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Friday, June 16, 2006

Text of Speech

Given by Ed White

Saturday, June 10, 2006

at the PrideFest 2006 on the Square Rally in Downtown Knoxville, TN

Hello all you Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenderfolk and Gays! Hello all those Questioning and, last but certainly not least, our Straight Supporters, too! Hello all you beautiful, blessed people!

I was asked to speak today because I am becoming an old warrior, having fought the good fight locally since the summer of 1990; that was the year I first came out as a bisexual and found out I had a community to fight for. I am not the oldest or most experienced warrior among us, by far, but I represent, perhaps, a moment in Knoxville’s history when gay activism began to go mainstream: the birth of Knoxville Pride.

Those were heady days, but even as our local movement grew, those days were increasingly marred by a new wave of right-wing antics, from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to the Knox County Commission’s anti-gay resolution of 1993, a chain letter version of just one such resolution that swept county goverments across the country leading up to the ’94 mid-term election.

Some credit Gingrich’s Contract on America with the right-wing take-over of Congress that year, but the truth is, they built that winning coalition standing on our backs, using such political attacks to build their base just like today.

I continued my activism in various ways over the years, but eventually left organized LGBT activism for more of a free-lance role, most especially writing letters to editors, guest op-eds, and lobbying various reporters and editors for improved LGBT coverage. I also became an AIDS caregiver and ran quilting bees for the AIDS memorial quilt the year it last toured Knoxville,circa 1998. But the good fight left me severly burned out at the end of that decade, and I’m still struggling against that burn out today.

Only with the selection of George Bush and his validation of the right wing did I rouse myself, knowing the fight was once again on in full. I said to friends at the time that with Bush as president, at least activism would become fun again. I never thought how wrong my glib comment would be: Activism today is decidedly not “fun”! It’s exhilarating and rewarding in many ways, yes, but also scarry and often tinged with desperation.

Few here will doubt this, but we are under an extremist attack today, by some of the very people elected to represent all the citicizens of the United States. Today’s bigots – along with those who are just plain opportunists – are slicker than ever these days, too. They’ve learned the same lesson the KKK learned more than a decade ago when they took of the robes and hoods, and cleaned up their rhetoric: They stripped their soundbites and tone of all direct bashing to the point that they talk white power without hardly mentioning the races they hate.

Replay the marriage debate in Washington this week: the pro-ban side hardly uttered the words gay or lesbian, sticking to talking points carefully crafted to give the appearance that this has nothing to do with gays-and-lesbians-proper or with denigrating us. And the people who’ve coached these politicians are people like the folksy James Dobson, pretty boy all-American types like Ralph Reed and the leader of the Family Research Council Ken Connor, the latter of whom actually has past connections with white supremicists, soliciting donations from them for a Lou isiana politician he worked for early in his career.

Gays and lesbians aren't even mentioned in the wording of the gay marriage ban. Even so, you rarely hear anyone in the press or otherwise talking about the formally named "Marriage Protection Amendment". It’s hard for anyone outside of the far right to even utter the bill’s title with a straight face.

But the clear implication of this cleaned-up rhetoric is that all kinds of ultimate doom await the U.S. if those terrible gays are allowed to marry – some of them have even said they consider gay marriage the number one national security threat today - if that's not a form of gay bashing, then I don't know what is. No matter how often ban supporters speak as Bush recently did, saying that everyone "deserves to be treated with tolerance, respect and dignity," the very implication that ga ys and lesbians could harm society totally belies that sentiment.

Intentionally or not, these attacks always causes an increase in hate crimes against us.
Statistics recently release by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, whose hate crime statistics are generally considered more accurate than the FBI's, clearly show this. Hate crimes against gays and lesbians rose significantly in 2003 and 2004. That’s when Massachusetts first legalized gay marriage and the push for a ban grew louder right through the last election.

And then a funny thing happened: gay marriage dropped off the national radar in 2005 and hate crimes against gays and lesbians fell a whopping 15%. Any bets on which direction the stats will go this year?

Now, make no mistake, many of those who are uncomfortable with gay marriage are at heart good people who truly mean nobody harm. Even so, if the results of these political initiatives are increased bigotry and hate, their unintended, misguided support can't excuse them.

