About six years ago, before the Supreme Court decision Obergefell vs. Hodges legalised marriage equality in all fifty states, I heard a common refrain from many of my students that went something like this. “I think I’m a conservative. I don’t like high taxes, and I believe in limited government, but you know what? The conservatives in politics are the same people who are keeping my gay friends from getting married. I can’t accept that, so when I went to vote for the first time, I held my nose and voted for Democrats.”
After marriage equality became the law of the land, that refrain kind of disappeared. Many people, myself included, wrote of the dangers of assuming that the fight against homophobia was over just because the marriage fight was, for the moment, won. It was too easy to see broader interest in LGBT+/SAGA issues, to say nothing of funding, quickly waning in the euphoria of one of the biggest civil rights victories since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and that was exactly what happened. With a big presidential election already underway (both of the eventual Republican and Democratic nominees had already announced their candidacies), there was a feeling among some people that the war had been won, and it was time to move on to other things.
The reality, of course, is that the fight for marriage equality was just one small part of a much larger battle. Since private employers can still fire employees for not being heterosexual in most states, many same-gender couples, even though they have the legal right to get married, still have to avoid getting married for fear of one or both people getting fired, so the fight for marriage equality is still not over by any stretch. Add in all the other attacks on gender and sexuality going on — especially right now — and the need for allies in the fight for LGBT+/SAGA equality is as strong as it’s ever been.
I’ve been busy reading papers and calculating semester-end grades for my students this past week, and when I first started working out this blog topic in my head a few days ago, I’d planned on writing about the fight for public schools. There’s never a bad time to write about that, but two things kind of pushed that issue to the forefront of my mind.
First, in her YouTube “Message to the Class of 2020,” Linda Cliatt-Wayman bemoaned the many hardships that the high school she had formerly been principal at, Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia, had been forced to endure after she retired from there in 2017. Although she didn’t say so in the video, I can’t help but believe that once she left there, authorities felt like they no longer needed to pay attention to Principal Wayman’s old charges, since the clout she’d generated from her viral TED Talk on improving schools was at a significant remove from Strawberry Mansion after her retirement. (Please watch that TED Talk if you haven’t done so already. You need to.)
A couple of days after that video came out, I started reading Diane Ravitch’s new book Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools. I’ve admired Ravitch’s writing on the school privatization movement for a long time now (especially her work on Ms. Profits First), but as much as I understand her desire in this new book to point to the successes of teacher strikes and state referendums to stymie the privatization movement in recent years, I think there’s a serious danger in assuming that the tide has turned against the forces allied against quality public education in America. Just one story from this past week shows how the fights for educational and LGBT+/SAGA equality are still hot.
With all the other news that has come out of America in the past few days, it’s tempting to push these issues aside for the moment. I would never dare to suggest that the scenes we’re seeing on streets across America right now aren’t direly important, because they most certainly are, but here’s the thing: So is fighting for public schools. So is fighting the forces allied against LGBT+/SAGA people. So is fighting for a sustainable planet. So is fighting to get all those kids out of cages. (When was the last time you heard about them? Yeah, they’re still there, and they still need our help.)
Trying to deal with all these issues at once would be impossible enough on its own, but adding the COVID-19 pandemic on top of everything else makes it all feel like a futile exercise. It’s far too easy to feel worn out by trying to keep track of all this stuff, and self-care may be more important than ever right now as we all awake to new horrors every day. The problem is that the forces aligned against equality, against sanity, against the dignity of every human being, never stop, as shown by this evening’s news.
We all have to pick and choose which battles we fight, and no one is capable of fighting every battle at once. There’s a time to argue that one battle is more deserving of attention than another, but I’m not interested in litigating those arguments right now. The important thing to remember right now is that as our attentions are transfixed by the photos and videos on our televisions and in our social media feeds, these other battles don’t go away. They don’t miraculously get “solved” just because your attention shifts to something else. To assume otherwise isn’t quite the height of ignorance, but it’s damn close.
Before she was fired from MSNBC (gee, what does their boss and Ms. Profits First have in common), Melissa Harris-Perry recorded an advertisement for the network where she talked about a relative (her father, I believe) signing letters and cards to her with “The Struggle Continues,” a reminder of how the fight for African-American equality was always, and would always be, ongoing. Those words echo more true than ever now, and not just for African-Americans, but for all Americans impacted by the hate that has always been in this country, and which has mushroomed as a result of the politics of the last several years. No matter where our attentions are turned in the coming weeks and months, we must always remember that whether we’re fighting for something else, or sleeping, or taking a moment to eat or refresh our minds or whatever else we need to do just to stay sane in this maddening world, too many other people are still struggling, and when we have the ability to do so, we must join in their struggle, later if we must, but now if we possibly can.