No half-measures on equality

April 4, 2013

I REALLY appreciated Keegan O'Brien's piece "A shallow embrace of equality." It is typical of politicians, especially Democrats, to ignore or denigrate the struggles of the oppressed when their demands are opposed by the majority of the population, only to jump on the bandwagon and try to claim credit when victory is within sight.

I'm reminded of the passage of Proposition 8, when proponents of the bill used Obama's then-opposition to marriage equality to win support for their discriminatory legislation. Remember, Obama devolved from when he supported same-sex marriage in 1996 to oppose it as he sought higher office, only to "evolve" to support marriage equality once again last year.

Similarly, while John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson get credit for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, in the years prior, the Kennedy administration, including Robert F. Kennedy, worked to discourage militant civil rights organizing.

Real political courage means taking a stand for justice, even if it's unpopular, in order to change the terms of the debate, not waiting until the heavy lifting has been done. As Keegan points out, that has been the achievement of activists.

Another important lesson is that those who seek the liberation of one oppressed group must also seek the end of all oppression, no matter who is targeted.

This isn't a new idea. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself wrote that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." But O'Brien's point that there are LGBTQ people everywhere, including living under U.S. and Israeli occupation, shows that winning genuine liberation for all LGBTQ people requires liberating everyone.

Unfortunately, this is a lesson the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has yet to learn, as illustrated by their recent censorship of transgender and undocumented immigrant LGBTQ voices.

LGBTQ people can be found in every society and in every oppressed group, and liberation cannot be had a la carte. Real human beings do not fit neatly into categories, and most face oppression and exploitation on a number of bases.

For example, the passage of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act would be an important victory, but it does not guarantee protection from employment discrimination for an African American with a felony conviction who faces legalized discrimination as a result of the war on drugs and mass incarceration, the New Jim Crow.

Similarly, marriage equality means little to a Palestinian in Israel if apartheid laws prohibit them from marrying their lover who lives under occupation in the West Bank. And full equality under the law does not apply to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants in the United States, who are afraid to report violations of their rights because of the threat of deportation.

To achieve true liberation, we must oppose all forms of oppression, no matter who it affects. While the HRC's actions were shameful, the outrage that followed, which forced them to apologize, shows that many more in the LGBTQ and allies community have taken to heart the slogan that "an injury to one is an injury to all."
Gary Lapon, New York City

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