Rights have a tendency of coming back

Today is the anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, overturning the 18th Amendment and giving Americans the right to manufacture, transport, purchase, and sell alcohol (again).

The 21st Amendment
Ratified December 5, 1933

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use there in of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

This is a perfect opportunity for opponents of Proposition 8 to take heed and keep the faith.  While the rights protected by this article are largely different from the ones taken away by Prop. 8, the broader picture is important here: you can’t take away a right.

It is also important to remember, as King eloquently wrote, “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor.”  The most welcome consequence of the passage of Prop. 8 has been the re-birth of a queer rights movement in which youth are constitutive.  History is not inevitable, but with collaborative effort, the defeat of injustice can be.

The Legacy of Harvey Milk

harveymilk

November 27th is the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, San Francisco politician and activist. The first openly gay man to be elected to office, he analyzed the significance of his election as follows:

Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there is a young gay person who all of sudden realizes that she or he is gay; knows that if the parents find out they will be tossed out of the house, the classmates will taunt the child, and the Anita Bryant’s and John Briggs’ are doing their bit on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet, suicide. And then one day that child might open the paper that says “Homosexual elected in San Francisco” and there are two new options: the option is to go to California, or stay in San Antonio and fight.

Two days after I was elected I got a phone call and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said “Thanks.” And you’ve got to elect gay people, so that that young child and the thousand upon thousands like that child know that there is hope for a better world; there is hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s: without hope the us’s give up. I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, you got to give them hope.

In many ways elaborating on the above point, Milk recorded some thoughts on his career, in the event of his untimely death. They were featured in the 1984 documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk”:

While this time will mean many things to many people, I hope it can also be a time to savor the victory that can come with people united in movement. At their most meaningful, these victories are not about representation or simplistic political gain: they are about life and hope.

•Why Prop. 8 Will be Defeated in the Courts

The fight over Proposition 8–California’s voter approved overturning of same-sex marriage rights–is now headed to the courts. The California Supreme Court will consider this week which of the myriad cases related to the measure it will consider.

Today’s LA Times article on the latest move helps to put some of these issues into perspective.

While supporters of the proposition are already beginning to pressure the court on the basis that it “must” uphold the “will of the people,” the issue at stake here is not the democratic decision-making process. The issue at hand is about changes and additions to the Constitution. California–like most states and the federal government–requires major changes to its Constitution to be made with a two-thirds majority vote of “the people.” Electoral standards like these do a few things, not the least of which is protect the rights of the “minority” from the whims of the “majority” and add an air of seriousness to the process of revision. In California, however, a simple majority of in the form of a voter initiative can add an “amendment” to the Constitution (something added to it that is in line with the basic principles contained within the original document). The legal question is whether or not Prop. 8 was an amendment or a revision to the State’s Constitution.

Proposition 8 was carefully written to avoid this question, arguing that it was an amendment. However, the court had already found the rights of same-sex marriage to be embedded in the document, hence, their decision of last May.

If the court does nothing other than respect their previsou decision AND uphold other precedent relating to what (legally) defines a revision versus and amendment, Prop. 8 is going down.

Postscript:
By a vote of 6 to 1 the Court agreed to hear arguments relating to the constitutionality of the ballot measure.  However, the lone dissenting vote was Justice Joyce Kennard, one of the justices who voted with the majority back in May.  That may say she thinks the legality of the measure is a non-issue.  If so, that might not bode well.  The decision in May was 4 to 3.

••The racial fallout of Prop. 8

This is what I wrote last July:

My great fear is that, in California and elsewhere, the coalitions fighting against these restrictive ballot measures won’t reach out in any organized and systematic way to Latino voters. This may be a huge mistake, because, I assure you, the other side already is.

Last month, I reiterated my analysis:

Last summer my fear was that the “No on Prop. 8″ movement would not reach out effectively to these groups, leaving them with no other channel of information than the steady stream of fear from intolerant zealots. I continue to have this fear. Poor and working-class immigrants and people of color are often ignored in political campaigns. It is not surprising, therefore, that they also tend to vote in lower numbers. In an ironic twist, the state of the economy and the campaign of Barack Obama are both contributing to a projected increase in these groups’ participation this fall. Where will they fall on Prop. 8 in California?

Sadly, my prescient words seem to have come true, with California’s Proposition 8 passing this past week with the support of Latinos (about 52%) and African American (about 70%) voters.  Also sad is the growing racial fallout of these numbers.

