The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Birmingham "Falls Flat On Its Face"

I closed my last post with a question: “Will Birmingham make history today?” I had high expectations that they would. But the answer is a resounding “NO” in that Birmingham has chosen to hold on to its ugly history. By voting down a resolution to join a growing number of communities designated as “inclusive communities” by the National League of Cities, Birmingham has re-established itself as a leader in intolerance, exclusion, bigotry and hatred.

I sat with Patricia Todd during the meeting, and she, too, expected the measure to pass. She was called to the lectern to speak after the resolution was introduced, and spoke of how the resolution was needed because, for example, in Birmingham one can be fired from their job just because they are gay, regardless of the quality of their work. In fact, she shared that this had happened to her.

I was growing up during the civil rights movement in a suburb of Birmingham, but that was close enough to be profoundly affected by the manifestation of hatred and intolerance that were openly displayed 50 years ago. I was hopeful that we had as a community outgrown those attitudes of the past(and I know that I do not currently live in Birmingham, but in another suburb, yet we all try to look to Birmingham as a leader). Our neighbor to the east, “The City Too Busy To Hate,” has prospered over the years, avoiding the awful scenes of racial strife that Birmingham is known for. Atlanta has prospered over the years, and some would say that in Birmingham we live in its shadow, and we see businesses and industry and residents leaving. We have become “The City Too Hateful To Be Busy.” We are not busy, we sit idle, a stagnant community, holding on to the hateful attitudes of the past. But directing hatred at people of another color is no longer fashionable, so instead our current leaders, well, some of them, direct their hatred at gays and lesbians.

Miriam Witherspoon seemed to believe that until the problems of racism were solved, that no other issue of intolerance should be addressed. And she was very vocal in reminding us that that a resolution can not change people’s hearts. But she was wrong in her assertion that until hearts are changed, and all are in accord, that a resolution is meaningless. Quite the contrary, the city
leaders could have passed the resolution, and then use it to lead the populace into a greater understanding of the issues and problems that lesbians and gays face.
But that would require leadership.

There was a claim put forth that the constitution and the Birmingham Pledge already cover the issue and that the resolution is “redundant”. No, sexual orientation is not a protected class in the constitution or under any federal law. However, if those who hold the constitution so dear (and we all should) would look a little further back in history to our Declaration of Independence, they would see that our country’s fight for freedom was based on the assertion that “All men are created equal,” and that we are all granted “certain unalienable rights” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Our country decided decades ago that this was not just for the whites, so we granted equal rights to blacks. Now our city has decided that equality only belongs to the straights.

As for the Birmingham Pledge, as strong as it is, it only addresses race. As many times as I have been encouraged to sign it, I have refused, because it does not address discrimination based on age, gender, religion, ability or lack thereof, or sexual orientation. So no, the Birmingham Pledge does not address the same issues as the Resolution, which addressed all the issues listed above.

A couple of years ago Patricia Todd sat in on a legislative committee meeting about book banning and when she spoke she asked why the legislators (who had already spoken) hated her. She could hear the hatred in their voice and had seen the hatred expressed in their votes over the years. Until Tuesday I did not fully understand what she meant. Now I do.

Joel Montgomery, who raised his eyebrows as the resolution was being read and grinned and made conniving eye contact with an unknown audience member, followed by his raised voice as he voted against the resolution, showed hatred. Mr. Montgomery needs to be replaced in the next election. Ms. Witherspoon’s histrionics and the sparks in her eyes as she put forth her misinformation showed hatred. She also needs to be replaced.

Steve Hoyt and Roderick Royal were more reserved, but Hoyt’s shift of the issue from one of inclusiveness to supposed political motives,
and Royal’s attempt to delay the vote indefinitely by referring to committee (not knowing what committee, just any committee) were just thin, thin veils shrouding the hatred in their hearts. So yes, now I know how it feels to sit in a room and hear in person the hatred that sometimes comes from city officials. Bull Conner would be proud. Hoyt and Royal need to be replaced.

Valerie Abbott said afterward that Birmingham had a chance to do something really progressive and “fell flat on their face.” How true. The city is the same Birmingham we had in 1957, and in 1963. Is it going to take a bigger tragedy (remember Billy Jack Gaither… and yes, I know he was not in Birmingham when he was murdered) before our leaders understand that hatred doesn’t stop with color?

