• Welcome to Critical Thinking on Gay TV on The Go! I’m your host Waymon Hudson and each episode we’ll be bringing you in-depth discussions with news makers & opinion shapers on all things political in the LGBT community.
• On this edition of Critical Thinking, we’re looking at the Big Picture of the LGBT Rights struggle as it rightfully takes its place in American History. We saw this play out in historic fashion in President Barack Obama’s second inauguration speech, where he included the Stonewall riots in a list of defining American civil rights moments with Seneca Falls and Selma. In doing so, he took the story of the LGBT community’s fight for equality and folded it completely into the fabric of what America really means.
•Throughout tonight’s episode, I’ll be discussing how with this recognition not only gives greater momentum for OUR fight, but also comes with the responsibility to be allies in the greater American journey to equality for all.
Segment 1: Inauguration
Presidential inauguration days are often filled with pomp, circumstance, cheering crowds, and moments to remember, but rarely do they so perfectly illustrate a dramatic shift in our country’s understanding and acceptance of cultural changes. The second inauguration of President Barack Obama did just that. While many news outlets were rightly praising the historic first-ever inclusion of the word “gay” in an inauguration speech by a President, the full inclusion of LGBT people and their struggle for equality is perhaps the bigger, and less discussed, historic moment.
To be sure, having our President call for full equality for gay Americans in what is one of the biggest and most viewed speeches of his Presidency is monumental. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” Obama said in the capital before cheering crowds, “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” This was said not only before the entire nation, but mere feet away from the Supreme Court justices who are deciding two historic cases for marriage equality this term, the Prop 8 case and the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.
But beyond the meaningful, and not to be downplayed, name check of gay equality and marriage rights, was a more far-reaching inclusion of the struggle for LGBT equality in the civil rights history of the United States itself.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” With this thundering line, President Obama gave equal recognition to our shared civil rights struggles, from women’s suffrage to African-American civil rights to LGBT equality.
This inclusion goes beyond simple words. For the first black President, on both his second inauguration and on the federal holiday recognizing Dr Martin Luther King Jr, to so completely embrace the LGBT rights struggle as part of our common experience turned the page on the idea of “gay rights as special rights” that so many opponents of equality use to one of a shared American quest for civil rights and justice under the law.
Segment 2: A Greater Role in History means Greater Responsibility
But with this greater inclusion of LGBT equality into the story of civil rights in America comes a greater responsibility for OUR movement. It becomes clear when you look at the importance of the events included in the inauguration speech. The Seneca Falls Convention was the definitive gathering of women’s rights activists in 1848, where women gathered to not only demand the right to vote, but also have greater control over their lives in property ownership, employment, and marital status. The march in Selma, Alabama in 1965 was a crystalizing moment for the African-American civil rights struggle, where peaceful protesters led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas, leading to what came to be known as Bloody Sunday. In the same vein, the Stonewall Riots of 1969 saw a diverse group of LGBT patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City finally become fed up by constant police raids, harassment, and imprisonment and rise up in protest.
When our President invoked images of Selma, Seneca Falls and Stonewall, it was to remind us that we must form alliances that are forged in common struggles. In many cases, those of us seeking equality under the law are fighting common oppressors. By building bridges with other communities, instead of barriers, we make the march easier for all of us.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, said that he was “cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.” Dr. King’s letter is a clear call for everyone to join in the fight for civil rights, no matter how the injustices emerge or who they impact. In perhaps his most famous line from that letter, King wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
This is a lesson members of all oppressed communities – and anyone committed to social justice — should remember. Rather than redeploying oppressive strategies against each other, people from disenfranchised communities must finally learn to focus on commonalities. The struggle for civil rights is expansive and universal. The work to be done is exhaustive.
Civil rights includes equal pay for women in the workplace, reforms in the criminal justice system, equal access to education and healthcare, equality for our transgender brothers and sisters, and so much more. As a movement, we must continue our fight, but also look beyond issues like marriage equality to our larger role in the greater American social justice movement.
There are moments in history when a speech can transcend beyond just words and actually become action– and that is precisely what weaving the story of the Stonewall Riots (which birthed the modern LGBT rights movement) into the American experience of “becoming a more perfect union” did. The fight for LGBT equality is no longer the story of a small group seeking rights, it became part of the American story of civil rights and freedom.
As the President said, our journey is not complete. But what we witnessed on inauguration day was a dramatic shift, and a long fought for victory of inclusion and recognition. Our fight– the fight of LGBT people over the decades to fully live the American dream– is truly an American endeavor that we all must take part in.
The spirit of Stonewall– the burning need for a disenfranchised people to rise up against oppression and discrimination to make their voices heard– is alive and well. It lives on to carry us forward in the fights ahead, but it also issues a challenge from across history to our movement to lend it’s strength to ALL those in need who still seek equality in their quest of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
And it’s a call we all MUST answer.
And that’s Waymon’s Wrap Up.
You can join our discussion and ask me questions on twitter with the hashtag #WaymonWrapUp and on our “Critical Thinking” Facebook page, where you can see exclusive behind the scenes photos and information about our show. And be sure to join us here on Gay TV on Go for new episodes of Critical Thinking and other great shows for the LGBT community.
As always, I’m your host Waymon Hudson reminding you that when it comes to LGBT politics, you can always use a little more Critical Thinking.”