I want to make three points about what I see to be a troubling development in progressive/liberal politics, namely, the divide between race and sexuality:

ONE. While we may be conditioned to think in terms of race/ethnic voting blocs, the notion that there is a “gay vs. Black” problem is ludicrous and, itself, a little white-centered.  While “whiteness” often carries with it the notion of exceptionalism, let me assure you, queer folk come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  White folks aren’t the only gay and lesbian folks, making the sensibility behind (for example) the L.A. Times’ article “Gays, blacks divided on Proposition 8” as silly as saying “Gays, whites divided on Proposition 8.”  The analysis of “us versus them” in gay/straight and left/right terms, being merged with a white/black dichotomy, is very troubling and artificial.  The divide is really between queer rights advocates and their allies and a rabid, homophobic religious movement seeking to legislate their “morality.”

TWO. The “No on 8” effort was nothing like the organized, grassroots movement of the other side.  They had funding, organization, mobilization, and a host of messages to appeal to voters fears and ignorances while distracting them from the way this issue is about equality.  On top of that, the “No” side ran a poor ad campaign, always having to respond to the other side instead of running proactive messages on their own terms.  And, as I mentioned above, they did little to mobilize working class, uncollege-educated voters of color.  They did almost nothing to reach out to Spanish speaking voters in the state.  They gave up on the “religious vote,” despite the support from a number of progressive churches.

THREE. Homophobia is not any more part of Latino or Black cultures than it is part of white culture.  A majority of white voters in California voted against discrimination, but it wasn’t a huge majority.  And white folks voted the other way just eight years ago.  To suggest the 51 or 52% of white voters who voted against Prop. 8 are a reflection that homophobia is no longer a problem among whites is, well, stupid.  Just check out Florida and Arizona this week, and Ohio and 10 other states four years ago.  For those of us familiar with either (or both) Latino and African American cultures and the place of queerness within them, we know of many examples of loving, unconditional acceptance.  That is not to say that there aren’t examples of the opposite, but these are also well known to us no matter what our cultural background.

There are lots of ways to make sense of the passage of Proposition 8 (that include homophobia) without replicating the kinds of racist divisions we are beginning to see.  For the sake of justice, I hope we remember that.  And anyway, same-sex marriage will be legal in California again, someday, as it will be in this nation as a whole.  If there is a bright side to the passage of Prop. 8, it is the loud, visible, angry, and diverse movement now representing the cause of queer equality.  I wish it would have been here a few months earlier…

“Public schools become focus of gay marriage ban”

From the Associated Press/Yahoo:

Public schools become focus of gay marriage ban

By LISA LEFF and JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writers
Wed Oct 22

SAN FRANCISCO – A girl in pigtails bounds into the kitchen after school and asks her mother to guess what she learned that day. “I learned how a prince married a prince, and I can marry a princess,” she exclaims to her mortified mom.

This television advertisement for a ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriage in California urges voters to “protect children” by approving the measure.

There’s not a word about education in Proposition 8, but what public schools will be required to teach about same-sex marriage has emerged as the central issue in the campaign.

The measure’s supporters warn that teachers will be forced to tell young children about gay marriage if the measure fails on Nov. 4.

Opponents of the measure say that’s deceptive because schools already are required to teach tolerance of gays and lesbians, and the ballot measure won’t change that.

“I’ve seen the spots on the TV, and (legalized gay marriage) just isn’t going to require any kind of teaching of personal relationships or lifestyle,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who has joined the state’s largest teacher’s union in opposing the measure. “That’s just not an accurate statement or portrayal.”

To combat anti-gay discrimination, California schools have addressed topics such as gay households, homophobia and sexual orientation for years, well before the state Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal this year. But how school districts choose to deliver that instruction is decided locally instead of mandated by the state, according to educators and legal experts.

Supporters of Proposition 8 — which would overrule the state Supreme Court decision — received fodder for their claims earlier this month. With parental permission, a public charter school took 18 first-graders on a field trip to San Francisco City Hall where their teacher and her female partner had just been wed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“The other side’s argument is (Prop. 8) has nothing to do with education. Our argument is this has everything to do with education,” said Chip White, a Proposition 8 spokesman. “It’s already happening.”

An estimated 52,000 children are being raised by two mothers or two fathers in California, which is one of 12 states with comprehensive anti-bullying laws that apply to gay students and children with unconventional families.

