We Must Unite and Fight:
Speech at Harvey Milk Day Rally 5/22/2010, Austin Texas
Conclusion of Equality Across America statewide conference
(which didn’t exactly come out this way)
Today, I am wearing the “queermadillo” t-shirt that many of you present signed at the 300,000 strong National Equality March in Washington D.C. That march demanded full equality at the federal level for LGBTQ persons in all matters governed by civil law. The march was a powerful statement that we are here, we are on the move, and we are not waiting for our rights.
As I put on this shirt, I was reminded of the incredible diversity of our communities as reflected in the ways we name ourselves: Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Transsex. Intersexed. Allied. Questioning. Queer. Moreover, many of us experience the multiple oppressions of living at the intersections of race, gender, sex, class, nation, and so on. We belong to multiple political organizations and ascribe to diverse political beliefs.
But we share in common the way that we challenge or mess up the segregated categories that our rulers depend upon to divide us—gay/straight, black/white, immigrant/native, male/female: legal/illegal. When we demand equality, even in the seemingly conservative domain of marriage and family, we mess up the categories that warrant the dehumanization of so many of us to the profit of the few. The backlash against us shows how we share enemies in common. We share on a deep level our demand for recognition of our core humanity.
For these reasons, we must UNITE and fight.
Every day, we undergo the insults of oppression and we face the limitations of our movement and its leaders in responding to our needs. Emmanuel Winston today told us today about being bashed, how he represents thousands of other instances of everyday violence against gay and especially transgender persons. In 30 states it is legal to fire a person just for being gay. Transgender workers face the added burden of not having documentation that matches their gender identity and expression, which leads to incredible unemployment and hardship.
Many of you here represent members of the military and veterans persecuted under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law. Like many immigrants, we are decreed “illegal,” and with immigrants, we demand the breakdown of the borders between us. Out4Immigration founder Amos Lim today told us how deeply the immigration issue matters to LGBTQ people. If we are in bi-national families, we have no legal right to unite them.
And then we are denied the rights and dignities of recognized families and marriage. I know many of you recognize, as I do, that the nuclear family idealized by the Right is a problem. But our demand for marriage equality is not a bid to replicate the politics of normal. When we enter these relationships and win recognition for them, we are transforming society at its base. We transform these institutions by our entry into them. Marriage and family rights are, like immigration rights, a class issue as well. Being able to provide one’s partner health care; the right to share and inherit property and pensions; these and many other benefits are desperately needed by many of us.
We MUST unite and fight!
But the leading organizations of our movement—including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby—have failed to prevent or stop these harms. They have counseled patience, compromise, and working through the “official” channels of elections and lobbying. They embrace Democratic politicians and forgive them when they betray us. For 40 years, basically since Stonewall, these organizations have not moved us forward. The old strategies are not working any more and we are tired of waiting.
It will take a new generation, this generation here, to refuse to compromise or to wait when it comes to our basic rights. Harvey Milk, whose life and work we honor here today, once said, “It takes no compromise to give people their rights.” In other words, our rights are not subject to compromise! Dismissing our urgency and militance, Congressman Barney Frank told organizers for the National Equality March last year that the only thing that would feel the pressure of the movement was the grass. But we will not wait and we will not be silent.
We must unite and FIGHT.
Harvey Milk was a politician yes, but an organizer, a rabble-rouser, and an agitator first and foremost. He refused to settle, to wait, or to give up what was unique about himself even while uniting with others across ideology, race, gender, sexual orientation, and class. Infamously, he told every group he spoke to that his aim was to recruit them. His memory continues to recruit us to this fight.
He said, “I have tasted freedom. I will not give up that which I have tasted. I have a lot more to drink.”
We have tasted freedom in recent years in several states, only to have the cup ripped from our hands. But we will not give up that which we have tasted. We have a lot more to drink. Harvey Milk struggled until his death to win his freedom.
If we are rightly to honor his legacy, WE must unite and fight!
Harvey Milk was right.
We must UNITE and fight.
We MUST unite and fight.
We must unite and FIGHT!