PFLAG State Conference
Since we are in a church, I’d like to open these few remarks by discussing a passage from Leviticus. Not the one you are thinking of, the one always trotted out by the ‘usual suspects’—this is a different one.
These passages describe an Old Testament ritual in which the high priest placed his hands on the head of a goat, and confessed the sins of the people. The goat was then sent into the wilderness, taking the sins with it. Remind you of anything?
When people are frightened, when their world no longer seems comprehensible, they need someone to blame and send into the wilderness—a scapegoat. The Germans wanted a reason for their lost war and ruined economy, and blamed the Jews. In Salem, when things went wrong, it was the witches. Today, for those who find themselves surrounded by social change and events they can’t understand or control, it’s “the homosexuals” and “the gay agenda.”
In other words, it’s our children.
The difference is, PFLAG families are not willing to be “good Germans.” We’re prepared to fight, not just for our children, but for REAL Family values, REAL American values, and REAL Religious values. Healthy, loving families don’t disown their children, or try to “cure” them, or pretend that they are something that they aren’t. Genuine patriots will insist that America remain true to its ideals, including its historic commitment to equality and inclusion. Authentically religious people understand that attributing human hatreds and fears to God is the ultimate blasphemy.
To steal a line from a classic movie, Network: We’re mad as hell, and we aren’t going to take it anymore.
But just being mad doesn’t get us anywhere. Being pissed off doesn’t win wars. If it did, most of us have been so mad so long, dead bodies would be littering the battlefield. We have to channel our anger into productive activism, and that is what today is all about.
PFLAG families need to be politically active for lots of reasons, but let me just give you four:
· First, elected officials are not mind-readers. City-County Counselors don’t know that large numbers of people—probably a majority—really do believe in civil rights for everyone. Even Jerry Falwell believes that! (relate story) State Senators and Representatives don’t know that the Eric Millers and Curt Smith’s of this state do not speak for most Hoosiers, and they won’t know unless we tell them.
· Second, the Right wing is not just vocal, they are shrill. It’s one thing to be quiet when most other people are being quiet. But the right wing makes up for its small numbers with VERY loud voices. If those voices aren’t countered, if they are allowed to dominate the conversation, there will BE no conversation, because they are sure not interested in dialogue. If it takes two to frame a debate, we need to be one of the two. But notice that I said frame a debate. We must always keep in mind that we are not talking to, or debating, the Radical Right. They are not open to hearing us. What we are doing is ensuring that their arguments do not go unchallenged, and thereby educating the “mushy middle”—folks who may have adopted some of their positions, but who are not emotionally invested in them.
· Third, nothing ever changes unless ordinary, good people make it change. It’s a political truism that the “base” of each political party is dominated by the most committed—okay, the most rabid—partisans. The majority of Americans have long since “tuned out” the usual voices, and they are not invested in our issues—they aren’t against equal rights, they just haven’t thought about it one way or the other. (Until Hurricane Katrina intruded, they’ve mostly been following the kidnapping of the blond in Aruba, or watching Donald Trump fire someone.) Cindy Sheehan managed to focus the attention of the nation on Iraq because she is a mother. We are mothers, and fathers, and grandparents and siblings, and that gives us a moral authority that homophobes like Rick Santorum or James Dobson will never match.
· And fourth, we owe it to our children and grandchildren, and we owe it to America. People have died to protect our right to free speech, our right to petition our government for redress of grievances, to criticize public officials when they are wrong, or corrupt, or just plain stupid–we need to use that right. Use it or lose it was never more apt.
I know I’m preaching to the choir. If you didn’t want to be active, you wouldn’t be here today. So the practical question is: what we can do? Let me just talk a bit about Activism 101 and 101A: activities for moms and dads who have some time and resources; and activities for those who don’t have much of either.