Some elementary schools have acquired books depicting families with same-sex couples, middle schools have taught students not to use anti-gay slurs, and high schools have sanctioned gay-straight alliance clubs. And school districts have been found liable for not taking steps to prevent anti-gay harassment.

The mother-daughter campaign ad refers to “King and King,” a children’s book about two princes marrying that became the subject of a lawsuit in Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. The parents of a second-grader sued after the book was read in class, but the school district successfully argued that advance notice of the reading was not required because the book was not part of the sex education curriculum.

Critics of Proposition 8 point out that many schools in California already use “King and King” and other books to discourage discrimination against gay students or children with gay parents.

“The education code already has a high expectation that school districts are going to create an environment where respect for human dignity and acceptance of differences, including sexual orientation, are promoted,” said Laura Schulkind, a San Francisco lawyer who represents school districts across California. “I don’t see how the legalization of gay marriage or the passage of Prop. 8 changes that obligation.”

The need for such awareness training was brought home to California in February, when a 15-year-old who sometimes wore feminine clothing and talked about being gay was shot to death at his Oxnard junior high school. A classmate has pleaded not guilty to murder and hate-crime charges.

“We have to address harassment and bullying, and there is no way to do that in America without talking about gay people,” said Debra Chasnoff, an Oscar-winning filmmaker who has made four documentaries to address anti-gay harassment in schools.

The opposing sides have debated what, if anything, schools must teach about marriage now that gays have the right to wed.

The state education code specifies that marriage should be discussed in sex education classes. But school districts are not required to hold the classes and parents can have their children excused if the course conflicts with their moral values. The vast majority of California districts teach sex ed.

“Current state law does not require school districts to teach anything about marriage or same-sex marriage,” Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley wrote in ruling on Proposition 8’s ballot arguments. He added, however, that the state “may require” such instruction in the future.

Robin Sinks, the health education specialist for the 90,000-student Long Beach Unified School District, does not think what is taught in California schools will change much regardless of what happens on Election Day.

Teachers in large, diverse districts now strive to make their sex education lessons relevant to straight, gay and bisexual students, Sinks said. “We’re talking about really refraining from using things like, husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend, those kind of things, and just say ‘partner,'” she said.

Gary Marksbury, a history teacher at Lakewood High School in Long Beach, plans to let his students debate Proposition 8 during a mock election, but he is so strongly opposed to gay marriage that he donated $1,000 to support the measure.

Marksbury said California should give parents more latitude to pull their children out of courses that offend their religious beliefs. “In today’s world,” he said, said, “it seems like tolerance is a one-way street for some people, so if you don’t like the idea of same-gender marriage you are immediately labeled a bigot.”

California gives local districts authority — and in the case of sex education, the imperative — to adopt curricula that reflect community mores while meeting certain standards. So what students hear about homosexuality in Long Beach schools may be different from what they learn in the more conservative Central Valley.

Wendy Robertson, a teacher at Forest Park Elementary School in Fremont, is not worried about having to explain same-sex marriage to her pupils. During her 17 years teaching kindergarten, Robertson says no one has ever told her to talk about any kind of marriage with her pupils.

If one of her pupils asked if he could marry his best buddy, Robertson said her answer would be age-appropriate.

“I would say, ‘Wait and see, you have to be grown-up first,'” she said.

[Source.]

NO on Prop 8: because it’s the right thing to do

This is the fifth in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Parts one, two, three, and four appeared earlier in the week.

____________________

In this final post on California’s Proposition 8, I want to urge those of you who are gay, lesbian, transgender, or allies of the same, to do what you can do to assure this measure is defeated in November.

For those who do not know, Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. It is an attempt to overturn the May 2008 decision of the state Supreme Court which legalized same-sex marriage.

As I wrote last July, the coalition of groups against same-sex marriage is diverse in it potential reach. Composed of religious and conservative groups, they also reflect some of the broad racial/ethnic diversity of the state of California. As a largely grassroots organization (or, more appropriately, a coalition of grassroots organizations), with exceedingly deep pockets, they have been poised for some time to whip up fear and support among traditionally ignored voting blocs and get them to the polls in November. Among these constituencies are poor and working-class people of color whose sole regular institutional participation ins usually within their local church.

