Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Anger in the GLBT rights movement

The Washington Blade has summarized some responses to this Equality California ad:

The reactions are basically that the ad is not angry enough. I actually think it's a great ad, although I suspect most straight people in Tennessee would consider it "in your face."

That's the tension. GLBT folks in Tennessee are angry about the demeaning, discriminatory bills we are facing in the Legislature. But if we show anger for even just a moment, we're suddenly the angry gays. As a minority group in a get-along/go-along culture, we have had to stay in a tight box of appearing gentle, reasonable, polite, perhaps even begging. If we stray out of that box, our words become completely eclipsed. I hazard to say that Jeff Woods at the Nashville Scene has expressed more direct outrage in print than any GLBT person in the state (in print) about these bills.

So rather than talk about human rights, we are forced to talk about fiscal notes because human rights sounds like something people talk about when Secretary of State Clinton visits China. How could we possibly have a human rights problem in Tennessee? How foolish sounding to spout off about human rights to state lawmakers! Right?

The sad thing is that we've internalized these checks on our language. We grew up around the same culture of Evangelicalism (even if we aren't Evangelicals) and neighborliness and hospitality that our straight counterparts did. We feel a strong social connection even to those who seek to deny us our rights. They are our family, friends, parishioners, and coworkers. We don't want to rock the boat.

The problem is...we didn't start rocking the boat. When you compare the number of positive bills to the number of discriminatory bills filed just about every year, it's pretty clear we're not the ones stirring the pot. So I suspect that as more hate crimes occur and if some of these bills pass, Tennessee is going to see a great deal more anger openly expressed. That doesn't mean that the professional mechanics of politics (lobbying, endorsing candidates, working the media, running for office, etc.) is going to be abandoned. It means that our opponents will have our anger to make them uncomfortable as well as our sexuality and our gender.

The tension will increase as federal GLBT rights bills pass. When we have full hate crimes protections and employment protections granted by the Congress, people will simply not understand when the Tennessee General Assembly entertains piss-ant bills that try to ban all mention of us in school curricula.

For the last 8 years, those of us in the GLBT rights movement in Tennessee have accommodated ourselves to a federalism that carves out specific prerogatives to the states, prerogatives that make us vulnerable to a wide variety of discriminatory attacks. But that day is passing away. GLBT people are either not going to understand or care that traditionally states have wide lattitude in family law and health and education policy. And as the role of the role of the federal government in the economy increases, the language of federalism will make less and less sense to everyone. It won't be that we have changed the debate. The terms will change and wash over us all. The issue is how we adapt to the change in discourse to claim our rights as American citizens right here in Tennessee. Expect a little shouting along the way.

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