Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been celebrated for 25 years, and I wonder what he would say today.
I attended the Martin Luther King Jr Unity Breakfast in Birmingham this morning. Several hundred people; black, white, male, female, straight, gay, were present. There was definitely diversity in the room. But was there equality? Would King be satisfied?
Those are easy questions to answer: No!
Years ago the buzz word for the gay community was "tolerance."
But we quickly realized that tolerance still left room for indifference, even hatred, as one can tolerate the cold of winter, even if one hates the snow and ice. So acceptance was adopted as a goal, rather than tolerance.
Likewise, diversity was a concept that was aspired to, but just achieving diversity does not satisfy. One can place a diverse group of cookies; say, chocolate chip, raisin oatmeal, and peanut butter; on a platter and call the kids in and 9 out of 10 times the chocolate chip cookies will disappear first. The cookies are not treated equally. So, for people anyway, equality is what needs to be achieved, not just diversity.
At the MLK breakfast, a film documentary about King and his effects on our city was shown. Rev. Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries was one of the people interviewed in the film. "Alabama has never voluntarily stepped into the future," he said.
Douglas is a former member of the Board of Directors of Equality Alabama, so I am sure he would not mind me expanding his words to reflect the challenges confronting the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community in the state. The ultimate goal of equality for the gay community is seen to be marriage, and Rev. Douglas and others would agree that we don't expect Alabama to voluntarily acknowledge that right.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell was the keynote speaker at the event. He urged the audience to "confront those in Montgomery (and elsewhere) who are holding you back." This is precisely what Equality Alabama is going to do during the next year.
Mayor Bell also said that we may say, "Woe is us," because Republicans have taken over the state legislature, or "Woe is us," because Republicans have overtaken the House in Congress. But, he said, we should really be saying, "Woe is us," if we sit and do nothing, which is often the case.
Many in the LGBT community "sit and do nothing" to help the cause of Equality. One thing you can do without having to become an activist or a political wonk is to tell your story. Tell your story to your family and to your neighbors and co-workers or fellow students. Let them know how discrimination has affected you, and how your life is not equal to theirs.
Here's a start. You can be fired from your job for the simple reason that you are gay.
You can be kicked out of your apartment or denied a mortgage simply because you are gay.
You can be denied inheritance of your partner's possessions simply because you are gay (including the home you might have shared for decades - you could be out on the street).
If you are a student, you can be harassed or bullied, simply because you are gay, or perceived to be.
If you are a parent, you can be denied custody or visitation rights simply because you are gay.
If you aspire to be a parent, you can be denied the right to foster or adopt simply because you are gay.
If you are partnered, you can be denied tax breaks worth thousands of dollars a year that a straight married couple enjoys, simply because you are gay.
The list goes on.
Equality Alabama will be looking for LGBT people who are willing to share their stories. Watch for an announcement from Equality Alabama about this in the near future, regarding gay parents. (Also watch for changes to our web site, which we are in the process of updating.)
In the meantime, remember the words of Dr. King as we fight for equality.
"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom."