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The Right to be Human in Alabama

– Jessie Grady

When Sylacauga native, Billy Jack Gaither was set on fire and murdered in 1999 for, “talking queer stuff,” his killers, Steve Mullins and Charles Monroe Butler, did not see him as human. When four little girls from Birmingham were killed by a bomb set off by members of the Klu Klux Klan – in a church, no less – they were not seen as human. When my friend Brian and his partner held hands while walking by a church in Mobile, the frat boys who hurled insults like, “stupid faggot” … were not acting human.

Who are these people who dehumanize, degrade and brutally murder innocent people whose only crime is being different? You could call them monsters but what gives them the right to act monstrously? God, Church and the State of Alabama, that’s who. But wait, these aren’t the Alabamians I know. Sure, when I was fourteen I was called a witch, Satanist, bullied to the point of homeschooling. Once, a 300 pound football player threatened to punch me in the face in front of the entire school for “being a lesbian.” Let’s be honest, I listened to Bon Jovi and only ever kissed one girl. That hardly qualifies me for those perceived “offenses.” But, the majority of people I know in Alabama are not monsters. They are kind, hard-working people who make damn good casseroles and who would give anyone the shirt off their backs. Well, unless you are black, or gay, or God-forbid Transgender. Sure, they say “don’t judge,” and “hate the sin, love the sinner.” But I have to ask, at what point did “God hates fags,” trump “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”?

If it’s not religion, it’s government officials & religion. From George Wallace to Roy Moore, racism and prejudice have been justified in the name of God. But Roy Moore and George Wallace have both played you, Alabama. Sure, the hatred and bigotry in their hearts is no doubt genuine but Roy Moore never solely defended the Ten Commandments. That, along with his latest strategy of challenging the tyranny of government are publicity stunts. George Wallace is attributed the quote, “I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.” Many of Alabama’s current government officials have the same mindset as those misguided leaders of the 1960s. If you read Moore’s letter, or the reasoning of any number of Alabama probate judges who are refusing to perform same-sex marriages, they might as well be preaching straight from Wallace’s playbook, only with a different scapegoat. Sure, these powerful white men all have the right to stand up for “their beliefs,” but that’s not their job. Their job is ultimately to abide by the rules and laws set forth by the court system and Congress. But, hell, just like with the Bible, they pick and choose which laws they are going to follow and what group of privileged white folks they’re going to represent.

Roy Moore, George Wallace and Governor Bentley are all at the bottom of the bucket when it comes to acting monstrously. What sets humanity apart from these monsters, are traits like empathy, the ability to tell right from wrong and the capacity to love. Love – well, that’s a crazy little thing, isn’t it? See, some Christians in the U.S. think they have the right to dictate who other people love and marry. Never-mind that the institution of marriage pre-dates Christianity and the Bible actually re-defined it. Just as they ignore that Christmas and Easter were rooted in pagan holidays, Christians gloss over history blindly and claim what’s theirs, condemning everything else.

Here’s a newsflash Alabama, many LGBTQ people identify as Christian. They go to church, they pray, they read the same Bible you do. In fact, they go to your churches, they teach at your schools they work with you, some of them even live in your houses. Sadly, some of them, are really afraid of you. They’re afraid if they come out you’ll fire them, disown them, judge them and in some cases physically harm them. But why? For being human, for possessing love. LGBTQ people want and deserve the same things we all do – to be treated with dignity and respect. They want the same basic human rights that you and I have. They shouldn’t have to ask for these things. Judge Granade ruled in favor of same-sex marriage because the ban was unconstitutional. You don’t get to tell other humans that they are not entitled to the same rights as you. We’ve been over this time and time again throughout U.S. History. Remember when those four little girls were killed? Before them, thousands and thousands of other African Americans, Jews and gay people were killed over the centuries.

Many Alabamians like to pretend the Civil Rights era of the 1960s never happened. It’s easier to forget our beautiful state is so rooted in bigotry and hatred. It also makes it easier to hold onto the backward values of our parents and grandparents; to ignore what is a blight on our history and turn away from what we don’t understand. Almost all of us forget that gays and lesbians walked right along side African Americans in Montgomery and Selma. Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington, was in Montgomery to assist with the bus boycott, and influenced Martin Luther King Jr. to embrace Gandhian non-violence. Yet the bravery and courage of this gay black man is easily forgotten. It has been almost fifty years since laws preventing interracial marriage were struck down in the Loving v. Virginia Case. Why has it taken so long to grant LGBTQ people this basic right?

On Monday, February 9th, 2015, LGBTQ people in Alabama will finally have the right to marry the people they love. Some members of your government still want to deny them this right and, at the very least, delay it until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue this summer. Same-sex couples should not have to wait another day. LGBTQ people have been persecuted for centuries and their rights in the United States have been withheld many years longer than they should have been.

In Alabama there are plenty of brave women and men like Rustin still fighting for the rights of LGBTQ people. Joe Openshaw and his husband Bobby Prince set an example by getting married. If you’ve ever interacted with Joe or read his blog, you know this is a man who truly loves Alabama. Another man who loves Alabama and fights tirelessly for the LGBTQ community is James Robinson, the director of Free2Be/GLBT Advocacy and Youth Services in Huntsville. Central Alabama Pride President Kyle Pugh and his partner of five years, Shaun Thomas, have been interviewed and featured numerous times on television and newspaper interviews since Judge Grenade’s ruling. Thanks to these activists and their predecessors, LGBTQ people will finally be treated as the humans they are.

This fight isn’t just about marriage. You may think it’s no big deal for Luther Strange to attempt to put off what the U.S. Supreme court is going to handle in the summer anyway. But, in the meantime, the families of gay and lesbian Alabamians will be denied hospital visitation rights, burial rights, custody rights, insurance and tax benefits. Still, this isn’t a movement solely about gaining rights. It never has been. It’s about love, acceptance and hope … things we should all feel entitled to.

A teacher in Birmingham, who shares a child with her long-time partner, said they are ecstatic about the lift on the same-sex marriage ban. “Erika and I were holding hands, jumping up and down. Charlie was so excited, he joined our little circle and said, ‘Why are we jumping?’ We told him his moms are getting married! As cheesy as it is, the three of us jumped around screaming and having fun saying, “We’re getting married, we’re getting married!” Allie is hopeful that the stay will be lifted on Feb. 9th. “It would be awesome for our family. We had already planned to get married in Florida this summer, but it would be awesome to get married in Alabama. Not only could Charlie legally be my son, we could all finally be on the same insurance – that is huge for us!”

Connie is a mother from North Alabama who told me that her son moved away eight years ago because of how he felt in Alabama. “My wish for my son is this: Happiness. I want him to find someone who he can share his life with. I want him to settle down and be content and happy in his own skin. I love him no matter what he is – and even if he can never again live in this state because of the prejudice here, I want him to find his life somewhere – and I will be happy.”

Alabama, here is your time to shine. Instead of harkening back to the 1960s, vehemently protesting and denying the basic human rights of your fellow citizens, this time get on the right side of history. This is not simply about same-sex marriage. It’s about families and the equal rights of other humans, just like you and I. Marriage is just the beginning.