In “Why We Can’t Wait,” Martin Luther King, Jr. describes the 1963 struggle for civil rights (Albany, Birmingham, and the March on Washington) that climaxed with legislation that ended segregation in the United States. Dr. King’s book might have been titled, “Why We Didn’t Wait,” for he describes the “disappointments” that drove African-Americans into the streets – “disappointments” that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans know all too well.
We, too, are disappointed in the Congress and the courts; disappointed in both political parties and their leadership; disappointed in the lack of change in the United States when liberation is happening in other nations. We, too, are tired of slow change and token changes, tired of defending ourselves against the claims of moral inferiority, tired of being victims of public laws and private humiliations, tired of intolerance and inequality, tired of suffering and dying just because we are different.
The historic civil rights legislation of 1964 came just eight years after Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. It’s been more than thirty years since this latest season of protest began at the Stonewall Bar in New York City, and with all the changes we can celebrate, the real problem remains the same: the antigay religious teachings and actions that support intolerance and discrimination are still powerfully in place in our Protestant and Catholic Churches.
These antigay, religion-based teachings and actions have become the primary source of misinformation against sexual and gender minorities, misinformation that leads to suffering and death. Most antigay initiatives and antigay court decisions (local, statewide and national) flow out of those same religious teachings. They give license for gay bashers to harass and harm us and motive for God’s gay children to kill ourselves. Instead of changing minds and hearts, the thirty-year war of words has seen those antigay religious teachings harden into place. When will we realize that the antigay teachings cannot be “studied” or “debated” away? It will take another civil rights revolution to end them.
Dr. King admits that the revolution of 1963 could not have happened “…if there had not been at hand a philosophy and a method worthy of its goals.” The “soul force” principles of relentless nonviolent resistance to which King refers are a philosophy and a method developed by M. K. Gandhi and Dr. King that are also worthy of our goals for the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. Those principles make it clear that when negotiations fail, it is necessary to move on to courageous acts of nonviolent non-cooperation and direct action.
Our civil rights revolution begins when we refuse to participate any longer in the endless studies and debates about homosexuality and homosexuals. We must no longer allow ourselves to be examined and discussed like lab rats or exotic insects by clergy or laity who act as though we aren’t even in the room. We must boycott and protest those events where our dignity is to be debated and our integrity questioned by non-gays or former gays who have “studied” the issue and have all the “answers.” To accept the role of a “specimen” to be researched and discussed like a virus or rare fungi is the ultimate act of self-denigration. To sit patiently through another vote by our denominational or local church leaders (let alone be silent when another “study” is called for) is another proof of our internalized homophobia. To play along with this game of studying, debating, and voting who and what we are is to support the structures of bigotry.
It is time that we quit cooperating with those who oppress us by their actions or with those who oppress us by refusing to act. It is time to commit ourselves to participate in local, regional, state-wide and national campaigns of relentless nonviolent resistance (guided by the ‘soul force’ principles of Gandhi and King) that will convince church leaders to do justice at last. They have assumed that we are infinitely patient or too comfortable in our closets to call for revolution. For their sake, and for the sake of Christ’s church, we must prove them wrong.
It is a good time to take it to the streets again. I don’t know exactly how our “Salt March,” our Montgomery, or our Birmingham will take shape. We leave that in the hands of God. Gandhi said, “Just take the first step and see.” “Nonviolent direct action did not originate in America,” King adds, “but it found its natural home in this land, where refusal to cooperate with injustice was an ancient and honorable tradition.”