Editor's Note: Guest blogger Mandy Studdard, a Spanish major at IUSB and founder of the Good Causes Club, is from Rochester, IN. She visits her foster parents Judy and Dale Coffing and chats with her fiancee Johanna Moncada often. Mandy organized the South Bend National Day of Protest and gave this speech at the rally.
We have gathered here today in the wake of a tremendous step forward in civil rights - the election of the first African American President of the United States. However, we also gather in the wake of a tragedy. California, Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona have all passed laws aimed at diminishing our civil rights.
As I'm sure most of you are aware, California recently passed Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage there... again. It is widely known that the Mormon church, both in and out of the state, funded this movement. Many jokes have been have been made along the lines of, 'If we can't have multiple spouses, you can't have one.' But it would be a mistake for us to blame the Mormon church as a whole for the passing of Prop 8. Having said that, I ♥ gay Mormons.
But Prop 8 was not the only discriminatory law that was passed November 4th, and let me be clear in saying this - we are here to protest all of them, not just the unfortunate events on our western border.
In Florida, the 2nd amendment to the state constitution was passed, banning both gay marriage and civil unions. In Arkansas, where there was already an amendment to the state constitution against same-sex marriage, adopting and providing foster care for children will only be allowed by married couples. Both of these pieces of legislation hurt heterosexual couples as well.
But perhaps most disappointing of the three states who did not receive the same amount of face time as California is Arizona. Although a 1996 state law prohibits same-sex marriage, the constitution did not get amended to make it so forever. So the voters were asked, in 2006, to amend it. They rejected the proposal. However, the same issue was put to a vote in 2008, and it was approved with 56% of the votes.
A lot has been said in the media about the increased turn out of African Americans causing these measures to pass. Let me be perfectly clear - there are GAY black men, there are LESBIAN black women, and there are queer black people who happen to be bisexual and/or transgendered. Not every black person voted for this measure, though as a group they voted for it disproportionately. This does not mean, however, that you get to lump every single person in a particular group together and stereotype their actions. Does that sound familiar?
Discrimination is not limited to those outside of the LBGT community. Within it there is a lot of marginalizing, especially of bisexuals and transgendered people. Let me put this to rest: bisexuals aren't confused, aren't afraid of coming out, and they aren't "greedy." Transgendered people, no matter what their genitalia look like, are the gender that they tell you that they are. Use pronouns accordingly. And that's the end of it.
As for gays and lesbians, I am sick and tired of hearing about who had it worst. Why does it matter? We're all the same boat. Instead of comparing privileges and discrimination toward your specific group, talk about something more constructive - like how we can finally gain the rights we've been fighting for years.
We cannot rely on President-elect Obama to do this for us. We have to take action into our own hands. By coming to this protest you have already shown that you are willing to do so. You don't have to be able to give a big party, throw a pride parade, pass laws, or even make speeches. A grassroots movement, like the one that is happening all over the country today, is more effective than simply yelling at the politicians to notice us. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Talk to the person standing next to you right now. Discuss the issues with anyone and everyone - especially people who don't agree with you. The more people who know an LBGT person, the more people will realize that aside from being Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and/or Transgender, this person is also a writer. This person likes video games. This person is deaf, mute, or in a wheel chair. As crazy as it may seem, not everyone realizes how human we all really are until they get to know at least one of us.
While acting as the community organizer for South Bend, I received a lot of e-mails. The majority were simple when-and-where's. One was from someone in England wishing us well. Another was from a very devoted lesbian who is trying to get this grassroots movement going. And there was one that really stuck out to me. It was from a woman who had married her wife in Canada, and when they returned to the States, found out that their marriage was not seen as legally valid. I'd like to read you her story.
"It saddened my heart when we came back home that it would not be recognized and that we couldn't get married here at home with family and friends. We have 5 children that are 5, 6, 11, 15 and 18. Four boys and 1 girl. We have a beautiful home that we work hard for everyday for our children. We believe in family values and it shows. Our children do well in school and we are always praised about how well behaved our children are. My daughter plays the violin, my 15 year old son plays football, my 18 year old loves to cook and is looking forward to college. My little ones are full of life and discovery. To me that's what matters. To tell my family we are not a family is wrong, unjust. We are more normal than most heterosexual families and my kids are happy. I want my children to know that our family means as much as any other family. I fight for them and for the life my wife and I have made together."
These are the kinds of people we are fighting for. I fight for all of you, for myself, for my fiancée who unfortunately could not be here tonight, and I fight for Lisa, her wife, and her 5 kids, as well as Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man, who is expecting again. We wish him well.
This brings me to why we are here today. This nation was founded in the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Whether or not you believe in a Creator, I believe that this is what America stands for: equality under the law, no matter who you happen to be.
There has been a lot of talk about the sanctity of marriage and changing its traditional definition. In the words of Kieth Olberman,
"This isn't about politics. This is about the human heart. And if that sounds corny, so be it.
If you voted for this proposition or you support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because I truly do not understand. Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don't want to deny you yours. They don't want to take anything away from you. They want what you want - a chance to be a little less alone in the world. Only now you are saying to them 'No, you can't have it on these terms. Maybe something similar if they behave, if they don't cause too much trouble.' You'll even give them all the same legal rights even as you are taking away the legal right which they already had.
A world around them still anchored in love and marriage, and you're saying to them, 'No you can't marry.' What if somebody passed a law to say you couldn't marry? I keep hearing this term 'redefining marriage.' If this country hadn't redefined marriage, black people still couldn't marry white people. 16 states had laws which made that illegal in 1967 - 1967! The parents of the President-elect of the United States could not have married in nearly 1/3 of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. It's worse than that. If this country had not 'redefined marriage,' some black people still couldn't marry - other black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad history of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not be legally husband and wife, nor mother and child. Their marriage vows were different. Not until death do you part, but until death or distance do you part. Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized. You know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized if the people are gay.
And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women forced by society into marrying the opposite sex in sham marriages or marriages of convenience or just marriages of not knowing.
The 'sanctity of marriage.' How many marriages like that have there been? And how on earth do they increase the sanctity of marriage rather than render that term meaningless?
Don't you as human beings have to embrace that love? The world is barren enough! It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions, that enable us, all of us, to go forward.
Your marriage only stands a 50/50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel, and how hard you work. And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work - just for the hope of having that feeling. With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against each other for no good reason - this is what your religion tells you to do?
With your experience of life and this world and all of its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do? With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field in which we all live in in favor of unhappiness and hate... this is what your heart tells you to do? You wanna sanctify marriage? You wanna honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then spread happiness.
Quote me anything from your religious leader or book of choice, telling you to stand against this. And then tell me how you can believe both that statement and another statement that reads simply, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' You are asked now, by your country, perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another, you're asked now to stand not a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight, you are asked now to stand on a question of love.
While it may at first look like that love is between two people you don't know, or you don't understand, and maybe you don't even wanna know, that love is in fact the ember of your love for your fellow person. Just because this is the only world we have, and the other guy counts, too."
I couldn't have said it any better.