Why? What's in it for you? Why do you care? Who do you know? Are any of your relatives? Why this cause? Why now? Are you sure you want to do this? Does everyone know about you?
These questions and all their permutations have been asked of me on multiple occasions since The National Equality March, October 10, 2009, the first day of my out and open equality activism. I have stumbled over answers and left everyone feeling dissatisfied. I should have been clear and definitive in my answer because these are the questions an equality activist longs to be asked. They could have my invitation to persuade the "moveable middle" a little. But instead, I have stammered, hesitated, and betrayed my lack of direction. No more. I sat down and took at look at my motivations, wrote them out, analyzed them, and now share them with you so that the next time I am asked, I will have an answer.
What you first must know is that I have never been typical. I was not a typical little girl. I would rather play with trucks in the dirt and climb all over farm equipment than play house. I had three brothers, and I was determined to be the best brother of them all. After I broke my arm at age 5, I had to have the small cast replaced three times as I brandied it about as a weapon against those brothers. I was strong even then. While that may have been the last time I was ever the BEST at anything, I have always been good at lots of things. I have been determined, goal oriented, independent, and bright, and I was taught that I had the whole world ahead of me. I, however, was also fat. The combination of ambition, brains, and brawn made me different from all the girls in school. I was not the most popular and never had a boyfriend. I was bullied as all fat kids are, and I was left out a lot. Sound familiar to anyone? I knew then, and I know now, how being different affects a child. Fortunately, I had my mother as a safety net, but the hurt was deep and painful.
Secondly, I have a genetic predisposition for advocacy. My father was a high school educated poor dirt farmer in north Mississippi, but he was smart, well read, and a jack of all trades. As his farm grew, he got involved with agricultural politics. He served on the county Farm Bureau Board of Directors and worked on the state level. In 1978, he led a group of farmers from Mississippi in the march on Washington D.C. by the American Agricultural Movement. He sat in a tractor in an intersection in DC until attention was paid, and he lobbied for better benefits and legislation for the American family farmer. So, there you go. An activist by DNA.
Third, I am an advocate by training and trade. In law school, I honed my argument skills in other to make any case persuasively, passionately, and honestly. I can now use the law and the facts to persuade and defend, to move to action and to inhibit, to reach out to others and to separate myself, and to promote understanding and to divide when necessary. My training in advocacy enables me to take advantage of situations in which reasonable minds debate and where unreasonable minds can be shown a different way. In other words, I have been prepared for a good fight my whole life.
But these three factors do not answer the initial questions, do they? With these three, I could have taken up a number of causes like reproductive rights, access to health care, or education reform, all of which I strongly support. But I am here. With equality advocates and GLBT people in Tennessee fighting for fair treatment. Why this cause? Why now?
The answer is simple. Equality goes to my very soul. It speaks to all of me. I wanted to be treated like every other girl when I was in school and I wanted to be the best brother. This dichotomy separated me from the others, and I was treated differently. I have never nor will I ever fit someone's notions of who I am and, more importantly, who I am not. Today, I am treated differently when people learn that I am an attorney or that I was formerly morbidly obese. Neither of those facts define me, and if you did not know either, you would still have a clear picture as to who I am. However, being GLBT is not so easily dismissed. It can be hidden and denied, but it is always a part of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person. If it is hidden away for convenience, for acceptance, or, unfortunately, safety, then everyone is denied the privilege of knowing that hidden person. I want to help provide a safe place for everyone to be their full, authentic selves so that we are all beneficiaries of their great gifts and so that they may live their best lives.
I want equality in the simplest of everyday life and in the grandest of inherent, human rights. I want my GLBT friends to be able to put pictures of their partners or spouses on their desks. I want those partners and spouses to be able to pick their loved ones up from work without worry. I want GLBT people to attend company functions with their whole family without fear of retaliation or physical violence. I want them to be housed, to work, to marry without difference. Though some people are attempting to impose their personal belief system and biases on us all, my government was designed to preclude that. Equality is a concept birthed by slave owners, refined by future generations, and adopted into the very soul of the United States in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. That same amendment breathes life into everyone in this country who is not white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, and male.
I swore to uphold the Constitution when I was admitted to the bar, when hired by the court, and when entering my current job. I take that vow seriously, and I will fight for our Constitution and its application to everyone. I will be there when bigots deny the 14th Amendment or want to change it, and I will be there when the judiciary informs "them" differently. I will be there when narrow minds and patriarchal religion seek to marginalize GLBT citizens. I will wave the constitution and yell, "Hell, no we can't" deny people their liberty. Thank you, Speaker Boehner. We cannot let prejudice win. We cannot let religious intolerance rule the day. We, allies and GLBT together, will make the future rich and full for all.
So, there you go. I am a trained attorney and a born atypical advocate who believes in the Constitution and that its protections belong to us all. That's what I will push with fundamentalists and red-state, white men and anyone else who opposes progress. More importantly and less legalistically, though, is that I want what is right to be done in this country, in this state, for our kids, and in our lifetime. So, why do I advocate for GLBT equality? It's where I belong. It's what I believe. It's what I hope for. It's how I teach my manchild. It's how I engage my husband. It's how I live my life. When we are all equal, we are all better. I work for equality because it's who I am. I work for equality for Jeremy.
co-chair Tennessee Equality Project Shelby County Committee
state board member of Tennessee Equality Project