About MichelleMichelle Brown is an author, activist & public speaker who believes in common ground for all people.
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Category Archives: hate crime
Published 4/7/2016 in issue 2414 of Between The Lines Newspaper
The win for marriage equality was our high point, but we knew it would not be smooth sailing ahead with this victory. We knew there would remain opposition. We knew there would be push back, but I doubt anyone could have predicted the magnitude of the efforts to turn back the hands of equality.
Last year lawmakers introduced more than 85 anti-LGBT bills in 28 state Legislatures. There was the stunning defeat that crushed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), an LGBT nondiscrimination law. And as the race to the White House heats up, threats to our rights continue.
Trump, the GOP front runner, has been a consistent opponent of marriage equality and has expressed support for the so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) which would expose us to more discrimination. His closest rivals, Cruz and Kasich, promise no brighter future for LGBTQ Americans if they are successful. Both have consistently opposed our equal rights. And just when it looked like things couldn’t get more toxic, onerous anti-LGBTQ laws were passed in North Carolina and Mississippi.
So here we are approaching the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision. While some are planning weddings, others are girding our loins to continue the battle — recognizing that it’s not enough to be able to wed on Saturday if we can still be fired on Monday, and even worse to see some, if not all, of our rights turned back come November.
Okay, so no one says “gird your loins” anymore, but you get the drift. We must get ready for perilous times. Unfortunately it seems that some folks, at least on the progressive/liberal side, still don’t see how serious this stuff is.
Unlike the scared, misguided and/or lunatic fringe on the right willing to overlook the hypocrisy; vote against their own best interests; hold their nose; and fall in line behind whichever one of the three stooges heads the GOP ticket, our team is still working things out.
Some who are feeling the “Bern” hint that they will sit it out if it is not their candidate. Even worse, some Sanders supporters, most notably actress and activist Susan Sarandon, say they don’t know if they can bring themselves to vote for any candidate but Sanders. Sarandon went so far as to imply that Trump might be better for America than Hillary Clinton. Seriously?
Well, maybe in her world. Maybe in a wealthy, white, heterosexual world with the means and opportunities to seek refuge in greener pastures is that a good move, but for the other 99 percent, those of us in the LGBTQ community and especially those in communities of color, we need to be more thoughtful and strategic.
This does not mean a cakewalk, no matter how historic a Clinton candidacy might be. She has had her missteps and communication gaffs. There is too much information available, too many living witnesses to the past horrors, too many still suffering for ANYONE to be misinformed, misspeak or whitewash history.
Any candidate wanting progressive, LGBTQ and/or POC votes must be vetted fully and schooled on our issues like yesterday. We must ask more than, “What have you done for us lately?” but also, “What haven’t you done for us in the past?” and “Do you understand the consequences of your actions/inactions?” We need to ask them if they understand today’s world or are they still living with outdated values and views.
Having a social media presence and being on late night television might make you seem cool, but we need more than sound bites and slogans. We can’t hope that candidates will educate themselves — we must ask the hard questions and hold their feet to the fire to make sure they get it right and keep it right. That’s the relatively easy part. The pulling up not the girding up, the heavy lifting.
No politician, neither Hillary nor Bernie, can do that. They’re just the standard bearers. We must set and raise the standards which takes us back to the Them vs. Us reality.
They have done a pretty good job of raising a specter of doom and gloom, of portraying a scary future that only a return to their values can redeem — a message so powerful that many would vote against their own best interest to see fulfilled.
Us — well, not so much. Despite the fact that 12 years after marriage in Massachusetts the state hasn’t fallen into the sea (or burst into flames), that the country survived the enactment of the Affordable Care Act and more Americans now have health coverage, and after seven years of an Obama presidency the economy is in a far better place. We/Us still can’t get people to the polls to vote. We/Us haven’t directly or indirectly influenced enough of our friends/neighbors to realize our equality does not mean inequality for them.
When we have come together and raised our voices we have changed the nation again and again. We did this not by holding hands singing “Kumbaya” but by raising our voices in a song for freedom.
Now it’s the time to gird up our loins, to man-up and flex our ovaries and do whatever we have to do to focus not on our differences but on what will make a better world for us all — black/white, gay/straight, everyone. So, to borrow the words of the immortal Bob Marley, “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom? It’s all we’ll ever have.”
Printed 2/5/2015 in issue 2306 of Between The Lines Newspaper
History by definition is the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. Dig a little deeper and many dictionaries expand the definition to include the “continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc. usually written as a chronological account.”
Really, history is just us telling our stories, but like most stories, the narrative and the outcome often depend on the teller. The bigger, the bolder, the more powerful the storyteller, the more likely it is that that person’s narrative will become the history — right or wrong, no matter how distorted. It will be what people remember.
I have always been a lover of history. I’m the one who will have a list of all the historic sites and go on all the historic tours on vacation. I’ve even been told that sometimes I know more about the area than the “natives.” But, I am also the one who slips away from the group to find the residents of the area to spend time hearing their stories, their remembrances of history.