· Letters to editor–supporting the good guys, criticizing the bad guys. And don’t just send them to the local daily paper: send them to neighborhood papers, appropriate newsletters, local and national magazines—any appropriate outlet. If you don’t have much time, write one and just cc it to others. (I know I don’t need to tell you to avoid ad hominem attacks and name calling. The Right does that, and we don’t help our cause by responding in kind. And do use spell-check; I get hate emails about my columns all the time, and there is nothing more annoying than being cussed out in language you can’t decipher. When criticisms are misspelled and ungrammatical, it tends to diminish the force of the argument.)(I did love the guy who capitalized “Godless”…)
· Contact your elected officials. I know you get told that all the time, but it really is important. (tell Mosely-Braun story) Email good, if time is a problem, but hand-written letters are better, and personal contacts best of all. Does your Representative hold town meetings? Go. And speak up. Did you contribute to a campaign? Call and remind the recipient that you’ve supported him financially and you are vitally interested in his position on fairness and equality for all Americans.
· Does someone who is actively working against gay rights own a business? Boycott it, and tell them why. You work hard for your money, and there is no reason you should spend it supporting people who are trying to hurt your family. Get your friends and family to join you.
· Organize for maximum effectiveness. I’m not going to belabor this one, because that’s what today is all about—leveraging our efforts and combining our talents, energies and ideas.
· Recruit candidates to oppose hate-mongers and their fellow-travelers–or run yourself. This involves much more time and effort, but if you have that time, it is effort well-spent. Even if you run against an incumbent who is unbeatable—and thanks to gerrymandering, there are a lot of them in Indiana—you will be forcing those incumbents to spend time and money defending their positions, and you will be educating their constituents.
· Be a precinct committeeperson or ward chair, for either party. Actually, GOP would be best—today’s Republicans desperately need more rational voices within the ranks. Here in central Indiana, a new organization called First Republicans is trying to take the party back to its more libertarian roots; there are undoubtedly similar efforts elsewhere. We need to remember that the Right gained control in precisely this way—by having their activists run for precinct positions, and then taking control of the party. This is obviously a hugely ambitious goal, and PFLAG alone isn’t going to accomplish it—but every precinct official we elect is a beachhead for the sane side. And both parties are desperate for folks willing to fill those slots.
· Be prepared to call media and elected officials on inaccurate or inflammatory rhetoric. Just monitoring the airwaves can be enormously helpful. Pat Robertson isn’t the only loony-tune out there making ludicrous statements. Rational people, whatever their politics, are offended by pronouncements that God destroyed thousands of poor people in New Orleans because He opposes gay rights. Any opportunity to highlight the essentially nutty character of the far right is an opening. My favorite headline in the wake of the most recent Robertson episode was, “Who Would Jesus Whack?”—humor will get us farther than anything else. One story about James Dobson accusing Sponge-Bob Squarepants being gay is worth a month of well-researched arguments.
· If you have the resources—if you have ANY resources—give money to organizations working for positive change–ICLU, LAMBDA, PFLAG, HRC, American Values Alliance—I don’t care who. They all need it.
· And finally, speak up! Speak up at your church, synagogue or mosque; speak up in your civic organizations. Be willing to participate in panels at the Kiwanis or Rotary or whatever, if you possibly can. Be willing to find someone if you can’t.
Keep one thing in mind, always. We can defeat these efforts to keep our children second-class citizens. What we are facing is a backlash—prompted by the very real, very substantial progress that has been made over the past decade. Earlier this week, the California legislature passed a law to recognize gay marriage. It wasn’t an “elitist” court—it was a body of elected Representatives. Governor Terminator may have terminated it with a veto, but it still represents amazing progress.
We will win this battle, because Hope trumps despair, and Love trumps fear.
We will win this battle because fairness is a basic American value, and all we are asking for is simple fairness. And we will win because history is on our side, and the next generation is on our side. My own students, even those from very conservative churches, overwhelmingly support equal rights for gays and lesbians—including marriage. Every poll on the subject confirms what I see in my classroom. There is a large and receptive audience waiting for our message—but we have to deliver that message. We have to stand up to the fear that is motivating the backlash, and we have to make it absolutely clear that we refuse to allow our children, our families, to be the scapegoats.
And the next time someone quotes Leviticus to you, ask them if they know verse 16:20-22. Tell them PFLAG doesn’t approve of selective use of the bible or selective application of the constitution.
We can do this.