Lujira Cooper, Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture
I am, as one can see, an African American woman. What is invisible is I am seventy years old and a lesbian. In my life, I have been fortunate in that I have had more challenges as a strong woman than as a lesbian. Women, especially women of color, are to sit silently and allow the “men” to take charge. I cannot do that. My mother raised me to be independent, outspoken, and compassionate. In other words: rebellious.
Historically, being homosexual was career-ending. It opened one up to assorted pressures not only to conform but—in sensitive positions—to extortion and blackmail. Think about a person in government. He or she is asked to reveal sensitive information and if not, their sexual preference would be made public. Is this how we want to run our government?
In the past the British classified homosexuality as gross indecency while the United States, through the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, called it sexual perversion or sexual deviance and called homosexuality insanity. Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450, which made it legal to investigate a federal employee for “sexual perversion.” This led to people losing their jobs and in some cases their lives. Are we willing to, as Cher sang, “Turn Back Time,” and threaten people’s livelihood due to who they love?
However, it’s not just the rights of the LGBTQ community that are being restricted. This administration is working to undermine all rights gathered over the past 100 years. Congress has confirmed the anti-education Secretary, Betsey DeVos. States are enacting restrictive Voter Registration laws. There are plans to defund Planned Parenthood and the National Endowment for the Arts. And in the dead of night Congress works to gut all legislation that has benefited the downtrodden. The question is: how do we combat this repression?
Now is the time to march, protest, write, and learn about folks supposedly different from our clan, whichever ones we claim. Come together in groups to understand how Identity Politics hurts us all. It is time to form coalitions of hope rather than fear. We need to become allies of marginalized and oppressed groups. During the Civil Rights era, various people fought for the rights of black folks. They spoke out, protested, and even in some cases gave up their lives to ensure the rights of all. Women got the right to vote because men and women battled with a strong voice—so did gay people.
The challenge for all of us is to find ways to successfully oppose oppression together. No one group can fight oppression alone. We need to stand up against “walls” of exclusion. Remember the lines from The New Colossus on the Statue of Liberty,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Now is the time to enlist aid of community leaders, politicians, teachers, and the police to protect the rights of all citizens. You don’t march? You can hand out water to those who do. You can make flyers. You can go on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites and condemn any statements or pictures that demean others. Educate your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews about the beauty of inclusion. Bayard Rustin, the architect of the 1963 March on Washington, had to hide his homosexuality while working in both the Civil Rights and Labor Rights communities.
Look at the organizations you belong to and see if they are inclusive not just diverse. Inclusion and Diversity are not the same. You can visit organizations (religious and secular) different than your own. Within your Societies reach out and form partnerships. For example, the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture held a Welcome Refugee Dinner. Get out of your comfort zone.
Our founder, Felix Adler said, “Ethical religion can be real only to those who are engaged in ceaseless efforts at moral improvement. By moving upward we acquire faith in an upward movement, without limit.” We move upward by moving out into our communities. We seek out those who need to feel people care about them. This is not just meant to help the LGBTQ community but all. Our society was founded on humanist values and to that end remember what the Honorable Shirley Chisholm said, “… anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism.” We claim to spell god with two O’s as GOOD—so what good are you doing today?
We must continue to fight for the rights of all Americans. To combat anti-humanism, we must keep the pressure on by being visible through writing, marching, and protesting. Invisibility equals denial and non-existence. As an African American lesbian woman, I will not be quiet. I will agitate for the rights of all humans to be treated with dignity and respect. To paraphrase a line from Dylan Thomas, I will “not go gentle into that good night.”
Education is key. Think of the movie “Hidden Figures.” There is a lot of symbolism in the title. Marginalized women and super-marginalized black women helped put John Glenn into space and yet it was only recently these achievements were unearthed. I wonder what other great inventions and solutions we don’t know about because of Identity Politics. How many know about the Navajo Code Talkers, whose language enabled a secret code during WWII? We cannot allow this administration to ignore, isolate, and harm women, African-Americans, LGBTQ or any other group.
Speak up. Speak out. Speak often and speak loudly. Dr. Maya Angelou said, “We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.” We can no longer let the lack of knowledge keep us in bondage. Remember no great advances have been won alone. Allied voices need to be heard. To that end, I leave you with a quote from Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you.”