those who delivered speeches at the March made their displeasure very clear. The general sentiment was: yes, you talk the talk. But where’s the walk?

Others–generally those who have worked on equality issues for many years and who are all too familiar with the political barriers that have to be dealt with–believe that  actually achieving these changes is more complicated than the critics seem to understand. They are impatient with impatience.

As a recovering lawyer, I am painfully aware that legal changes almost always lag cultural ones. That’s because legislatures and even the courts (angry accusations about “socialist” policymakers and “imperial” courts notwithstanding) rarely act until something akin to a social consensus emerges. Nor can a President unilaterally make most changes. And even when a President can act without Congress, through Executive Order, there are legislative consequences to be expected.

The impatience displayed by many of the Washington marchers is understandable. It’s like being told that “if you just stay in the back of the bus a bit longer” America is more likely to get health care and environmental protection. Why should GLBT rights be held in thrall to other goals? What’s the point of having political capital if you don’t spend it?

My own analysis is somewhat different. Barack Obama is one of the most strategic politicians to come along in my lifetime. I believe him when he says–as he did at the HRC dinner–that he is committed to achieving equal rights for the GLBT community. And I believe him when he says he will do so in his first term.

There are two things any constituency needs from its political champions: sincere commitment and the strategic smarts to actually get something done. I think Clinton had the commitment; but he couldn’t get it done.  He was ahead of his time, for one thing; the culture was not quite ready. But he also made a tactical error; his approach to the issue of gays in the military was clumsy and badly timed. I think Obama knows how to get things done–even very difficult things.

Basically, Obama is asking the gay community to trust him.

It’s easy for me to say, of course–I’m not gay. But I DO trust him. And those of my friends who’ve been long-time activists on behalf of GLBT  rights, people who know how tough these fights still are, trust him too.

We may be wrong–only time will tell. But when Obama says he’ll get it done during his first term, I believe him.