King holiday still fights for respect

I’m old enough to remember when the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin L. King, Jr became law. In September, 1989, after a couple of years of debate and rejections, the Tampa City Council finally approved a measure to rename Buffalo Avenue as Dr. Martin L. King, Jr Drive. Controversy around the name change was fierce, but time has a way of blurring details and obscuring facts. As I perused a Google search this week, much of the explanations focused on objections from businesses and concerned citizens as to the cost of new street signs and business stationery.

Oh, but I remember those days.

article_3_hires_rm_corbisIn 1989-90, during my first year as a police officer, the debate raged. I distinctly recall how many of my colleagues stated emphatically their refusal to say Martin L. King. Many used it as a badge of honor, purposely putting themselves out on calls along the road just to say Buffalo with emphasis, and some dispatchers gave calls out in the same fashion. In contrast, African American officers and dispatchers said the name of the street with pride evident in their voices.

By 1992, I bought my first home in a suburb east of the city and I traveled sections of Martin L. King Jr. Blvd on my trip to and from work. Many residents east of the city limits continued to refer to the street as 574, the state route number, and for years it was commonplace to see the street signs vandalized or missing as I drove around. My friends with the sheriff’s office acknowledged that many in their agency used 574 instead of Martin L. King Jr Blvd.

Sometimes I heard the excuse that Buffalo or 574 is just shorter and easier to say, particularly on a police radio. Fair enough. But, other streets in the city have long names that were shortened for expediency, while maintaining the reference to the honoree. John F. Kennedy Blvd is a prime example. It’s commonly called Kennedy. Those of us who simply wanted a shortcut did almost immediately start calling Martin L. King Jr Blvd, MLK for short. That, at least, didn’t feel like a refusal to acknowledge the name.

Obviously, my co-workers didn’t have a financial beef with the street name change. It was defiance to the idea of honoring Dr. King—defiance to honoring a black civil rights leader. To my recollection, nobody in police leadership ever made it clear that Buffalo was unacceptable. The stark divide played out every shift and went on for years, fading eventually as most grew accustomed to the name, leaving only diehards still holding out, their bigotry refusing to yield. I wonder how that felt to my African American brothers and sisters in blue or to citizens of color who may have heard them.

When I hear people say that issues of race were settled long ago, that slavery and Jim Crow are ancient history, and they personally treat everyone equally, as a way of dismissing the frustrations of African American citizens, I think of the examples of subtle bigotry like the streets dedicated to our greatest civil rights leader. Acronyms with racial undertones for learning streets in public housing. Endless slurs directed at the President and First Lady with primate references. Ugly social media posts, unabashedly racist. These experiences are certainly not ancient history, nor are they uncommon. They are the realities of daily human interaction where bigotry lives if not refuted.

So, this year, in the wake of a contentious political season that openly challenged political correctness, ignored open shows of racist behavior, yanked the lid off a simmering anger by all sides who feel they are not being heard, I’m imploring us all to look inside. We can do better in addressing bias. More whites than blacks say that our government policies and laws treat both races equally, but once again reality casts doubt on the way race truly plays out, often in less obvious ways (at least to whites). Facts about the MLK holiday provide a useful example.

In 1983, President Reagan signed the MLK bill into law after 15 years of Dr. King’s supporters fighting for passage following his murder. Did you know the last state to fully ratify the King holiday was not until 1999? Again, not ancient history. If that’s not bad enough, the saddest facts of all are that four states, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, to this day, recognize the date in conjunction with Confederate heroes such as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. What does that say to African Americans in those states when the day is called Robert E. Lee/Martin L. King Day? Or to see the rise of white nationalists and hate crimes in the wake of this last election? Our fellow citizens of color must interpret our deafening silence and refusal to call it out as tacit support or at best, indifference.

Martin Luther King spoke extensively about moral justice. His was a movement of nonviolence, which also spoke truth to power in order to shine a light on injustices of race, social justice and poverty. His legacy has never been more important than in our current national discord and rupture along fault lines of party, class, race, or religion. Dr. King called us to live up to the ideals of our founders and strive to overcome our differences in the name of justice for all. We have opportunities each day to reject the small-minded slurs and hard hearts of bigotry if we summon the courage to stand up. Hate in any form has no place in our world. The change must first come from our hearts.

This was the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King.

 

Advertisements

Equality and Judicial Ignorance

“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” These are the famous words of former Alabama Governor George Wallace during his inaugural speech in 1963. On June 11th of that year, Wallace himself blocked a door to prevent African American students from registering at the University of Alabama. President Kennedy then sent federal troops to enforce federal law and the governor grudgingly stepped aside. Since 1963, Black students have attended the University of Alabama an every other school in the country along White students, and what do you know? The sky hasn’t fallen.

