Sometimes it is hard to remain optimistic. I am by nature hopeful–believing that in all things and at all times, as Dr. King said of the arc of the moral universe, that God nudges us to bend toward justice and love–but optimism can leave me. That’s because optimism deals with the shorter range of things.
Last evening, I lost just about all my optimism. For the second day in a row, a subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates acted with impunity toward the pleas of the LGBT community, and our allies, for some measure of justice.
This time it was the Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process Subcommittee of the General Laws Committee. They took three rather different bills–each providing a different scope of protection against employment discrimination–and one bill that added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the State Human Rights Act, and “rolled” them together into the terms of the bill they most disliked (because it had wider protections, and was offered by the one openly LGBT person in the General Assembly, Del. Adam Ebbin).
The member who offered the motion to roll them all together did so, he said, because all the bills deal with “this . . . ah, homosexuality” so we can take them up as one bill. It felt to me he was saying, “If you’ve seen one of them, you’ve seen them all.”
And “rolled” is the right word. We were rolled, like folks mugged in a dark alley for our wallets.
Good folks–Scott Johnson, Dorothy Fillmore, Rev. Jeanne Pupke, Claire Guthrie-Gastanaga, and some high school and college students and a UVA professor whose names I do not know–spoke, eloquently. The subcommittee seemed to listen.
But it took them no time to decide. NO, they said.
No, you are not discriminated against. Sure, maybe there is some “soft” discrimination (I can only imagine what they, white males, would do if they experienced even that)–but nothing we need trouble ourselves about. No, we need not even so much as use the word “gay”–heaven help us if we utter the word “lesbian”–and certainly not “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” in any law of the Commonwealth. It feels like they think that if they do not use the words, we will go away. Disappear.
Of course, we will not accommodate them that far. But if we do not rise up soon and demand our rights, we might as well disappear. They will bow down to the Virginia Family Foundation, and the Catholic Conference and the Associated Baptists, and repeat the mistruths they spread UNTIL we decide to gather together a mass movement to demand some respect.
We have to respect ourselves enough to demand it.
I am ready. Are you?