You see, as much as I love history, at an early age I learned that the “official history” is often told from the view of the beholder and is often not accurate or inclusive. Fortunately history is not solely limited to “historical” records. Depictions of life, love, labor are also passed down through art, music and spoken word.
I would scour the pages of my early history lessons looking for faces like mine because too often it seemed all “important” historical roads went through Greece, Rome and then Europe with just a brief mention of other cultures.
Although the words told one story, images — art, maps, museum pieces — showed that the great pyramids were in Africa. Hannibal of Carthage, despite theatrical portrayals, was a person of color. Brown, if not black, in hue.
For years, the African-American story was shaped by distorted narratives. The memories erased and squashed by the brutality of slavery, but stories of our resilience and strength, even when not included in traditional historical accounts, have survived.
During a visit to Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African-American History, the curator drew our attention to different pictures, asking what we saw. In our childish naivete, we said, “Those are pictures of slavery.”
He encouraged us to look deeper, to see beyond slavery and recognize the artisans, craftsmen and builders responsible for building the infrastructure of this country. Enslaved, yes; denied rights and freedoms, yes; but undeniably there in history for all to see if your eyes were open.
Even when African-Americans were forbidden and, often under threat of brutality, denied access to education, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) served the black community. In fact, until the 1960s, HBCUs, were practically the only institutions of higher learning open to blacks in the U.S.
HBCU graduates from the past to today include Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. DuBois, Patricia Harris, Thurgood Marshall, Alice Walker, Samuel L. Jackson, Wanda Sykes, Oprah Winfrey and Common.
While living under segregated conditions, denied access to basic civil rights and, for the most part, being ignored in the historical narrative of the United States, African-Americans like Charles Drew, Elijah McCoy, Garrett Morgan, George Washington Carver and Percy Julian developed and contributed inventions that benefitted not only America but also the entire world.
Denied equality merely because of the color of our skin, African-Americans fought tirelessly for the equality of others. These warriors included Sojourner Truth, Margaretta Forten and Harriet Forten Purvis in the women’s suffrage movement; labor activists A. Philip Randolph and Norman Hill; and human rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin.
From arts to literature, entertainment to politics, the legacy of African-Americans including Shirley Chisholm, Alvin Ailey, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, James Baldwin, Barbara Jordan, Ralph Bunche, Mae Jemison, Cory Booker and Barack Obama will ensure that not only American history but all history will come closer to a true “continuous, systematic narrative of past events” in the development of the human condition. Progress, yes, but the picture remain incomplete.
Just as in our childish naivete we looked at the pictures and saw only slavery, many want to look at black history and fail (or refuse) to see the members of the African-American LGBTQ community living, working and contributing not only today but also historically.
We were there on the plantation, in the classrooms, graduating from HBCUs. We were leaders during the Harlem Renaissance, breaking barriers on stage and screen, inventing and innovating. And as we marched for voting rights, to end segregation, we demonstrated, organized and participated as protestors in front of and behind the scenes.
We live today as parents, teachers, athletes, clergy and community members facing the same challenges, struggles and opportunities as other African-Americans, but because of whom we love, we are often forced to choose between being gay and black when talking about civil rights.
Being black and gay is nothing new. It is as old as yesterday and will continue tomorrow. It’s a part of history and stands at the intersection of all our struggles of equality.
In an address to the nation, President Ford, following the recognition of Black History Month, urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That work continues.
One of the most memorable portions of President Obama’s second inaugural address was his “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” remarks. He said “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
As we celebrate this Black History Month, let us remember the contributions of those African-Americans who led in the background, who built the infrastructure without recognition, who marched for freedom and by their courage helped this country come closer to achieving its destiny.
And as we lift up these members of our amazing African-American community, let’s look deeper at the picture and see the faces of our LGBTQ African-American community who were standing on the front lines like “wild fruit hidden in open spaces.”
During this Black History month, as decisions on marriage equality await decisions in courts across the country, as thousands pack the cinema to see “Selma,” we have an opportunity to reflect upon the evils of discrimination and hatred and commit ourselves to doing better.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)
Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her latest book of poetry “Three Layers and A Brassiere” is available at bookstore.authorhouse.com
I Vote Because
By Michelle E. Brown
Because they had no voice
When brought over in those chains.
Sold, beaten, traded
Eyes cast down shuffling by
As they silently swallowed pride.
Because they rode the back of the bus
Having services denied.
Colored toilets, colored fountains
Suffering indignities just to get by.
Because they marched for freedom
While being beaten and knocked down
Water cannons, dog bites, night sticks
To deny their civil rights.
Because their voices were silenced
Before they could make their mark
Four little girls in Birmingham
Trayvon, Ayanna, Renisha, Michael
Our stand in Ferguson
For babies yet to come
I vote to make a difference
I vote to make a change
I vote for this imperfect union
I vote in all their names.
Because of them it matters
For me to be a part of the game
Not sitting on the sidelines
To cast aspersions and merely complain
I might not see the difference
Or live to see the change
But because of them I do it
I vote so their lives were not in vain.