Last summer my fear was that the “No on Prop. 8” movement would not reach out effectively to these groups, leaving them with no other channel of information than the steady stream of fear from intolerant zealots. I continue to have this fear. Poor and working-class immigrants and people of color are often ignored in political campaigns. It is not surprising, therefore, that they also tend to vote in lower numbers. In an ironic twist, the state of the economy and the campaign of Barack Obama are both contributing to a projected increase in these groups’ participation this fall. Where will they fall on Prop. 8 in California?

My hope is that they vote to reject this measure out of a clear recognition that it is the right thing to do.

Those of us from marginalized communities are intimately familiar with the daily kinds of pain (physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual) inflicted upon those who are not regularly considered part of “we the people.” For the immigrant who chooses to come to this country in search of economic survival, this realization is often expected but no less tragic. For them, the thin veil of American’s image of themselves is nothing but that as they are faced with a daily existence marked by regular forms of discrimination and the feeling of being on the invisible margins. But their participation in this society can have a healing effect.

I remember when my grandmother became a citizen of the United States. An immigrant from Mexico who had lived and worked in the U.S. for her entire adult life, the decision to become a citizen after five decades of being a green card holder came, partially, from a recognition that she wanted to have a voice in the political machinations of this country. While it had become “home” to her long ago, the organized anti-immigrant and anti-color campaigns of the Pete Wilson governorship were too reminiscent of earlier times in the state for her to sit by without some (however minor) political role.

I am glad she will be voting against Prop. 8. Though she is a naturalized citizen, though she attends church every week (and sometimes more), she know there is nothing gained in a society marked by discrimination. She know this makes us all weaker in the fight to make this nation live up to its ideals.

In reality, a vote against Prop. 8 is a fairly conservative move. Same-sex marriage rights still uphold the socially-constructed and politically-sanctioned valorization of marriage as a social institution. It doesn’t challenge that fundamental bias, instead opening up more of the population to nurture it. I suspect someday our society will begin to question whether or not civil authorities need to be in the marriage incentive business at all but for now, that is the dominant model.

I say this to highlight the fact that for many, support of same-sex marriage is not stretch, even if they “morally” disagree with being lesbian or gay.  Many people understand the difference between a law that forces a discreet morality on people in a free society versus one that allows for people to choose their own morality.  A classic argument of the civil rights era was that racial integration was being legislated and that it was bound to fail since you can’t force people to not be racist.  Even so, an end to segregation did not compel anyone who was racist to not be.  They didn’t even have to tolerate “mixed” settings.  They could go on in their daily live keeping themselves and their children in a white bubble.  But, over time, by society stopping to valorize this morality of a few on the majority, its contradictions became increasingly clear.  It is time for us to do the same with homophobia.

This week’s worth of post were not meant to convince the fervent supporters of the ban on equal marriage rights. Such a debate is largely impossible to have. But they are not the majority of this state. The majority are fair-minded people who place social and political equality on the level it deserves. They want us to be a healthier, more just, more equitable society. They only need to be reminded, when they are faced with the opportunity to do so, how important it is to take that step.

For more information, click here.

NO on Prop 8: because it’s homophobic

This is the fourth in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Parts one, two, and three appeared earlier in the week.

____________________

California’s Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Such an addition to the state Constitution would discriminate against gay and lesbian couples because they would no longer enjoy the equal rights they now share with heterosexual couples, namely, the ability to marry in civil ceremonies, have that marriage recognized by civil authorities, and enjoy the public recognition and benefit of being married. This is, of course, the rub. People who support the measure do not want parity between gay and lesbian couples and heterosexual couples. They “celebrate” the “legal equality” of the state’s domestic partnership regulations with the state’s civil marriage ones, but still disagree with the legality of same-sex marriage, an even “more equal” move. What is beneath the seemingly contradictory stances?

Simply put, support for Pop. 8 is about homophobia. It is about a largely irrational fear of gay, lesbian, and transgender people in our world.  Its supporters are engaged in a move to maintain a social system which embodies homophobia, what many call heterosexism.

When it comes down to it, this is the basic position of the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort. They view the increasingly public visibility of homosexuality and its accompanying rising levels of tolerant acceptance as an attack on their vision of a society based on their conceptions of right and wrong. And for once, they’re right. Unlike those other moral questions (like murder or crime, like democracy versus fascism) this one does not threaten the larger social contract, except when we do not preserve equal marriage rights.  When your vision includes having to dictate “morality” for other people rather than protect their freedom to decide for themselves what is “moral,” then history shows your vision will, eventually, be dismantled.

