“Is the culture of victimhood so entrenched in the LGBT community that we can no longer recognize a true ally when he invites us into the White House?”
In a thoughtful editorial appearing in last week’s Washington Blade, Editor Kevin Naff opens his column with this question. He then uses his perch to chastise leading gay activists for calling President Obama to task for moving too slow on LGBT issues.
Recalling the presidency of George Bush, Naff applauds the leadership of Barack Obama for being remarkably supportive of LGBT causes. He criticizes activists like Lt. Dan Choi and the GetEqual movement for being too demanding and not adequately appreciative of achievements the movement for LGBT equality has made in recent years.
Having spent 40 years in protest movements, from Vietnam war sit-ins to rallies right here on Wilton Drive, I have a perspective measured by history. In my opinion, Kevin Naff is wrong. He is one of those limousine liberals willing to be chauffeured to a civil rights demonstration, but wants to celebrate the cause with cocktails at an HRC blast in the W Hotel, instead of putting his neck on the line.
Real protest requires real risks. When Henry David Thoreau, 200 years ago protesting a tax was asked by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, why he was in jail, Thoreau replied, “Why are you not?”
One of the most eloquent American treatises on freedom came from the Rev. Martin Luther King, when he wrote his historic “letter from a Birmingham jail.”
To help desegregate restaurants in the Deep South, four young students sat at a counter in Greensboro refusing to get up. Like Rosa Parks on the back of a bus, they stood their ground and kept their seats. These are not people whining because they were victims. These were courageous men and women who said they would be victims no longer.
When a crowd of activists gathered last month on a hot summer day to protest Congressman Allen West, they were not whining about how he did not agree with them. They were gathering to say they would not allow him to abuse them with demeaning and disgraceful comments. If they barricaded his office with their presence, I would applaud rather than criticize them.
When all of you show up in tuxedos next month at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Dinner at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach it will be, for many of you, your typical contribution to LGBT rights. It takes a lot more guts to chain yourself to a White House fence and get arrested fighting to end discrimination in the military than it does to eat caviar and down champagne in a hotel on South Beach.
It is one thing to say ‘tear this wall down.’ It is quite another to help tear it down yourself, and put your body on the line for the cause and risk your freedom in a trial. Choi may be more than acquitted in his present trial for chaining himself to the White House fence, protesting the slow end to DADT. We may be able to show that the US government vindictively targeted him for a harsher prosecution than other protestors similarly situated. We may be able to show that his expressive efforts to bring down DADT so antagonized the White House that they engineered a prosecution to treat him more harshly than others who also protest on the White House sidewalk.
After 18 years of injustice and 14,000 discharges of gay soldiers, acts of civil disobedience by protestors should be celebrated, not censured. What laptop liberals do not seem to get is that we should never have to plead, beg, grovel, and submit to someone else to get rights we should lawfully have had in the first place.
We have to do those things necessary to bring the walls down. Sometimes you have to pull the chain and rattle the fence. Mr. Naff reminds us how much better Mr. Obama was than Mr. Bush. But neither should have been holding us by a leash to begin with. It’s like saying Sheriff Bull O’Connor was nicer to “Negroes” in the 1960’s because he used water hoses to stop their protests but another sheriff used batons.
If you tolerate injustice, you perpetuate it. If you wait for someone to dole out a hand, you lose sight of the fact that the hand was never theirs to give, and the arm is rightfully ours.
While each of us owes a duty to law, there is no moral imperative to obey an unjust law. The protestors who chained themselves to a White House fence in order to point out the injustice of gays being excluded from the military were acting under a principle of justice which is intolerant of those who tolerate injustice.
We don’t want the ‘tolerance’ of those who would ‘accept’ us. Keeping the pressure on people who keep us from accessing the full breadth of our liberties is a good and healthy thing. When laws that violate the human spirit are maintained, the rule of law is itself diminished and compromised. Break those laws and you do not necessarily disgrace the rule of law, you more speedily help create a new one that is more just, universal and equal.
By all means, go enjoy your cocktails at a Human Rights dinner, but don’t you dare stand on a pedestal looking down at those willing to go to jail for your cause.
Editor’s Note: Norm Kent is one of the attorney’s on Dan Choi’s legal team.
Visit WashingtonBlade.com/2011/07/21/our-culture-of-victimhood to read Kevin Naff’s original story.