January 22, 2012

On Equality

Equality. With Amendment 1 looming ever closer and the MLK commemoration ceremony last week , the issue of equality has been at the forefront of my mind. What does it mean to live in a country of equality? It seems to me that many of the arguments of equity revolve around the law. And despite the fact that winning equal rights has always been a struggle, perhaps guaranteeing a constitutional right before the law is the easier battle to win.

When we look at the major rights revolutions of the last half century we can benchmark progress: the Civil Rights Movement ended segregation and the Women’s Rights Movement of the 1970s gave rise to such laws at Title IX and the Equal Pay Act. But we are still fighting for that equality today. Nearly 35 years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. professed his dream that his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” a CBS/New York Times poll taken before the 2008 presidential election showed that 24% of the country was not ready to elect a black president and that “five percent of white voters acknowledge[d] that they, personally, would not vote for a black candidate.” It goes without saying that equality is not merely defined in its legal sense.

The fight for LGBT rights is no different. It is not merely a fight for legal equity: for removing the fa├žade that marriage is a heterosexual privilege, for allowing gay couples to raise children, for fighting politicians to cease writing into law that same-sex couples are second-class citizens. At its core I believe that the LGBT Rights Movement is a fight to end the perception of a heteronormative world.

Heteronormative: “of, designating, or based on a world view which regards gender roles as fixed to biological sex and heterosexuality as the normal and preferred sexual orientation” (OED). This definition is accurate, but limited. Let me expand:

Heteronormative: that LGBT individuals both feel the need and are expected to come out; that LGBT individuals face discrimination and rejection not only in the workplace, but in their homes; that “gay” is an insult used in the school yard; that “gay” is used as a synonym for “stupid”; that religious community leaders feel that they cannot marry two people of the same sex, who love each other, for fear of losing his job, even though he lives in a state where gay marriage is legal; that “gay marriage” is not simply “marriage”; that people make a bigger deal about gender reassignment surgery than they do about any other corrective surgery; that people use sexual orientation as a description of one’s character only when the person in question is gay or lesbian; that all love is not equal in the eyes of the law or in the eyes of men.

Well I, too, have a dream: that one day we will live in a country of true equality. That we will cease to live in a heteronormative world and embrace a “normative” world: where people will describe someone as “straight” as often as they describe someone as “gay”; where people will not use sexual orientation as a place mark for the content of one’s character; where straight individuals will be expected to come out; where no one will be expected to come out; where children can bring home the person of their choosing without making a big deal of it; where being called “gay” is considered no more an insult than being called “straight”; where neither sexual orientation nor gender inhibit one’s ability to find work or to find acceptance; where all individuals have the freedom to marry the person they love and are not only recognized, but accepted by their governments and by their neighbors; where LOVE = LOVE.

I have this dream today.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jessye! Thank you for an insightful post that reminds us of what we all should strive for!