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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Divided We Fall

By Steve Charing

The recent bizarre antics by Delegate Donald Dwyer in attempting to impeach Attorney General Douglas Gansler for his marriage recognition opinion and the backwards-thinking comments made by Delegate Rick Impallaria when he learned that Harford Public Schools agreed to unblock websites that are LGBT-related (not porn) tell us something.

"I am shocked to read that someone has decided to allow 'alternative sexual lifestyle' Web sites to be unblocked, giving County public school students access to them," Impallaria wrote in a letter to the Harford Schools superintendant and board.

And you also have elected officials who wish that we just remain in the closet or crawl back in it. Delegate Emmett Burns, for example, feels we could hide who we are. Why should we have to?

This is what we continue to be up against. We may be living in a blue state, but the mindset of some of our elected officials and the people they represent is closer to Alabama than Maryland.

Our community has more than enough enemies who are determined to thwart the ongoing struggle for equality. And we are not referring solely to marriage equality or transgender equality. We are talking about fairness in jobs, health care, safety and every aspect of our lives that do not relegate us as second-class citizens.

There are religious groups, such as the Catholic Church, who virulently oppose our equality. They are well-funded and have no qualms about injecting their anti-gay messaging, usually lies, in statewide battles. And we have an entire major political party—our Republican "friends"—whose anti-gay positions from employment to military service to marriage equality are entrenched in their dogma.

There is a huge mountain still to climb, but we can do it if we face the challenges together.

But we are a divided community on many levels. Some of these divisions are natural: race, religion, gender, economic status, even age. This is not surprising since the LGBT community is a microcosm of the larger society. Fortunately, over the years, the boundaries around these categories have been blurred, and that's a big step forward. But make no mistake, the boundaries still exist.

Other divisions will hold us back as well. For instance, a large portion of our community couldn't care less about marriage equality. They may not see marriage as a desirable option or even attainable. The subject doesn't interest them. Yet, by not being engaged in the struggle, these folks are forfeiting the opportunity to at least have same-sex marriage as an option should their circumstances change. This would benefit our community members economically and socially.

We are divided by those who are politically active and those who are apathetic. Yes, a lot of us show up for Pride, but how many understand the roots of the celebrations and why we participate? How many engage their elected officials on issues that are important to them—LGBT-related or other? Or participate in political rallies and phone banks?

We have divisions between gays and transgender folks—as a lack of understanding of the complexities of being transgender impedes the formation of a larger movement to strive for transgender equality. Transgender individuals are more likely to be fired from their jobs, kicked out of their apartments, become homeless and even worse, physically attacked on the streets. This partition cannot stand; we need to unify and get behind the plight of our transgender brothers and sisters.

There are divisions within the community with respect to the roles of our LGBT institutions and how they carry out those roles. To be sure, these institutions must conduct their operations with transparency so that suspicions—legitimate or not—do not detract from the important work they set out to do. Organizations that raise funds from our community and allies need to specify how the money is being spent so that the public does not make its own assumptions. Simply stated, if you have nothing to hide, then don't. With the confidence that transparency provides, the organizations will thrive. But there must be that confidence and trust.

Of course, there will always be back-biting in every segment of the population. But to have this in our community, given that we have so many external enemies, is counter-productive. I feel that that the goal of equality at all levels is paramount, and it must be kept within our sights. Bringing the LGBT community together will foster that goal.

The words and actions off our opponents demonstrate how much further we need to travel. There's a much better chance for success if we travel the road together applying our talents, energy and resources to stem the forces that want to marginalize us and keep us down.

We should not expect that we will always be united, but we definitely cannot afford to be divided.


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