We Aren't Ready

National Public Radio this week paid tribute to Medgar Evers, a WWII veteran and NAACP field secretary, who was assassinated fifty years ago by a white supremacist. He and his family were unloading t-shirts reading "Jim Crow Must Go" when he was shot dead. Listening to his widow speak, I thought about the sacrifices of those who came long before my generation, warriors who made civil rights something worth dying for. These were the fighters - African-Americans and Hispanics and women and gays and lesbians - who decided to change the United States for the better. And their victories have made us forget the life-threatening dangers faced by LGBT Americans, a danger that may balloon after the Supreme Court decision this summer. It could make the recent violence in New York City look like a prelude rather than an aberration.

Medgar Evers' story made me realize just how many of us in the LGBT community, particularly those who live in liberal bubbles, have become accustomed to feeling safe. Having spent a half-decade in Boston, I no longer look over my shoulder. I no longer think twice about reaching for my partner's hand while walking down the street. I feel no fear, see no wandering eyes when toasting an anniversary with champagne in a restaurant.

My comfort has made me forget. This safety does not exist in wide swaths of the South outside of a few college towns and metropolitan areas.

Consider all of the language of tyranny coming from the Tea Party and other right-wing organizations. Consider the South's long history of resistance against the federal government. Then consider the ramifications of a decision which would cause Mississippi to recognize a Massachusetts marriage, all of them, gay or straight, much less a decision that would force all states to permit equal marriage within their borders. I hardly think those opposed would accept defeat quietly.

In 2009, the National Organization for Marriage released a much-parodied video about the "coming storm" of marriage equality. Massachusetts parents, we were told, had to sit by helplessly as their publicly-educated children were taught that marriage equality was okay. We had a good laugh at the time, and we have been laughing and celebrating ever since as public opinion polls crossed that crucial 50% approval threshold.

We have been lulled into a false sense of security. We spend our days trying to read the tea leaves at the Supreme Court, not thinking of those gay citizens in rural America whose lives will be at risk should we win. After the death of Medgar Evers, the NAACP, which had been focusing on courtroom battles, expanded its strategy as African-Americans were subjected to increasing levels of violence in the South. Similarly, if we do win marriage equality, LGBT organizations have to be ready to protect those who will be in serious danger of retaliation.

I am alarmed that the possibility of violence - a certainty, in my opinion - is not being discussed. There will be white men killing white men in Dixie and local police turning a blind eye to hate crimes.

So we must not forget that a legal victory does not equal immediate justice. When defeated in the open, ignorance and bigotry and hate go underground. Those who hate will plan attacks designed to put entire groups of people on notice. The fight is coming, and we had better be prepared.