Two weeks ago, I was invited to the White House. I received an email asking me to be present for President Obama signing his executive order banning LGBT employment discrimination by federal contractors. It was an incredible honor to be present for a historical event like that.
The whole event went by fast, but I got to meet people who I have only ever read about before.
Folks like Jennifer Finney Boylan and Mia Macy. It was an incredible, joyful day. We sat in tightly spaced rows in the back, and watched as the president walked into the room and spoke about the importance, the ethical necessity of this executive order. I was lucky enough to be one of many religious leaders in the room—a resident of the “Amen Corner,” as President Obama called us.
It was wonderful. Then, as quickly as it began, we were filing out, talking and joking, ready to head on to the next thing.
I’ve had a couple of significant conversations since leaving the White House. I had been in North Carolina when I received the invitation, working on planning a statewide campaign in the state. The night I arrived back in Chapel Hill, I had a conversation with a trusted friend. “It reminded me of a ticker tape parade,” he said, “the sort of thing they had when the soldiers were coming home from World War 2.”
My friend then asked me if Integrity might consider shutting down.
He asked if we had basically done everything we needed to do and gotten as far as it was reasonable to go. He made some admittedly solid points. For many people in the gay rights movement, society has come unimaginably far.
Almost half the states allow gay marriage, it seems like there’s general acceptance in a sort of sizable, if not majority, part of the American economy that it is wrong to discriminate against workers because of their gender or sexuality.
There are also some churches that are welcoming and loving. In many areas if they look hard enough, gay and transgender people can find safe-ish, welcoming-ish communities. Things are better than they have been.
And let’s be real: It has taken long, hard work to get this far.
People have for decades put themselves out into an intensely hostile and ugly world and insisted that their humanity be recognized, insisted that they deserved just, loving treatment, treatment like they were as human as everybody else.
We have come so far and we must honor and celebrate how far we have come and what has been sacrificed and who has sacrificed to get us here.
The next day I had a conversation with someone else. She was surprised to hear that Integrity was gearing up for work in North Carolina. “It just doesn’t seem like we’ll see any change here,” she said, “not for a decade at least.”
Then she asked me, “Are you really going to get any bang for your buck down here?”
This, I think, is the other side of the “haven’t we done enough?” argument. It says, the work left to do is simply too hard. Those changes are too big to hope for. There are some places in the country, mainly urban areas like New York and Boston, or even smaller bubbles like Asheville, where it will be basically ok to be gay and more or less sort of safe to be transgender.
As for the rest of the country? Well, nothing to do about that. People in the rural South and other places just don’t get to be a part of the LGBT world.
I went on a long walk in the Carolina woods and chewed on all this. Maybe that was the deal, that there is a limited amount that we can do. Maybe the best we can possibly do is create a window where some LGBTQ people get theirs, can have marriages and educations and jobs and get a shot a being a happy, stable person. Everybody else? Well, life was never fair anyway.
As our Savior Christ once said, “The poor will always be with you.” If they want something better than can move or work harder. Those of us who are basically doing ok can just put our noses in the air, comfortable in the knowledge that we have earned what we have, and tell everyone who faces trouble that that sure sounds like a problem, but it’s sure not ours.
But you know what? I reject that.
This place that we have reached has taken incredible, heavy, expensive effort. It has taken all from some. It has taken something from everyone. But this place we are now, it is not the Promised Land.
We have reached this place by following the Star of Love and Freedom, but we have not yet reached the Star.
We are not done yet. When gay and transgender people continue to face poverty at significantly higher rates than straight, cisgender people, we are not done yet. When our communities’ suicide epidemic continues to take life after life, we are not done yet. When the gender and sexuality of lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, and queer people is still treated as second best, as signs that our people are simply less than, we are not done yet.
If you are an old soldier in this movement, it makes sense that you would be tired. Herculean efforts have brought us this far. If you feel like you need a break, it’s ok.
If front line advocacy is too much right now, please consider being a mentor to the next generation of leaders in this work.
There is an unimaginable amount of wisdom and knowledge out there. If it can be shared with the today’s young leaders, there is no telling how far we might go.
But we will keep going. So long as there is systematic violence against our people, so long as so many people are denied a fair shot at life, we will keep going.
We do not know if we will end this evil in our world. We do not know if there will be a time in our lives when transgender, bi, lesbian, and gay people are utterly safe, when all the debts that justice demands be paid are paid, and when we are actually done. It doesn’t matter.
To paraphrase old Tom Joad:
Then we’ll be all around in the dark—we’ll be ever’where—wherever you look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I will be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a queer, we’ll be there….We’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—we’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folk eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, we’ll be there.
Photo via flickr user Stewart Butterfield