Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jim Toevs co-founded the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission. In 1992, Jim was the Democratic nominee for Congress against then-closeted Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe. He resides in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.
As tragic as the death of Trayvon Martin is, his death has within it the transformational power for justice that we all experienced following the death of Matthew Shepard. In their deaths, both of these young men touched, and continue to touch, the hearts of millions.
In Matthew's case, the results were quantum leaps forward towards achieving full legal LGBT equality. It appears that in Trayvon's death, the results will be to tear back the scab of racism in these United States of America, and to expose this terrible wound on our national consciousness that refuses to heal.
Never has the saying "one picture is worth a thousand words" been more true than in the case of Matthew and Trayvon; for it is in looking at their pictures that the hearts of untold numbers of people have been opened to experience the grief of loss of someone precious. President Obama's words, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon," speaks not only for black people, but for all of us. While those words were never spoken about Matthew, I believe they help explain the overwhelming grief the nation and the world experienced when Matthew died.
Although unspoken, the words were in our minds: "If I had a gay son, he would look like Matthew."
Another political truism is: "the action is in the reaction." As it was in Matthew's case, the haters have raised the "panic defense" on behalf of Trayvon's killer, Zimmerman; in an effort to make the perpetrator of the crime, the victim. Thankfully, there are just too many millions of us who wear "hoodies" for Geraldo and others to make that charge stick.
As tragic as are the deaths of these young men, Matthew Shepard did not die in vain, and all of us, white folks and black folks, have the opportunity to make sure that Trayvon Martin's death exposes the cancer of racism in our nation, and leads to a quantum leap forward towards a cure. Failure to do so will allow the cancer of racism to literally eat us all alive.
Oppression stops when the oppressors stop oppressing. Matthew's death caused millions of heterosexuals to examine their own homophobia, and many of them became staunch allies in the struggle for full legal LBGT equality. Trayvon's death has the potential to prompt millions of white folks to examine our own subtle collaboration with institutional and cultural racism and to become more fervent advocates of true "liberty and justice for all."
Martin Luther King said the thing that saddened him the most during the civil rights struggle was not the noise and clamor of the haters, but the silence of the good people. It is long past time for white folks in general, and those of us in the LGBT community in particular, to break our silence on the subject of racism, when and wherever it raises its ugly head. By not letting racist comments "pass," by isolating the haters from the mainstream of the body politic, we can all play a part in making sure that Trayvon Martin did not die in vain.
It is also long past the time for those of us in the LGBT and black communities to quibble over who suffers most from discrimination, or why "they" don't participate. For as Martin Luther King also said, "We arrived in different ships, but we are all in the same boat now."
May the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Matthew Shepard continue to inspire us all to do our part for justice and keep us pulling on the oars of our common boat every day of our lives.