I watched Sunday’s Oscars Ceremony a lot like Meryl Streep did. Maybe not quite where she did — hey, we were both somewhere in California! — and I’ll admit, no one asked me that night “who I was wearing,” but I reacted like she did, sometimes jumping out of my seat to cheer on the winners as they passionately championed feminism, immigration justice, LGBT equality, and civil rights all in one night. I fist-pumped when Patricia Arquette demanded wage equality for women. I smiled ear to ear as Graham Moore encouraged us all to “stay weird” and be proud of exactly who we are. I was thrilled when Alejandro Iñárritu reminded America that we’ve always been an immigrant nation. And I had chills — and definitely tears — as Common and John Legend belted out “Glory,” their immensely moving anthem from Selma.
But there were two things said Sunday night that deeply troubled me in their truth. First, the opening line Legend sang.
“One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours, it will be ours.”
When I first heard that, I got excited. All of us who have fought for marriage equality are so close to our glory, and how wildly fortunate I would be to get to see the day we win it. Then it hit me: we might not be close at all. The “glory” we could reach in April — equal rights under the law — is something John Legend and Common’s families were given fifty years ago. “There are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850.” Is that really the type of equality my family has to look forward to?
As I wondered, “Fifty years from now will I still be saying ‘one day’?” I saw the transcript from Patricia Arquette’s backstage speech which included, “It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” That’s true, but so deeply flawed. For one thing, half of those gay people and people of color are women. Still, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for a second: yes, 100% of all people should actively support wage equality. And not enough of us do. But to suggest that one movement has to stop for another to start is ridiculous, especially considering how much the groups they affect overlap. And even worse, it’s an absolute lie to imply that 100% of straight white women have fought for black people and gay people. Wake up, Patricia! Michele Bachmann is still trying to “pray the gay away” and recently implied that Obama was only elected out of white guilt.
Here’s the truth she (almost) got at: all oppressed people must stand up for each other. It is time for equal rights in America: for women, for black people, for gay people, for transgender people, for immigrants, for impoverished people, for all people. But what Arquette failed to realize is that while she was standing up for “other people rights,” she was also standing up for her own. We may be fighting different battles, but we are waging the same war. Why don’t we always act like it?
Matthew Shepard is Trayvon Martin. Yes, there’s a difference in context, but every day we argue about it is a day we continue to let teenagers be shot down in the street like dogs for carrying a bag of Skittles, or brutally beaten, tortured, chained to a fence in the middle of an abandoned field, and left to die because of who they love. Can you accept that? It’s a day we ignore Deah Barakat, one of three young Muslim students at UNC shot to death at their own home. It’s a day we forget thousands of hard-working immigrant families who stay invisible out of fear they’ll be ripped apart, and it’s a day we’re blind to domestic violence victims who stay quiet out of fear they’ll be silenced forever. It’s a day we dishonor the memory of Private First Class Barry Winchell, an exemplary young Army recruit who was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by a fellow soldier because he loved a transgender woman. If you have straight, white, Christian children, you probably don’t fear they’ll be killed in a hate crime. Neither did Barry’s parents.
“One day, when the war is won, we will be sure, we will be sure.”
There are more than 45 million Black Americans, 12 million LGBT Americans, 54 million Hispanic Americans, and 103 million additional American women who don’t already fall into one of those categories. There’s still some overlap there of course, but it’s accounted for by groups like straight children of gay parents, white people with black spouses, religious minorities, etc. At least 214,000,000 people who have a personal stake in ensuring liberty and justice for all. Plus many, many more men who believe in full equality for all people. That’s not a minority anymore. What if we all showed up for each other?
If you are a woman, or Black or Hispanic man, and you don’t support LGBT rights, I’ll make a bizarre but sincere plea: lie. If you believe being gay is a sin, okay; I wish you didn’t (see last blog), but okay. When you are talking to God, speak your truth. But when you are voting in a country founded on separation of church and state, lie. Lie for my family’s sake, and for yours. The people who call my parents a threat to the sanctity of marriage are the same people who call DREAMers aliens instead of students, the same people who call the Ferguson demonstrations riots instead of protests, the same people who mock Hillary Clinton as “Grandma in Chief.”
(Maybe, if you realize that hateful discrimination looks different but feels the same, it won’t seem like a lie at all.)
And if you are an LGBT person, or you love one, and don’t think “Black Lives Matter” defends your life too, let me remind you that just 24 miles from where Eric Garner was suffocated to death on camera, Islan Nettles, a young transgender woman, was beaten to death — in front of a police station — as she tried to walk home. Her murderer was charged with a misdemeanor. The charges have since been dropped.
As long as we live in a world where our children are called f*gg*ts, we will live in one where they are called n*gg*rs. None of us are free until all of us are. Equality is not rationed; it is won. And it can only be won by empathy. So if one day, our glory comes, it will be ours. All of ours. Because we can only reach that day together.
“Hope will never be silent.” Harvey Milk
This piece is written in loving memory of the first two people who made me realize the price of my silence.