When I was 16, Lyman T. Johnson told me, “Don’t let the wagon roll down the hill.”
I was interviewing him for a class and had just asked him about his motivation for becoming a leader in the civil rights movement. (If you’ve never heard of him, Google “Lyman T. Johnson University of Kentucky.”)
There came a point as a young man when he began to feel guilty for having opportunities his father never had — possibilities he only had because of his father. His father told Lyman he wasn’t allowed to feel guilty, that this was the reason he worked so hard. His father said, “Just don’t let the wagon roll down the hill.”
I saw the movie “Milk” last Saturday. It wasn’t only inspirational, it was demanding (it also contained a moment near the end that I will never forget). It made me realize this: Queer people have let the wagon roll down the hill. This is not a criticism; I am not saying queer people have been lazy or silent. I know — we all know — that many queers and allies have worked tirelessly over the years and accomplished great things, things I am probably not aware of and take for granted.
I am not saying that we’ve accomplished nothing. I am not shaming or criticizing the thousands who work tirelessly for our equality.
This is my point: We have to amp up our fight, because those against us are winning. Mike Huckabee, in an interview with Jon Stewart, said gay people must convince “the majority of America” that we deserve the privilege of marriage. Really? Convince? Deserve?
And the scariest part is, he doesn’t sound like a crazy hypocrite to many people. The majority of white people in the ’60s would NEVER have been convinced to end segregation. This is the same thing: We do not enjoy equal rights.
Why do they (the bigots who voted to keep marriage hetero) think we have to convince them? Of anything? No one put them in charge. Did I miss the “Do you think homophobes and bigots should be in control? Check Yes or No” note? Gay people are no less worthy than straight people. There is nothing wrong with being queer; we aren’t sick or deviant. If there are perverts in any of this, they are not us. It’s the bigots who look at us and think about who we have sex with.
Our current tactics aren’t working. We’re playing a game of their design: By mandating gay marriage to be a decision of the state, they’ve divided us. They’ve secured their victory this way.
I know, change doesn’t happen overnight. I can appreciate how far we’ve come. But after seeing “Milk,” it is my belief that the ground we’ve gained is very little.
Example: In 2004, some moron on Metro Council argued against the Fairness Ordinance, saying that the Boy Scout organization had a constitutional right to fire and deny anyone who was gay. Because they were gay. He even brought a troop of uniformed Boy Scouts to a meeting. Why? Maybe he wanted a bunch of 10-year-olds to hear all about sexuality; maybe he wanted to torture.
In the ’70s, there was a movement to pass a law banning gays from teaching. An orange juice peddler was used as a mascot this time.
If it hadn’t been for Harvey Milk, chances are many things would be different for us, including our job prospects. Milk said that if people realized they already knew gays and liked them, they would never vote in favor of the ban.
Like Johnson, Harvey Milk’s beliefs didn’t set him apart or make him a leader. He was a hero because he did not stop until his convictions were fully realized.
I am not sure what we need to do next. Let’s have a meeting. Let’s go guerilla (the peaceful, nonviolent type). Let’s start a revolution, take over. We don’t have to wait any longer for equal rights.
(P.S. A digression: I would’ve thrown a shoe at Bush, too. Kudos.)