Not On The Buson June 28th, 2012 at 3:43 am
Every public appearance I’ve made since the launch of Glenn v. Brumby has been different, but some things happen over and over. There’s one trope that has happened pretty consistently: someone tells me “You’re just like Rosa Parks!”
It’s always other white people who say the second one to me.
Of course, it’s a flattering thing to hear. Who wouldn’t like to be compared to Rosa Parks? She’s a legitimate heroine of the civil rights era. She defied an unjust law that forbade her to have an equal choice of seats on her Montgomery bus, launching the bus boycott and helping to usher in the world we know today, which isn’t free of racism, but certainly suffers much less from it.
(As an aside, who was the man Mrs. Parks was asked to vacate her seat for? James F. Blake, the bus driver, may have been upholding the law (although apparently he was still a bit of an asshole, but I want to know the identity of that (presumably able-bodied) white man, who no doubt considered himself a Southern gentleman, who demanded that a tired-looking middle-aged woman of any race should save him the trouble of holding onto a strap for a few miles. My Google-fu has not yielded this knave’s identity.)
I’m uneasy about the comparison, not only to Ms. Parks personally, but to all the African-Americans and their white allies who battled on the frontlines of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. What they accomplished took nerves of steel, and required them to have direct and public confrontations with the power establishment that put them at great risk of physical harm or death.
Churches were bombed with children inside them. Bricks were thrown at marchers. People participating in sit-ins were opposed by people wearing badges and carrying guns. More than a hundred people are known to have been murdered during this time. The NAACP and other organizations that led the charge knew they were facing all these dangers, and faced them regardless.
I, on the other hand, was never made to fear for my life or safety. In fact, I had nothing at all to lose; Sewell Brumby could only fire me once, and had already done so. If we lost, I wouldn’t have been double-fired. My battle was fought for me by Lambda Legal and my attorneys. My oppressors and I never saw each other except on opposite sides of a conference table, and on those occasions we both avoided eye contact. Ours was a battle of legal briefs passed back and forth; there were no sit-ins or marches. I think that’s true generally of cases like mine.
I don’t mean to say lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people aren’t the targets of violent attacks; that is very much not the case. This year in particular has shown us a depressing parade if vicious anti-gay or anti-trans attacks, including this recent one in Texas. As I write this it’s not yet clear what the motive was behind that attack, but considering it happened in Texas and the headline begins with “Lesbian couple,” it’s not hard to guess.
Generally, though, such crimes illustrate the need for our legal and political struggles; they aren’t hand in hand with them.
The struggle for full rights for LGBT Americans has been called “The New Civil Rights Movement,” and I think that’s correct. Many veterans of the first civil rights movement, like Representative John Lewis, get that it’s the same sort of struggle. But it’s very different in significant ways. I’m no Rosa Parks.