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Still fighting 50 years after Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer, Selma to Montgomery, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Peter Pettus; courtesy Library of Congress)

Some things in life are unforgettable. I’ll never forget, when I was 11 and living in Southern, N.J., watching a CBS documentary called “The Search in Mississippi” with my parents in 1964.  On the show, Walter Cronkite reported on the search for three volunteers with the “Freedom Summer Project,” a campaign to register African-American voters in Mississippi, who had disappeared. One of the volunteers, James Chaney, 21,was black and from Mississippi. The other two volunteers – Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, were white New Yorkers.  They were among the hundreds of volunteers, black and white, who’d risked their lives to go to Mississippi that summer to non-violently fight for the right to vote for African Americans.  “They’ve probably been murdered,” my Dad said, choking up, about the volunteers who’d been missing.

Unfortunately, my Dad was right. They were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Miss. on June 21, the first day of Freedom Summer. Forty-four days after they disappeared, their remains were found.

“This is a wonderful town,” Goodman wrote on a postcard he mailed to his parents on the day he was murdered, “Our reception was very good.”

This summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Like many such anniversaries, it’s bittersweet.

In 1964, voter suppression efforts targeting African Americans were among the highest in the country. In 1962, fewer than 7 percent of black people in Mississippi were registered to vote and there had been 539 lynchings of African Americans from 1882 to 1964. Over a 10-week period that summer, volunteers — black, white, Jewish and Christian — put their bodies on the line.  They were beaten and put in jail. The amount of fear and intimidation that they endured is impossible to adequately convey or imagine.

The beatings and murders of African Americans hadn’t received much publicity. The bodies of eight other black men were found with the remains of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. But, because Goodman and Schwerner were white, their murders enraged the nation and were covered widely in the media. President Lyndon Johnson and Congress used this outrage to pass the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. Freedom Summer volunteers established more than 40 Freedom Schools. The schools taught math, reading, black history and other subjects to more than 3,000 African-American students in Mississippi. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed. These successes are a wonderful vindication of the Freedom Summer Project — a non-violent, social justice movement. If only these victories had not come with unjust bloodshed and loss of human lives.

More important is that so much more needs to be done before justice will be achieved. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. After that, “immediately a number of states moved to implement laws that would essentially reduce voter turnout among minority groups,” wrote David Goodman, Andrew Goodman’s brother, in a commentary for fdlreporter.com.

Today, half a century on from Freedom Summer, people worldwide, including members of the LGBT community, are still fighting for equality and justice. In the fight for same-sex marriage, the right to vote is vital.

“As a young, black, queer woman who directly benefits from the legacy of Freedom Summer, I commit to working towards a justice for all people that is yet to be realized,” Human Rights Campaign Youth and Campus Outreach Assistant Samantha Master, wrote on the HRC website.

This summer, the LGBT community has been marking the Freedom Summer 50th anniversary. HRC is organizing a Moral Freedom Summer voter registration campaign. This week (June 23-29), Master and other LGBT leaders, have been featured at the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary conference in Jackson, Miss.

In 1964, the young women and men of Freedom Summer “had the courage to go to the lion’s den and try to scrub the lion’s teeth,” Maya Angelou said.

The struggle for justice continues. I hope we have the courage to go to the lion’s den.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

26
Jun
2014

Filmgoers should boycott ‘Ender’s Game’

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Ender’s Game’ (Official movie poster)

BY KONRAD JUENGLING

The much-anticipated film “Ender’s Game” has finally been released. What I’m hoping to see are lots of empty theater seats, rather than a rush to the theaters. Why the antipathy for a much lauded book coming to film? Because I am a firm believer in the old adage “With every dollar you spend you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”

The world that I want to live in doesn’t have anything to do with the world Orson Scott Card wrote about in Ender’s Game. It’s much, much closer to home and something that would be better for all of us. The kind of world that I want is one where everyone is treated with respect, everyone has the same rights and freedoms and people respect one another’s decisions. This is not a world that Card wants to be a part of here in “the real world” (or in his book for that matter).

Card is on the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage. NOM is the same organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group. The SLPC has been instrumental in public education and legal representation against all sorts of hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, neo-Confederates, racist music groups, Holocaust deniers and many more. These obviously aren’t groups that people with a rational worldview seek out. If you truly respect others, you don’t have any need for affiliations with groups like the KKK, Aryan Nations or the Westboro Baptist Church. Card, on the other hand, champions the efforts of NOM and believes that “the homosexual agenda” is something to fight.

He actively campaigns against marriage equality. He advocates that sodomy laws should be kept on the books in America to punish gays. He’s claimed that gay people are self-loathing victims of child abuse. He doesn’t stop there, though, arguing that gay marriage “marks the end of democracy in America,” homosexuality is a “tragic genetic mix up” and that allowing courts to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples is a slippery slope into gay rule and that anyone who does not agree with gay marriage will be categorized as “mentally ill.”

Say what?

We can skip the paranoid gay conspiracies Card sees all around. What I don’t think we should skip is the fact that Card actively advocates for people to not have rights that he himself enjoys. This not only makes him a bigot but a hypocritical one as well. Although marriage equality and getting everyone on an even playing field within the law would not affect him personally, Card feels the need to go out of his way to make sure no one but his specific brand of people get to enjoy the rights he does. Is it heterocentric? Homophobic? Prejudiced? Bigoted? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Do we really want to be giving our money to someone who campaigns for inequality, stratification of people according to his personal morals and laws that criminalize love? Do we want to line the pockets of someone that donates to a hate group? By spending money on this film, or his book, or any other Card works, we’re casting a vote for a world in which the rights of gay people are not only nonexistent, but gay people are criminalized. We’re voting for a world that is dependent on one man’s extreme views; views that are hateful, spiteful, ignorant and demeaning. A sci-fi film might look alluring, but to boycott “Ender’s Game” sends a message that we are not complacent. Seeing “Ender’s Game” supports hate, oppression, stigmatization and bigotry. Let’s stand up for what we know is right and steer clear of contributing to Card’s coffers.

Konrad Juengling is attending Portland State University for post-baccalaureate work in psychology. His goal is to work with juvenile sex offenders.

06
Nov
2013

Chicago Archbishop calls gay bill ‘legal fiction’

cardinal francis george, chicago pride, gay news, gay politics dc

Cardinal Francis George (photo by Adam Bielawski via Wikimedia Commons)

CHICAGO — Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, last week issued a letter to parishes denouncing as a “legal fiction” a proposed bill to legalize same-sex nuptials in the Prairie State.

The letter alleges that because “the human species comes in two complementary sexes,” marriage is established by nature, not the church or the state, and therefore, “the State (sic) cannot change natural marriage,” the Cardinal writes, according to the Windy City Times.

“It is unfortunate for Cardinal George that he has chosen not to join the growing number of religious leaders and faithful laypeople across Illinois – including many devout Catholics,” read a statement by Rick Garcia, senior policy adviser to Illinois LGBT advocacy group The Civil Rights Agenda. “People of all backgrounds and beliefs are standing up for equality under the law, the protection of families, and the advancement of religious and individual freedom here in the Land of Lincoln.”

Cardinal George has butted heads with LGBT leaders on several occasions in the past, including comparing LGBT Pride festivities to the Ku Klux Klan last year.

The same-sex marriage bill was expected to have been taken up in the Senate as early as Thursday.

03
Jan
2013