One of the unique aspects of Truth in Progress is that from our beginning, Marilyn and I have explored the intersections of Heterosexism, Racism and Religion. This has given me the opportunity to remember legalized racial segregation and the response of the CR Movement to it. It is my way of allowing Santanya's words about "Remembering the past in order not to repeat it", to inform and shape my gay rights and black rights activism.
1. The proposed Bill in Arizona if enacted would have been a 21st century expression of the laws that once prohibited blacks from being served in business establishments. It appears that Arizona, a state that was reluctant to affirm the Martin Luther King holiday, has sought to restrict the rights of gay persons as another way of dismissing the significance of Martin Luther King and the gains achieved by the Civil Rights Movement. We in "The Movement" were about equality and justice for black persons. Today, as I continue to be an ally/advocate of gay rights, each day I remember and repeat the words of Martin Luther King; "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We all ought be pleased that the injustice that SB 1032 represented, is for the moment, defeated.
2. When I first read of SB 1032, pictures of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Sit-Ins flashed through my mind. I am sure that if the Arizona Bill had been signed, Gay persons and couples and their allies would have engaged in boycotts and sit-ins. When "Religious Rights" express themselves in discriminatory ways, the "Right to Protest" will always follow.
3. SB 1032 brought to mind the experience that Grace and I had 56 years ago as we sought to claim our reservation at the Mount Airy Honeymoon Lodge in the Poconos. I walked to the desk while Grace stayed in the car, and was told by the person at the desk, "We cannot accept your reservation. If we let you stay, our guests would not be pleased." I wonder if this would have been an excuse used in Arizona by some business owners as they refused to serve same sex couples if the Bill had passed?
4. Religion and Bias: I was in Seminary when we got married in 1957 and I thought that if I could find a Methodist Minister and explained what happened, he would go with us back to the Lodge and protest on our behalf. I found the Minister, but instead of going back to the Lodge to be our advocate, he took us to a small black-owned Lodge that catered to bear hunters who were black. This was where we spent the second night of our honeymoon, and the following morning we left for New York City where we knew we could find lodging. I wonder if in Arizona if the Bill have passed, would some clergy and lay people have engaged in compiling a listing of businesses that would serve gay persons and same sex couples? Too often, people of faith and others, are much more at ease in "taking care" of those who have been hurt and harmed by bias, rather than confronting those who initiated and implemented the bias. It is easier to "comfort the afflicted" than to "afflict the comfortable" who are responsible for causing the hurt and harm.
5. I would remind us that even though there is understandable joy over the fact that Governor Brewer vetoed SB 1032, bigotry in the name of religious freedom or in any other name has not been conquered. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (49 years ago) as a response to the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. I was present in Selma, Alabama two days after the infamous "Bloody Sunday". We were preparing to march from Selma to Montgomery as a way of highlighting the importance of voting rights. Yet, today, state after state is seeking to dilute the influence of the Voting Rights Act under the guise of undocumented voter fraud. Arizona's SB 1032 may now be dead, but those who intiated, supported and were ready to implement it are not. May the celebrations in response to Governor Brewer's veto, provide new energy and enthusiasm for the continuing struggle.
6. During the 1950's many of us who were black college students in the south, went to Atlantic City in the summers to earn money for our college expenses. I spent two summers doing this. as I worked in Hotels where I could not be a guest and in Restaurants where I could not be served, because of racial segregation. I thought of this as I feared that the Arizona Bill would have been signed. If it had, there would have been LGBT persons, some of whom were in same sex relationships, who would be working in those businesses in Arizona that would discriminate against Gay persons. Whether "in the closet" or not, they would have experienced what I experienced in Atlantic City; working in businesses that employed me, but would not serve me, or those who were like me. It is difficult to express the pain and anger that "working in places where you and those like you would not be welcomed", and you feel powerless to do anything about it.
I, as a black person who is "straight" call upon those of us who are straight allies and advocates of gay rights, even as we with our LGBTQ colleagues, have reasons to rejoice today, we think about this, "What must it be like to be Gay and live in Arizona where Legislators, thought so little of me and my humanity that the passing of SB 1032 was almost a 'slam dunk'?" I in my life's journey have wanted those who are not black to imagine what it is like to "walk in my shoes". Therefore for those of us who are straight, may our celebrations be sobered as we imagine what it is like to be Gay in Arizona, the day after and the days after, the news about SB 1032. The "negative music" that embraced the Bill may be over, but the "negative melody" that made possible the passage of the Bill, lingers on.