Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Liberty and Justice for All

Today I joined a group of maybe 30 individuals at a rally on the steps of City Hall here in Colorado Springs. This weekend we will celebrate our 21st Pride Celebration for the queer community. For the past several years a very conservative mayor had refused to sign a mayoral proclamation honoring Pride Day and recognizing the gifts the queer community brings to Colorado Springs. So at the rally, a new resolution was put forth– introduced to the city council meeting today that asks that the Mayor and City Council sign a resolution condemning hate crimes– more specifically the alleged hate crime perpetuated against two gay soldiers here in the Springs who were jumped and assaulted while getting a late night snack. Homophobic epithets were hurled at them with the same force as fists that were thrown.

All of the usual suspects showed up to speak in support. Rev. Wes Mullins, minister of MCC, Chuck Bader, local union activist, and Carolyn Cathey– whose passion and instinct for activism have made her an honorary minister in my book (I call her Rev.– she does minister to the queer community in Colorado Springs, faithfully and without denominational prejudice). Others involved in politics, Nancy-Jo Morris, one of the more outspoken transwomen. It was inspiring, powerful. I felt the reassuring blanket of community–of queer folks and our allies– covering us, protecting us, swaddling us in love.

Following the rally, most of the folks there headed inside to participate in the City Council meeting. At the beginning of each City Council meeting –after an invocation by a local minister (I always love getting asked to do this) and the Pledge of Allegiance (for which I stand respectfully, but can never say, and will never say, until it’s true) there is a time for citizens to speak on subjects not listed on the agenda. Many of the supporters outside the rally had filled the halls and several had signed on to speak.

Queers of all ages and from all walks of life spoke about the importance of acknowledging the diversity of our community. Straight allies also stood up to urge support of our Pride celebration. Others urged the council to seriously consider the resolution against hate crimes that they will probably vote on next week, to not let silence be permission for other hate crimes to occur.

I spoke as did my colleague, Rev. Roger Butts from High Plains Church. Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of the local queer youth service provide, Inside/Out Youth Services, spoke movingly and, at times, tearfully, about the abuse she hears about from queer kids all the time; the sense the youth have that nothing will change and no one will care.

The council members and the mayor had a chance to respond. Most of the remarks were short-sighted, even scolding us. One council member suggested we were the ones causing division by not letting this issue go away. She said it was just an event and that’s not where the City Council needed to be focused. Another said that every crime was a hate crime (oh, how I weary of that retort– always given by someone who has never been in a marginalized group). Another insisted that as a Council that wasn’t their job but individuals could certainly support Pride. It’s interesting to note if that were their only recourse, to sign a statement of support as individuals, that only two councils members have actually done so: Scott Hente, President of Council, and Jan Martin, President Pro-tem.

Then the mayor spoke. (Was I the only one there who noted the irony of him saying in one breath he would never sign a proclamation celebrating/honoring Pride and in the next breath talking about the “Spirit of Colorado Springs” initiatives?? Did anyone else see the disconnect???).

Our newly elected (and first “strong mayor”) Steve Bach had run for office on a platform that said he wouldn’t sign any proclamations with “political connotations” (as was confirmed in John Hazelhurst’s article in the Colorado Springs Independent this week). Yes we knew this, and still there is something so heart-wrenchingly infuriating about the smugness behind that comment.

“Political connotations??” I guess celebrating the time when queer folk– namely drag queens and bull dykes– decided enough is enough! And boldly, fearlessly fought back against the police brutality and injustice of laws targeting queer folk had political connotations. Kind of like Juneteenth when Africans in Texas who had been kept as slaves 18 months after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and put into effect by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, had political connotations– certainly economic connotations for their “owners” who were, shall we say, reluctant to let them know of their liberation. I guess Pride has political connotations in the same way in which Labor Day has political connotations– spotlighting the need for better, fairer labor laws. Or while we’re at it, let’s talk about the political connotations of Mothers’ Day which was started as an anti-war movement by Julia Ward Howe and other women alarmed at having sons of mothers kill other sons of mothers in war.

Frankly, I’m at a loss. I can’t think of a single secular holiday we celebrate that doesn’t have political connotations. Memorial Day? A day to remember the great loss of both sides in the Civil War– to decorate the graves of soldiers from both sides killed in the conflict, to look at our incredible shadow square in the face and recognize that, at the end of the day, we are all Americans– North and South, Yankee and Rebel.

Veterans Day–which honors the cessation of fighting in World War I, aka the Great War on November 11, 1918– even though the war was not officially over until the Treaty of Versailles was signed seven months later on June 28, 1919. What a twist of fate that 50 years to the day after official end of that war, on June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Rebellion occurred and the LGBTQI, etc. movement was begun.

A day, which had started so well, so joyously and determinedly with a rally and with citizens speaking out in City Council ended with the queer folks and our straight allies feeling, once again, misunderstood– actually not heard at all, invisible, demoralized, the lines of demarcation drawn more clearly than ever between those with power and status and standing and those without.

We walked out of that meeting in pain, in anger, in despair, for some of us. When I spoke to City Council this afternoon I started by saying at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church we don’t just celebrate diversity– we flaunt it! And I told the story, from the Jewish tradition, of a person who had heard that a particular city was evil, corrupt, greedy, not caring for the outcast or marginalized. So this man had traveled to this city and stood with a sign by the city gates that said “Repent!” And day after day he would stand there and implore the city to repent of its selfish ways, to stop being corrupt, to care for those in need. And the people passing by would laugh or jeer at him, or spit on him, or– maybe worse– just ignore him.

This went on for ten years. Finally a passer-by who had witnessed this happening day after day, took pity on the man and went over to him and said, “Buddy! It’s been 10 years. They’re clearly not going to change. Why not just give it up.”

And the man replied. “At first I stood here and made my statement in hopes that this city would change. Now I do it to make sure that this city doesn’t change me.”

And I said, after sharing that story, that maybe that’s all I was doing now. Making sure that I don’t get drawn into the cynicism of things never changing and so changing into an apathetic person who doesn’t care. I said I will keep showing up and saying "Repent!" If for no other reason, than I not be changed.

And I want to say to those activists who stood with me today. Those who have been making this same impassioned plea for justice for years and years, and those for whom this was their first act of justice-seeking, don’t give up. No matter the outcome, if we can stand united, if we can refuse to change, refuse to give in to complacency and numbing despair, if we can continue to be a bright light of justice overlooking the valley of inequity, then we are accomplishing something. We, in our subversive refusal to give in to an unjust reality can create a future of equity and peace, with liberty and justice for all. Then I will proudly stand next to you and pledge allegiance to a flag, to a nation, to a state or city that offers that. Until, then, my dear activist friends, my dear beleaguered queer community, my beloved straight allies, I place my hand on my heart, and I pledge allegiance to you, and to continuing the struggle with you. May it be so.


TamaraBrody said...

I am so inspired by your commitment to "justice for all" and put my hand on my heart to pledge allegience to the Spirit that unites us all. Thank you for showing true vision and demonstrating courageous leadership in a town sorely lacking both!

A.F. Heart said...

Thank you Nori. Beautifully said and spot on!

Rev. Dr. Nori J. Rost said...

Thanks to both of you for your comments. All is well-- just not yet!! :)

Kevin Weber said...

Whenever I think of you standing up and speaking in front of crowds, the old E.F. Hutton commercials pop into my mind..."When Rev. Nori speaks, everyone listens." I'm glad the internet is around so I can cyber-stalk your old sermons, You Tube videos, etc. You've inspired me for nearly 20 years now!