Even among our erstwhile supporters there are many who are culpable if bad things result this year and in the future, simply because of their inaction. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from nominally “supportive” straight folk, “you just shouldn’t push too hard for gay rights in an election year” or even more commonly this week, “this marriage thing is so ridiculous, the best response is just to ignore it and let it go away.” We need to make these people understand: the Salemites may ultimately loose under the weight of their own idiocy and hate, but we in the LGBT community will pay a terrible price along the way without more pro-active friends on our side. We need our supporters to take every single politi cal attack to task, loudly and publically.

Remember the Edmund Burke quote, The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.’?

People need to understand – and I really don’t think enough of them do - the larger pattern at work here, being played out on local, state and national levels. LGBTQ’s are the focus of political attacks ranging from marriage to adoption and beyond. Those against us tout so-called reparative therapy to discredit our claims to our own identities, they spend millions - MILLIONS - of federal dollars to teach kids that sex is only to be tolerated for the straight institution of marriage. Don’t be surprised if next they try to resurrect their old attempts to ban us from teaching and other professions here and there around the country. They've tried it before, they will again. This is the slippery slope that’s really important: it’s far too reminiscent of the anti-Jewish Nazi pograms for anybody’s comfort. Every time they have a success it validates and inspires further anti-gay legislation to solve the gay question, It’s a drug to these people that can only lead to the question of a final solution.

At this point I must emphasize that we have to keep things in perspective: while many of us ultimately fear genecidal consequences if the Salemites win, we are nowhere near that today. We cannot afford to become like them and allow them to polarize us into extremists ourselves, locked into LGBTQ thought-ghettoes where we are fighting the whole world just to get back at our detractors. We will only alienate possible allies that way, allies without whom we cannot possibly win.

We have to understand the issues better, too: there are serious religious freedom issues at potential loggerheads with gay marriage. It’s easy to think “so what, so long as those religious beliefs are wrong and harmful”. But any precedent limiting any religious expression, even hurtful religious expression, can have far-reaching unintended consequences. Religious liberty is a cornerstone of our society, just as much as is the need for basic fairness for persecuted minorities . We need to understand this and figure out how to minimize these risks on bo th sides of the equation.

These important deliberations seem almost impossible in the current climate, but they will never be possible if we take on the right’s “you’re either with us or against us”, winner-take-all attitude. Playing zero-sum games pits us against even some of our own in the end, and leaves no room to genuinely discuss things that should be of concern to everyone. And that’s exactly what the far right hopes we will do, become absolutists, tearing us and our broader coalitions apart.

But notice something very important. While Lesbians and Gays may statistically be the primary focus of these political attacks and the subsequent hate crime, notice a lot of media coverage of these issues: you’ll see, at some point during each story, they refer to the LGBT Community, never the “Lesbian and Gay Community”.

We are a community, whole and united more than we’ve ever been, and people are waking up to that fact. WE don’t think of gay marriage and other attacks as being against just gays and lesbians We know that if any of us are vulnerable, we are all vulnerable. It’s time the rest of society understands that if any LGBTQs are at risk, they are all just as at risk too.

We are a rainbow of difference, all made the same through our differences, sexual minorities, joined in solidarity against enemies who won’t differentiate between us if they’re ever allowed to come up with that final solution. We are transgendered, bisexual, lesbian and gay.

But we are also black and white and brown and you name it. We are urban and rural, rich, middle-class and poor, third world and first. We are Bhuddist, Jewish, Muslim and Pagan, Athiest and yes, even Christian. We are smart and not so, good and bad and in-between. We are simply everywhere, our colors are shot straight thru the fabric of humanity.

We’re here! We’re queer! And people are increasingly getting used to it. Present-day attacks notwithstanding, and understanding we can take nothing for granted, our society is finally beginning to go beyond mere tolerance and the nascent respect that grows every year.

Keep up the good fight! Don’t leave the few to do all the work of organizing, as so often is the case, this year being no exception. Come out and reach out beyond our LGBTQ enclaves to the rest of society, the only place the battle can be won. And most importantly, keep hope alive! There is no other way to succeed. One way or another, we shall indeed all overcome in the end!

Thank you for listening! BE GOOD!

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