It’s worth looking back at those shameful events in US history because once again, Alabama is next up in our current generation’s civil rights fight. Full equality for LGBT citizens is on the line and gay marriage is the new hotly debated issue. Once again, a federal judge has issued a ruling for equality that is causing great consternation. District Judge Callie V.S. Grande issued a ruling that called the state’s prohibition against same sex marriage unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, thus allowing Judge Grande’s order to stand. Alabama would now start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, right? Not so fast.

Enter state supreme court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore. Justice Moore issued an order to Alabama’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Apparently, Justice Moore believes that the state of Alabama has no obligation to follow the order of a federal judge. In response, some of the state’s probate judges have decided to simply stop issuing any marriage licenses. Talk about acting like petulant children rather than supposedly highly educated legal minds. Their actions scream, “If I can’t keep gays from marrying, then nobody is getting married!”

Even George Wallace didn’t decide to just close all the schools in Alabama if he had to let Black students in. The states rights crowd loves to use this anti-federal government rallying cry whenever they find a law they think offends their religious sensibilities (read bigotry). Justice Moore states emphatically that judges need not enforce laws that violate the state constitution or state law. Unfortunately, they need reminded time and again about United States law. See, our founding fathers totally understood that there would be disagreements and squabbles from time to time between states, so they told us how to handle that. Article VI of the US Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, dictates that federal law is the “supreme law of the land”. This means, sir, that when laws conflict, federal trumps state, meaning the federal judge outranks you, dude.

As much as I’d love to see National Guard troops standing at the door of an Alabama courthouse enforcing the rights of same-sex couples, it looks like that won’t be necessary. Thankfully, there are judges in the state who understand the US Constitution, and have begun issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Kudos to those wise justices who have decided to be on the right side of history. As for Chief Justice Moore, the people of Alabama have shown him the door before, and should do so again at the ballot box. I don’t think the citizens of Alabama want their state to be seen as the symbol of bigotry yet again. Maybe someone will write a song supporting tolerance this time. Something like: I hope Judge Moore will remember, fair-minded folks don’t need him around anyhow.

Peace~LM

Service Sacrificed

This week while the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) is once again being debated in Washington, and its detractors continue to deny any need to protect workers from baseless firings, comes the story of a public servant suddenly dismissed, and the community she serves searching for answers. For any of you who haven’t heard the story from Latta, South Carolina, I’ll bring you up to speed. Crystal Moore was hired by the City of Latta in 1989 and has served her community as a police officer ever since. By all accounts, she has been an exemplary officer, rising through the ranks until her appointment to Chief of Police in 2012. Her service record shows no disciplinary action in all of those years.

Town shows support for fired police chief
Town shows support for fired police chief

In December, the city got a new mayor, and suddenly Chief Moore has become something completely different. She’s a discipline problem, a troublemaker; she is not fit to run the agency. Mayor Bullard cites the fact that Moore received seven reprimands, ostensibly the justification for the firing of his police chief. The interesting thing about the list of transgressions is that six of the seven seem to deal with challenging her supervisor in some way. Hmm…the Chief’s supervisor…oh, that would be the mayor. So, in the space of four months, this formerly stellar employee has racked up seven times as many reprimands as in her entire career. Now, we might conclude that the new mayor and the chief simply cannot get along. It happens. One would think, however, that they would have a sit down to discuss the issues between them. According to the chief that never happened. She states that after hearing rumors that her job was in jeopardy, she asked but the mayor but he denied it. City council is concerned about the fact that no verbal counseling preceded the written reprimands.

What happened next is the troubling part of this story. During a phone conversation with City Councilman Jared Taylor, Mayor Bullard had this to say:

“I would much rather have … and I will say this to anybody’s face … somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.

Because that ain’t the damn way it’s supposed to be. You know … you got people out there — I’m telling you buddy — I don’t agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed and I don’t say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around.

I’m not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I’m not going to see them do it with two men neither.

I’m not going to do it. Because that ain’t the way the world works.

Now, all these people showering down and saying ‘Oh it’s a different lifestyle they can have it.’ Ok, fine and dandy, but I don’t have to look at it and I don’t want my child around it.”

Maybe the chief wasn’t as much of a discipline problem as she was…a lesbian. And you know what the amazing thing is? It’s perfectly legal in South Carolina and thirty other states to fire an employee for being gay. Ironically, the progress we’ve made toward equality has rendered it politically incorrect for homophobic people to openly admit to firing someone on the grounds of sexual orientation. Which means the mayor felt he had to invent other reasons for the firing, but his unfiltered words tell the tale. That’s what bothers the fair-minded residents of Latta, who turned out in support of their police chief at a city council meeting.