Yes, Birmingham missed an opportunity to say to the world, we have just taken a huge step forward. Instead, Birmingham has told the world that we had problems in the 1960’s and we have learned nothing from it. We have not overcome intolerance and bigotry. We have not followed the teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And the leaders in Birmingham who in part owe their freedoms to the many gays and lesbians who marched for civil rights (including Bayard Rustin, one of Kings closest advisors) hand in hand with their black brethren in Selma and other cities are a disgrace to the legacy of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, who was a strong advocate for inclusion.

Instead, Birmingham took this opportunity to tell the world of first class leaders, educators, researchers and professionals, that if you are gay, we don’t want you. Birmingham told the CEO’s of the world that if your corporation embraces diversity, then we don’t want your headquarters or your business here. (learn which companies embrace diversity here: Birmingham told college graduates that if you want to begin your career in a city that embraces diversity and offers all the talent and creativity that multiculturalism brings, then we don’t need you to move here. And Birmingham told its own young people, if you want to raise your family in a community that respects all people and protects them as well, then you need to leave.

Birmingham has been in slow decline for decades (I know there are bright spots like UAB) and we are still seeing businesses and residents leave. Until Birmingham learns to accept and appreciate the efforts of ALL its citizens, this decline will continue. In fact, Birmingham does not deserve to prosper, and to be revived, until it does. But those of us who live in and around the Magic City and still want to be able to look to Birmingham for leadership in the state, will continue the fight. Maybe, with a little Birmingham magic, we can someday become like Selma, Aliceville, Talladega, Valley and Mobile; communities in our state that are named on the National League of Cities web site as “Inclusive Communities.”

I suggest we begin right now to look for replacements for Miriam Witherspoon, Roderick Royal, Joel Montgomery and Steven Hoyt.
And lets be thankful for fair minded women who support equality, Ms. Abbott, Carol Duncan and council president Carole Smitherman.


Anonymous said...
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Christine McIntosh said...

Great that you're around saying this. I hope there are enough of you actually to influence events. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

I have been a resident of the Birmingham area my entire life, and, after reading Dr. Openshaw’s comments, I am not going to lie; I was ashamed. My shame, however, was not directed toward the city council, who routinely spews hypocrisy and close minded messages without any threat of consequences. Rather my shame was pointed toward myself for allowing this. I was not aware of this resolution until after it was already voted down. As a resident of a suburb of Birmingham, I often ignore the “hiccups” in judgment that the city council regularly seems to make. To ignore what they do seems easier (and is definitely less frustrating), but it is important to remember that by ignoring what our lawmakers are doing in office, we are condoning their actions. On the Birmingham City Council web site they portray Birmingham as an area that is sensitive to the beliefs and issues of the gay and lesbian community. They list homophobic abuse, and equality in the work place as key issues; yet when the ball comes into there court, and they are presented with an opportunity to send a message that Birmingham is a place of open mindedness and acceptance, our city council throws the ball away so fast one would assume it was paid for with profits from a state lottery (I'm still bitter about the fact that I had to pay for college, because some ignorant people decided buying a state lottery ticket was like signing your name on the VIP list to Hell)
As a non-Birmingham resident it is easy to think that I am not affected by the actions (or lack there of) of the Birmingham City council, but, despite how scary it is, we are very dependant on the city of Birmingham. The suburbs and surrounding cities can not prosper without a thriving, and healthy Birmingham. As businesses and opportunities routinely pass our city and state by, we as concerned citizens must stand up and ask “why?” Because, the fact is, the “magic city” has lost its magic. Our neighboring city to the east (the city Doctor Openshaw referred to as “the city too busy to hate”) has outshined us in more areas than just social tolerance. Atlanta has a mass transportation system (make all the jokes you want about the MARTA but if you don’t have a car in Atlanta you can still get to work) and routinely hosts major events (such as the final four which will be played tomorrow). Birmingham has a couple busses that we can’t even afford to keep filled up with gas, and routinely hosts major (events such as the SWAC basketball championships). Birmingham has a number of problems that need to be addressed, including the issue of tolerance, and I, personally intend on doing a better job on seeing that the city council actually tries to do something about solving these problems instead of just listing them on their website.

Anonymous said...

Abbott will reintroduce the resolution and says she has the votes to pass it.