Where they’re wrong is not in their analysis but in their chosen position, a reflection of the some of the most destructive kinds of cultural arrogance and fear which have marked our history with pain, death, and oppression instead of fostering in it freedom and equality.

I will be among the first to say there is a contextual and historical difference between being nonwhite in U.S. society and being lesbian, gay, or transgender. That isn’t because of biology or levels of oppression (what Chicana writer Cherrí Moraga called the “oppression olympics”). This is an analysis based on the role played by whiteness in U.S. history and in the way it continues to work as a definitive element of both our national culture and social formation. Racism and homophobia have differences, rooted in the past and present, which are worth understanding.  That said, the tactics of oppression, inequality, and discrimination used in a system of racism compared to those used in a system of heterosexism are like different instruments in an orchestra, each playing their own part of a grand symphony. They are connected, and often reliant upon on another, building with each other in one common cause.

The eloquent and critically sophisticated Martin Luther King expressed this in the previously quoted “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” when he wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” His sentiment was itself a reincarnation of the sense of unity and common struggle expressed in the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all.” That mantra came from the International Workers of the World (IWW), one of the most radical labor unions in U.S. history, who first worked to mobilize all workers despite their job or job status. One was rooted in Christianity; the other in labor theory. Both are a bold recognition of mutuality–of the ways in which all of us, our hopes and our struggles, are interconnected.

This same fundamental analysis is reflected in the grand narrative of the U.S. past, but in its inverse. That story has been expressed as one of increasing and expanding liberty and freedom for all, from the extension of voting rights to the end of legal sex/race discrimination. At the heart of this narrative structure is the assumption that “democracy” can only be real if it truly involves those who are governed. When the U.S. began as a nation, roughly 15% of the population had the right to vote. That’s it. Restrictions based on wealth/property, gender, race, and age, to name a few, made this the case. In time, this became proof of the lack of democracy in the nation. Accordingly, in this framework, the extension of rights to African Americans, to women, to Native Americans, were all connected, even to the rights of the landed, white male. The vote of one made the vote of all the others more real, more meaningfully democratic.

What we are faced with in the proposed measure is the antithesis of this humanistic truth, observable in the struggles of our past. Homophobia–like all fears–is isolating and reductive where humanism is expanding and interconnecting. It rests on the rejection of our commonness and mutuality. It requires a person to define those whom they fear as so different from themselves as to be “other,” foreign, dangerous, or immoral. Their threat is that they are not you. Conversely, the homphobe selectively defines their “self,” as well, choosing a set of ideas and constructs that make them who they are, facilitating the delicate game of identifying “us” and “them.”

This homophobic measure forces an historical comparison with the other kinds of oppression which nurture it and, in turn, which it nurtures. The most obvious is with the diverse and sustained effort in our shared past to maintain racism as a system of exclusion and inequality. Towards the end of its institutional decline, the supporters of racial inequality had reached a point where they recognized their cause was no longer popular enough to assure its blind support by the public at large.  The United States has become increasingly “infected” with the notion that black people were as equal as whites.  They had also become increasingly conscience of the ways racism, as a system of exclusion and oppression, ran against the idealized tradition of this nation.

At that moment, the historical record is increasingly filled with examples of racists trying to justify racism on grounds other than race.  They used arguments about state’s rights to say it was the will of the people in th South for Jim Crow to be the law.  They celebrated “separate but equal” saying it was not about inferiority, just difference.  They accused the federal government of trying to force social change when “the people” were not ready for that change.  They did what they could to make the rational argument for their irrational fear, all the while strategizing to sell it to the larger public.  Does any of this sound familiar?

One of the topics I cover each year in my introductory Latino history class is the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law effectively barring a racial group from immigrating to the U.S.  After its passage, people from Latin America continued to immigrate to the U.S. and had no legal impediment to their movement.  So why is it important to Latino history?  Well, in short, it was the first legal step in a course that nurtured racial hatred and violence against all workers of color; that led to outrages like the deportation of over one hundred thousand United States citizens because of their Mexican heritage; that even, in many ways, fostered the kinds of draconian ICE raids we suffer today.

When the irrational fear and hatred of homophobia is allowed to continue to exist in institutional and systemic ways, then we are all inured by it, whether we be gay, lesbian, transgender, or straight.

For more information, click here.