On the Monday that I flew out to Salt Lake City, Utah for the 48th General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalists, I found my plane delayed in Birmingham several times, leaving over 5 hours after the scheduled time. Needless to say I was a bit aggravated and impatient. I finally made it to Dallas-Forth Worth for my connection flight that was now two hours after I arrived there. As I got on board the plane and found my seat, my row companion looked up at me and asked, “Are you one of my colleagues?”
Serendipitously, I was sitting next to Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas. It turned out that he had missed his earlier flight. Okay, so maybe there is a god, I thought to myself wondering what this meeting would bring. We had a wonderful conversation that only two UUministers could have and we turned to serious matters. Daniel asked me why were gay activists so impatient with Obama. Didn’t we understand that Obama has to play politics in order for the right moment to repeal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) ? I gave some answers that I thought were pertinent. He then said, “Why don’t you blog about this conversation?”
Here is my further reflection on why we can’t wait for civil rights. First a recap of the answer I gave on the plane. Yes, I think gay activists are savvy enough to know political maneuvering when we see it. But the DOMA brief that was written by Obama staff did more than just defend the current law, it attacked our dignity and integrity. The brief compared same sex marriage to court rulings banning pedophilia coupling and incestual coupling. Consensual same sex coupling is clearly not in the same category as the manipulative pedophilia relationship nor does it result in the potential biological damages in offspring as incestual relationships. President Bush’s brief on DOMA did not even broach these relationships in its argument to uphold DOMA.
DADT does not need to have congress to repeal it. When President Harry S Truman integrated the armed services he did so with an executive order. President Obama could do the same. He chooses not to. The arguments against allowing sexual minorities into the military no longer carries any weight with Canada, Britain, France, and Israel all having openly gay military serving in their forces. These militaries are considered to be among the greatest armed forces in the world. They have not been compromised with gay personnel and nor will our armed services if sexual minorities are allowed to serve openly with honor and dignity.
These were the reasons I gave but it does not answer the question as to why we cannot wait. The answer came to me as I was listening to the talk given by Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, minister of the Arlington Street Church in Boston, during our honoring of those ministers who were celebrating 25 years of ministry. She included remembrances of her services to people living with HIV/AIDS.
This year is the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the riots that occurred when police raided a gay bar in the Greenwich Village region of New York City. Police were known to raid the gay bars from time to time, haul people into jail. Occasionally a well known figure would be arrested and have his career destroyed. On the night of the riots, however, the patrons, many of them drag queens, said enough is enough and fought back. They were joined by others. The riots continued for several days. The beginnings of a re-energized gay civil rights campaign began. This was 1969.
There was progress towards rights in the ten years that followed and then in 1979 gay men began to get ill with mysterious diseases. It did not capture the attention of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) until mid 1981. There was no funding to study this new outbreak. There was little need to be concerned because after all these were gay men. It was called gay cancer and in some hospitals; medical staff called it WOGS (Wrath of God Syndrome).
There was a sense in America that some how these people deserved this disease. It was a death sentence. Once diagnosed with PCP or KS or Toxo, a person had weeks, rarely months to live. The immune system so compromised to allow these rare illnesses to ravage the body there was little hope of living. Hundreds became thousands of young gay men dying.
We were dispensable. We had no rights. We could be evicted from our homes on suspect of being gay. We could be fired on appearances alone. Nursing staff, doctors could refuse to serve a person with HIV/AIDS. We were denied visiting rights of our partners as they lay dying in the hospital. When our partners died, family members who wrote them off years before would swoop in and simply take the body of our loved ones. They would evict us from our homes if the house was in our partner’s name. And they would legally contest the wills as blood relatives and win.
We had to fight for research monies to find life extending medications. So many of us lost health insurance because of an AIDS diagnosis. We had to fight for monies to provide housing for those living with HIV/AIDS. We were denied Social Security Disability because AIDS was not seen as a qualifying disability–thereby a person with AIDS lost all means for an income and medical assistance. We organized and succeeded to have drugs developed that extended life, not only by months but by years, restoring many to be able to lead productive lives again. It was a hard fight. But it is a fight we still have to contend with.
Governor Jodi Rell of Connecticut decided to cut to zero what she considered to be non-essential services for the budget that begins today. All AIDS funding was cut which will resort in people with HIV/AIDS to once again face medical crisis as they find services no longer available to them. For contrast park and recreational services were deemed essential services.
Alabama rejected Federal Ryan White funds which amounted to a total of $10 million in medical treatment for people with HIV/AIDS and rejected an additional $700K in funding for support services. These two examples are being repeated across the nation.
Why can’t we wait? We are tired of being expendable under the law. We are tired of being deemed second class citizens that do not have partnership medical benefits, or employment rights, or housing rights, or marriage rights, or survivorship benefits. Our lives can be trampled on by survivors who refused to acknowledge our existence while alive but want every piece of us when we are dead. This demeans our integrity and sense of worth.
To continue to live with the lies that the far right is spreading regarding the hate crimes bill and the employment non-discrimination Act (ENDA) is degrading and immoral.
We have paid for our rights as full citizens with our lives. We have paid dearly. For us to have supported a President who campaigned hard and long on a promise of equality winning our votes, to now tell us to have patience after the thousands of lives that have been lost to HIV/AIDS is unconscionable. Telling us to have patience after the thousands of deaths as a result of homophobic violence in our schools, in our communities, in our families that continue to this very day is cruel. Now is not the time for patience. Now is the time for fulfilling promises made that helped place this president and his party into office.