This speech was given on October 11, 2009 at the National Equality March for LGBT Rights in Washington DC. Copyright 2009 U. Vaid
Together on this day, from all across this country, we gather to claim the love that law cannot invalidate.
We are here to insure the full civil, political and moral equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people becomes the law of this nation and a reality across the globe.
Our gathering happens in a broader context, one that shapes the outcome of our struggle for LGBT human rights.
It is a broader context of malevolence at the heights of power – embodied in the cruel destroyers of the last eight years, who slashed and shredded their way through the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the US Treasury, and now sit, rich and fat and tanned on the sidelines mocking their successors as they try to sort out the mess left behind.
For 28 of the 40 years since Stonewall, we have lived through their hostility on racial justice, their opposition to gay and lesbian rights, their opposition to women’s equality and their wacky global fantasies of power, and what exactly are we left with in their wake?
A set of bromides and outright lies about family values mouthed by hypocrites who don’t live a values based life.
The structural readjustment of our own economy – with millions unemployed and thousands losing their jobs each day, so that private companies can be the only beneficiaries of tax dollars and tax breaks.
Two wars that must end, and a more unsafe and polarized world, where the US is disrespected more than it is trusted and supported.
We have endured two decades of a fake, casino economy that cares little about the human lives with which it gambles. This economy leaves behind a context of fear and insecurity that social justice advocates must address. Fear about the futur that rules the lives of too many in our country, fear of losing gains made, fear embodied in the lament “I want my country back.”
We want to say to these people – do not blame us, we are not the ones who stole this country from you!
But when you have lost your savings, when you have lost your home, and cannot get a job, when you have medical bills to pay you cannot afford; when your parents are aging and you cannot take care of them; when your kids are hungry and you worry about feeding them—you don’t care about accuracy – you just want to hold someone responsible.
And when you are told by people you trust – religious leaders, media figures, political and civic leaders — that it is the gays who are to blame, it is civil rights that is responsible, it is immigrants who are to blame, it is women’s economic power that is to blame, it is the Jews who are to blame, it is the young that are to blame, it is everyone who is not you that is to blame – what are you to believe?
In this context, what is the responsibility of LGBT people and those who stand with us? What is the role of our LGBT liberation movement?
Clearly our role is to dig deeper and fight harder for equality across America and the world.
But we must also be willing to engage an even more profound struggle, the battle for the direction of this country. The mission of the LGBT movement in the 21st century must be the achievement of our full human rights through nothing less than the defeat of the right wing politically and culturally.
What is the right wing? It is a well-organized, well-funded coalition of groups that seeks the restoration of old racial, economic, gender and cultural hierarchies. It is the groups that oppose LGBT rights, civil rights, women’s equality, workers rights, fair treatment for immigrants, health care reform, economic reform, peace, and so much more.
It is the media bullies who defame us every day on the airwaves, threatening our security and families with the feverish invectives of their narrow minds.
It is the well-financed enemies of democracy who threaten violence because we threaten their previously uncontested power.
It is the fundamentalists of all religions who deny the godliness in us and blaspheme the names of the gods they claim by promoting intolerance.
It is those who think women should be “put in their place.”
The Right wing is bigotry and the politics of resentment in all its forms, it is authoritarians, mercenaries, and false patriots claiming the proud history of this country while destroying its spirit.
Our role in defeating the right wing is central. There can be no lasting justice nor genuine equality for LGBT people until there is an end to the dominance of the old patriarchal ways of thinking, until there is an upending of the old boys club and the same old racial hierarchies.
To defeat the right wing culturally and politically, we must do many things.
First, we must get serious about what the polls tell us. There is a new majority in this country – a new electoral majority of progressive people of all backgrounds, white, black, brown, old and young – who are fed up with the paralysis and corruption offered by the right wing dominated political parties. We must march home from here and organize this New Majority coalition in every Congressional district. This New Majority must elect progressive law-makers at every level.
Second, we must act on the truth that we live – that we are multi-identity people. We must commit firmly and work fiercely for social justice and human rights for all people.
I am not just here to stand up as a lesbian. I am here as woman. I am here as an immigrant. I am here against racism. I am here for health care for all. I am here for freedom of expression. In short I am here to change the status quo because I am an American who believes in the future of this country.
Third, to defeat the right wing culturally and politically, we must be courageous. Courage requires the telling of inconvenient truths – like the fact that violence will not disappear with the stroke of a pen, but with the penance of those religious leaders who have repeatedly set the stage for violent acts to be committed against us.
Courage requires a public and daily and loud commitment to LGBT moral and civil equality, not a don’t ask don’t tell – closeted – life.
Fear leads to opportunism and forgetfulness. Courage requires remembering. Remembering people with HIV. Remembering that we march for all parts of our community not just the most powerful or most visible.
Finally, defeating the right wing will require our imagination.
It will take new policy frameworks and inspired thinking. It will take the talents of social entrepeneurs to create a socially responsible capitalism, it will take visionaries who believe we can make a sustainable environment and planet, dreamers and inventors who are innovating across the world to solve persistent poverty and end wars, the artists who push us to go farther and think more bravely.
If we defeat the right, we will not only win equality and social justice, but ensure its survival for decades to come.
The great American poet, June Jordan wrote:
my name is Freedom….
my name is the name the law cannot invalidate
my name is the one who loves…
(Page 98, Kissing God Goodbye, Poems 1991-1997 (Anchor: 1997))
We are the ones who law cannot invalidate.
We are the ones who love our country
And we are the ones who will win it back.