The purpose of ENDA is to prevent precisely this type of situation from occurring. Opponents of the legislation claim that discrimination based upon sexual orientation doesn’t occur, and it’s another example of the advancing “homosexual agenda”. No doubt the segregationists in the old South used the same arguments based on race in the days before the Civil Rights Act. It would be great if equality could be achieved without the need for laws to ensure that individual’s rights weren’t denied based on prejudice. Unfortunately that’s not reality. The Human Rights Campaign spokesman, Fred Sainz, correctly states, “Without explicit federal or state employment protections, a decorated police chief is left to fend for herself.”ENDA-hi1

The citizens of Latta apparently don’t care that Chief Moore is a lesbian. They only care about the job she does for their city. That’s all LGBT citizens want—to be judged on the merits of their job performance. Once again, folks, we don’t want “special” rights, only equal treatment under the law. Chief Moore shouldn’t have her many years of service to her community sacrificed based upon bigotry. If it can happen to her, it can happen to any one of us in the LGBT community. The Employment Non-discrimination Act has huge implications for all of us. ENDA is the next step in the equality march. Let’s keep moving forward.

Peace~ LM

Why do I write?

Writing from the heart is what I’ve always done. Join me for my inaugural blog over at Women and Words for reflections on my writing and how life shapes the words I put on the page.

Women and Words

I don’t remember exactly when I started writing. I only know that I cannot remember not needing to write. Maybe it was because I was a shy kid who felt like she didn’t belong anywhere exactly. Books and reading were a great escape. My mother’s aunt nurtured that connection to books and I loved getting swept away in an epic story. Then one day she bought me a package of stationary and a beautiful pen. “Write,” she said. So I began, clumsily at first, filling the pages with bad poetry about adolescent angst. What was amazing about the experience was that once I began, I couldn’t stop. If reading was a source of comfort and happiness, then writing—putting my own words on the page—felt like mainlining a drug.images-1

The outside world had given me plenty of reasons to doubt myself. I struggled with a fledgling awareness of my differentness

View original post 530 more words

Sports and diversity rule!

Let’s talk inspiration.

Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the NBA, signed a temporary contract to play with the Brooklyn Nets on February 23rd, will now remain a Net for the remainder of the season. Collins made a huge statement by selecting #98, in honor of Matthew Shepard and touching off a bit of controversy from the usual cast of blowhards taking to the airways following the announcement. imagesCollins could have skipped the added attention by simply keeping the #46 jersey the team first gave him. But he felt strongly about making a statement by way of tribute to Matthew Shepard. Yesterday, the announcement that the Nets had signed Collins for the remainder of the season proved that he’s first and foremost a talented basketball player, who just happens to be gay.

Onto hockey, where a kick-butt goalie from the gold medal winning Canadian Olympic Team made the jump to the US Southern Professional Hockey League. Big deal you say? Well, hell yeah, because this outstanding goal-tender is Canadian Women’s Hockey star Shannon Szabados, who made history last Saturday night as the first female to play professional hockey on a men’s team. As the net minder for her men’s college team in Alberta Canada, Shannon set records for the most shutouts in a season (5) and lowest goals against average. Szabados downplays the significance of her gender, but there is no doubt about her impact as a trailblazer.

Photo by Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com
Photo by Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com

When asked if she hopes to advance to the NHL, Szabados says only that she’s focused on her current team. I’ll bet the NHL is keeping an eye on this goaltender with a mane of curls hanging out the back of her helmet. A record-setting goaltender, who just happens to be a woman.

Amy Purdy in SochiAnd did you get a chance to check out the Paralympics? If not, you missed a spectacular display of heart. All I can say is wow. The big news of the games was the US men’s sled hockey team winning gold medal vs. the Russians in a tight 1-0 contest. Marine Corps vet Josh Sweeney scored the lone goal of the game to lift his team to victory. Another fantastic story is Paralympian Amy Purdy, who became a double amputee after a severe meningitis infection at 19. Instead of giving up, Amy doubled down on her dream to be a snowboarder. Purdy is now one of the top ranked US adaptive snowboarders and was instrumental in the sport being included in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. She won bronze in the inaugural run. Amy and Josh are world class athletes and Olympic medalists, who just happen to be differently-abled.

So, in the flood of over-paid, prima donna professional athletes, who seem to constantly act out or fall short of our probably unrealistic expectations, I thought it would be great to celebrate those who stand out despite all the odds stacked against them. They compete in their sport of choice and succeed, even when the world is telling them they cannot. There’s a great lesson in that for all of us. Even if you don’t have the luck o’ the Irish, grit and perseverance can get you where you need to go. Never give up.

Peace. Thanks for reading.

