Uneasy Alliances

As the fight for marriage equality continues in the states, the forces of social reaction redouble their efforts to brazen their way past the fact that they are losing.

Our opponents' war with reality is darkly comical. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor, perversely asserts that laws criminalizing certain sex acts between consenting adults -- ruled unconstitutional a decade ago -- are necessary to prevent sexual assaults against children. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie doubles down on his arbitrary claim that only voters, not their duly elected legislators, should change marriage law. Indiana Governor Mike Pence renews his commitment to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Former Senator Jim DeMint, at the Heritage Foundation, repeats the baseless claim that children are harmed by gay parents. Somehow it is gay citizens, not those who constantly attack us, who are the danger.

Gay families have plenty of company in the right's crosshairs. The Supreme Court overturned the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, setting off a resurgence of voter-suppression efforts. After Texas state senator Wendy Davis blocked an anti-abortion bill with an 11-hour filibuster, Governor Rick Perry announced another special legislative session to push it through. U.S. House Republicans cited security concerns in vowing to defeat immigration reform, despite the Senate bill's escalated militarization of the Mexican border. You think this is your country?

The bullies' and usurpers' various targets cannot afford the illusion of occupying separate silos. That would play into the divide-and-conquer strategy exemplified by the National Organization for Marriage plan "to drive a wedge between gays and blacks." We must learn to recognize our common threads. As Trayvon Martin's killer is tried in Florida, activists and officials in D.C. contend with a rash of anti-LGBT attacks in the first week of summer.

In the 1960s, the Black Panthers were seen as threatening when they carried guns, despite their self-defense rhetoric and their decidedly un-scary breakfasts for children. Now, gun-rights efforts that go far beyond our Founders' well-regulated militias portray vigilante justice as patriotism, and a wannabe cop is cheered by web trolls for killing an unarmed black teenager. Meanwhile, the paternalistic mayor of America's largest city stands by a police stop-and-frisk program that treats being black or Hispanic as reasonable suspicion. How can we accept a situation where armed white men are seen as protecting their neighborhoods while unarmed black men are suspects? Do our own loved ones have to be cut down before we say, Enough?

Some lives are discounted by those who feed on hate. We as survivors must take the risk of speaking up lest the flood of intolerance carry us off too. Holding on in common cause requires patience and perseverance.

One reader responded to a recent column of mine with a lecture on my "cis gender privilege." She added reasonably, "If you have been listening to the disenfranchised communities and incorporating them into your discussions and work, please provide me with links or other resources that demonstrate this." Despite her apparent mistrust, I found her solicitation of evidence refreshing, and I sent her several links. We need to build alliances that acknowledge our differences, not simply mirror ourselves.

Working together across multiple lines of diversity is hard. It is easy to dump our baggage on one another and punish people for showing up. That makes for poor introductions and empty chairs. Yet coalition work is not a safe space. It can be contentious and uncomfortable and aggravating, but is essential if we are to prevail.

Justice is not something to which we are entitled, but to which we are called. Without our faithful engagement, it will wither. Let us rally and challenge one another. Our nation is at stake.

This piece appeared in Bay Windows and Metro Weekly.