Last Friday was the 1-year anniversary of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. A white punk walked into an historic black church and killed nine people, because he was a racist.
Last week, we remembered that day. All over the country, there were ceremonies and there were speeches. It was a somber occasion.
But this week, I want to remember a different anniversary.
Listen to Aaron’s commentary:
This isn’t just the 1-year anniversary of a senseless massacre. This is also the 1-year anniversary of something positive: a national conversation that we all had, together, as a people, about racism, why it still exists, and what we can do to eradicate it. What we can do to make the world a slightly better place.
One year ago, in the face of hatred, we sat down together and we had that conversation.
And we did something. We looked all over the South and we saw our governments still flying the banner of racism, the Confederate battle flag. We went all over the South and we pulled that banner down. We did it to send a message: this country is not going to tolerate racism. We’re not going to treat racism as a valid argument. We’re not going to give it a microphone. And we’re sure as hell not going to fly its victory banner over our state house lawns.
What did that accomplish?
Did it end racism forever? No.
Did it bring back the nine people who died? No.
Is there anything we could have done that would have ended racism forever or bring back the nine people who died? No.
But we had that national conversation anyway. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.
And we tore down that victory banner anyway. Why? Because it was the right message to send.
It made our world a slightly better place.
Ten days ago, a man walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire on the crowd. Forty-nine people were killed. Dozens more were injured. And if you think there were only 100 victims of this attack, you are wrong: all over the country, LGBT people everywhere are still hurting.
This was an attack of hatred, and this was an attack of homophobia. We know that this is the case. There isn’t any doubt or debate.
One year ago, we responded to a murdering racist by having a national conversation on racism.
Where is the national conversation on homophobia today?
Read the news reports about Orlando. Read the speeches. People are going out of their way to avoid talking about Orlando as an act of homophobic violence. The silence is conspicuous.
It’s not just conservatives. Our own Congressman, David Price, has always been a vocal advocate for the LGBT community. But today he made a statement when he went to join the sit-in on the House floor: a whole page of words about Orlando, and not even one hint of a mention of who was targeted. He’s not even close to being the only one. It’s been standard operating procedure, for nearly two weeks.
Imagine talking about Charleston without mentioning racism.
Which isn’t to say we’re not talking about Orlando. We’re sure having a big ol’ fight about guns. Democratic Senators are staging filibusters, Democratic House members are holding a sit-in. We need to talk about guns, they say. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans say no, it’s Muslims we ought to be talking about. Ban the guns. Ban the Muslims. Ban the guns.
Who is talking about homophobia right now?
Everyone’s excited because Democrats are trying to stop the haters from getting guns.
Who is talking about how we can stop there from being hate in the first place?
Nobody. Instead we’re making excuses.
“Gosh, we can’t ever eliminate hatred, so I guess there’s just nothing we can do.”
It’s true, we can’t ever eliminate hatred.
But we can fight it.
We can strike back.
We can make it clear, with our words, with our actions, and with our laws, that this country will not tolerate homophobia.
And in doing so we can make the world a slightly better place.
Aaron Keck spoke Wednesday with Chapel Hill writer Steven Petrow, who writes the “Civilities” column for the Washington Post.
I know we can do it because we’ve done it before. This week is the one-year anniversary. This week we celebrate the one-year anniversary of a national conversation on racism, a conversation that led to action and real change. Last year people who spent years waving the Confederate flag were apologizing. They had contributed to a culture. They helped make it seem okay to be a racist. They changed. People changed.
Who is apologizing today?
Who is searching their souls?
Who is asking themselves, did I do enough? Did I contribute to a hateful culture? Have my words or my actions made it seem okay to hate on gay people? Have I told my kids I love them no matter what? Have I supported laws designed to make it harder to be gay? Have I supported laws designed to make it easier to be a homophobe?
Last year we tore down the Confederate flag because it was the symbol of racism.
What is the symbol of homophobia?
Democrats are in Washington talking about guns. And hey, that’s great – but that’s not the symbol. That’s not fighting back against homophobia.
You want to fight back against homophobia? You want to honor the victims of Orlando?
Forget the gun control. Forget the gun rights. Forget immigration. And for God’s sake forget Muslims.
You want to fight back, here’s what you can do:
Add the four words.
“Sexual,” “orientation,” “gender,” and “identity.”
Amend our federal and state anti-discrimination laws to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.
(Don’t buy the “religious freedom” argument – truth is, that argument’s always been complete BS. We already ban discrimination on the basis of religion.)
This is long overdue. We should have done it years ago. The fact that we haven’t done it yet is unconscionable. The fact that people are still opposing it is ridiculous.
Let’s do it now. In the wake of Orlando, let’s do it now.
I want one bill introduced in Congress to add the four words to our federal anti-discrimination law.
I want Chris Murphy to filibuster until it gets a vote.
I want John Lewis to sit on the House floor and refuse to budge until it gets passed.
In Raleigh, I want our state legislators to introduce a bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to our state-wide anti-discrimination law.
And make Republicans get in front of the cameras and the microphones and explain to the American people why they don’t want to fight back against the hatred that fueled the murder of 49 people.
Conservatives have been saying this all week: “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a people problem!”
Of course they’re only saying that because they don’t want to talk about guns. They have zero intention of discussing the “people problem,” they have zero intention of addressing the “people problem” – and when it comes to anti-gay hatred, the sad truth is a lot of conservatives don’t even really believe we have a people problem.
But you know what, they’re right.
We do have a people problem. We have a really, really big people problem.
But it’s not enough to just say it and move on with your day.
It’s not enough to sigh and say “what are you gonna do?”
It’s not enough to offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of an anti-gay massacre, then go on demonizing LGBT people as sinful and twisted and evil.
Let’s make conservatives put their money where their mouth is.
And while we’re at it, let’s put our money where our mouth is too.
Yes, we have a people problem.
What are we going to do about it?
It’s time for a national conversation on homophobia. It’s time to act. Not just to keep guns away from the haters – we need to strike back against hate in the first place.
Repeal House Bill 2.
Add the four words to our anti-discrimination law.
You personally are not a state legislator? Fine. Be a vocal ally. Speak out against anti-gay hate. Tell your kids you love them no matter what. Tell your kids you love everybody no matter what.
One year ago this week, we fought back against hatred. Let’s do the same thing this week.
We’re not going to fix the problem. We’re not going to cure the whole world.
But let’s do what we can, today and every day, to make this world a slightly better place.