~LM

International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day!

When I saw that today was officially designated International Women’s Day, I thought, that’s pretty cool. My next thought was, what does it mean? I consulted Google, which has a snazzy IWD logo displayed to commemorate the occasion. The history buff in me naturally wanted to know about the origins of this celebration. I discovered that International Women’s Day is over one hundred years old! In 1908, 15,000 women marched in NYC, demanding better wages, shorter workdays, and OMG—the right to vote. The first official observance was in 1911, amid the ongoing fight for women’s suffrage. Wow. This is information I could really use.

International Women’s Day is about action. This year’s theme is “Inspiring Change.” Women in the early 20th century took great risks in stepping out to demand equality, but they did it because fundamental rights are worth it. Women like Susan B. Anthony blazed a fearless trail for equality that has become our birthright. Because I’m a writer, I loved reading about Katharine Lee Bates, the educator, poet, and songwriter who wrote “America the Beautiful.” Bates was also a lesbian, who penned, “Yellow Clover: A Remembrance of Love”, a tribute to her partner of 25 years, Katherine Coman, Dean of Wellesley College, upon her death in 1922. I can only imagine how difficult it was for two women to live openly as lesbians at the dawn of the 20th Century, and yet, they lived authentically and left an indelible mark on the world.

That’s the challenge for all of us: To do our part to make this world a little better for those who come behind us. Women have made great strides, but there is still so much more to do. It is said: I can’t do everything, but I can do one small thing. So, I recommit on this International Women’s Day to use my humble gift for writing to continue to portray strong, lesbian characters in my stories. I will never shy away from tackling a tough subject for the sake of comfort, whether in my blog or in a future novel. And on this International Women’s Day, I celebrate all women in the world. You are fabulous.

Be proud. Be bold. Do something for the cause.

Thanks for reading~

LM

American Heroes

I’ve written before about my experience serving in the pre-DADT military, and the status of lesbian & gay service members has continued to be cause near and dear to my heart. In the days before & during DADT, the military was a less-than-welcoming place for LGBT service members. Those who served lived with the constant fear of “outing” and investigation, arrest, courts martial, and sometimes even physical attack. In every case, discovery meant certain expulsion from the military, regardless of one’s record of service or ability, and the less-than-honorable discharge would become a proverbial scarlet letter, affecting employment and one’s standing in the community forever.

For those who remained in the military, the ever-present fear kept them firmly entrenched in the closet, unable to speak openly or acknowledge their own families in public. I wrote a short story a few years back about a lesbian soldier whose partner endured the indignities of military send-offs and welcome home ceremonies that never allowed for the emotional connections or public displays of affection afforded to their straight counterparts. One didn’t risk a kiss or tender touch, let alone expect to be treated with the same dignity as other military spouses upon your wife or husband’s death. That was just the way it was.

Then history shifted. DADT was repealed in 2011, but standing federal law still prevented recognition of LGBT patriots’ families. Just before DOMA fell in 2013, I received a letter from an Army National Guard Sergeant, who had read my first novel about a lesbian serving in the military. AJ had already completed a tour of duty in Iraq, and was preparing for yet another deployment to Afghanistan with her unit. We struck up an email correspondence in the ensuing months, comparing notes on the military’s progress and the progress still needed. She shared her fears that her family wouldn’t be taken care of should something happen to her, because marriage still hadn’t been possible prior to her deployment. It angered and saddened me to hear her story, knowing there were so many others like AJ, serving our country in the midst of a war zone, yet still unable to quite find that elusive security for their families.  

 DOMA was struck down while AJ was deployed. Soon afterward, policies were revised that would protect military families. More states repealed their laws to either allow same-sex marriage or to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This month, Virginia became the latest state to recognize other state’s marriages. Virginia. That just happens to be AJ’s home state. Her Guard Unit hails from the Commonwealth of Virginia and they were leaving Afghanistan any day. The symbolism was something I couldn’t ignore. Sometimes fate is pretty cool. But expressions of love are profound.

1960320_581351918619000_935343532_nOn Saturday, The 1710th Transportation Company arrived home in Virginia to the cheers of their loved ones. Facebook was flooded with joyous and loving pictures of many reunions, with one that stuck out like a beacon in the night. In the crowd stood a woman proudly holding up a large hand-made sign that said: “My wife is MY American Hero.” She stood there among the other wives and husbands without fear or reservation of any kind because this was her right, to stand there beaming with pride, awaiting her soldier. Her wife. The image and its significance brought tears to my eyes. Catie’s one simple act of love and devotion. A brilliant testament to a human victory finally won.

The march of equality moves on. Welcome home to all our American Heroes.

Indeed.

Thanks for reading. Peace~ LM