Gloria Nieto

Is it all about me?

Filed By Gloria Nieto | September 10, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, coalition building, Del Martin, health care reform, marriage equality, Phyllis Lyon

I have seen a bit of blogosphere conversations lately about the need or lack of need to demand progress from the President on LGBT equality issues. Just wanted to add some thoughts to that particular line of discussion with some observances from the left coast.

First, a story. (Oh Gawd, not one of those!) A few years back I worked in San Francisco and had the very great fortune to get to hang out with Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the founders of the first lesbian organization in the country. I would ask questions about history and their opinions on current events.

Before the marriage debate heated up, before there was a ruling in the California Supreme Court and when we talked about marriage equality in Massachusetts, I asked them about marriage. This was a couple that had been together for over 50 years at this point. They had seen the changes in the city, in LGBT politics, in the progressive movement from the days of Eleanor Roosevelt to the age of Hillary Clinton.

The answer? "We won't see it in our lifetimes." So, of course, I queeried, "Well, why work for it, marriage equality, then if you are not going to benefit from it?" Del said, "Well for the people coming after us." Simple, and to the point, just like Del.

Luckily, they were wrong. Del and Phyllis became the first couple married in California in June of 2008. Del died in August of 2008. She died a married woman.

I was reminded of Del last night listening to President Obama's speech on health care. He talked about the letter he received from Senator Ted Kennedy after the Senator's death. The portion which resonated with me was the Senator's call:

"But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

The character of our country.

Can we look at our own LGBT movement and reflect on the character of that movement?

How many of us can work in coalition on issues other than LGBT without needing to draw attention to ourselves? The ego is strong but the cause is greater than ego.

Can we do something that will not make our lives not one bit better but will help another being? Can we be the ones we are waiting for and not tell anyone?

Del Martin was one of the first people in the country to write about battered women. She didn't write about lesbian battered women, she wrote about battered women. Her and Phyllis worked within the National Organization for Women to make women's lives better, not just lesbian women. Although they surely made many, many lesbians' lives better, there is no argument that we are better because of the wide range of work.

So the point? Can we as a movement work in coalition with groups tackling racism, sexism, environmental justice, an end to war and not have it just be about LGBT issues? Can we be queer without a parade?

Can we make change in the world and not be the center of the universe? Only time will tell if we truly have the character to make our movement about change and not just change for us.


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Tell me a story, Aunt Gloria! Tell me a story! :)

No, seriously. Tell stories. A lot of us have no idea the stories even exist.

As for your point - I wholeheartedly agree. Those bridges - to labor, feminist, environmental, and civil rights groups - are what will win us not only our full equality but an entirely better world.

You know you're right, its good to be able to do some work that doesn't benefit you one bit, but frankly, I think LGBT people are better at this than ANYONE. I know far more left leaning LGBT people that work for socialist causes, worker's rights, health care, poverty issues, anti-war groups, than those that get involved with LGBT issues. In fact, I wish I could coax some of them over to LGBT issues sometimes--we need all the help we can get.

But the problem is not how we parse them--its that we parse them. Why isn't a woman's right to choose MY issue? I feel like it is. I own it. I am staunchly and vehemently pro-choice. We shouldn't have to split these issues up--Oh, I've got my workers' rights cap on now. Oh, I've got my environmentalist cap on now.

On the left, we need to be POUNDING HARD for these issues ALL of the time. ALL of us. STRAIGHT lefties need to be enraged that gays are second class citizens. Wealthy Middle-Class lefties need to be frustrated as hell millions of Americans aren't insured and can't see a doctor. White folk need to snap back angrily at ANY casual racism, anti-semitic speech, or other degrading speech. Men need to be ready to FIGHT for equality and choice for women. You don't have to be transgender to be ready to go to bat for our transgender brothers and sisters. Retired soldiers should be rallying to help us end the wars.

We shouldn't PARSE these issues. They should ALL be ALL of our issues. If they aren't, They're ALL doomed to failure. EVERY SINGLE GROUP MUST HAVE ITS ALLIES, because it can't do it alone.

And LGBT rights right now doesn't even have all of the LGBT people paying attention. Apathy is a problem. How are we ever even going to get an ALLY to care to fight for our rights if WE don't even bother? Let's pull their fights in too. Let's all fight together for liberty, peace and justice EVERYWHERE AT ALL TIMES!

That's exactly what I've been trying to say, Gloria. Great post!