The ecstasy and the agony of 2014

  • by Kate Kendell
  • Tuesday December 23, 2014
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Kate Kendell. Photo: Courtesy NCLR<br><br><br><br><br><br><br>
Kate Kendell. Photo: Courtesy NCLR

This was a spectacular year in the fight for LGBT equality " especially for same-sex couples. We began 2014 with 16 states in which same-sex couples could marry and end the year with 35. (Marriages are also set to begin in Florida, yes, that Florida, next month, so we will soon be at 36.) It is now irrefutable that we have hit our tipping point. When it comes to marriage equality, a just and fair conclusion, though it may still be many months or even another year off, seems inevitable.  

For some in our community, it is the best of times.

Of course, a tipping point is not a finish line. We are far from done when it comes to so many other issues that affect the well-being and even survival of many LGBT people " employment protections, basic fairness for immigrants and undocumented people, parenting rights, an end to the systematic abuse of LGBT prisoners, safety and acceptance for LGBT youth, security for LGBT elders, protections for transgender people, and economic security for the most vulnerable members of our community.

In chilling contrast to the gains we have witnessed for same-sex couples, the recent killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and many other unarmed black men and boys at the hands of police officers have exposed troubling injustice. These killings, and the lack of accountability, expose the stark reality of systemic racism that is a daily reality for people of color, particularly Latinos and African-Americans " the criminalization of youth of color, entrenched economic injustice, the militarization of law enforcement, and a deeply biased justice system. And the recent horrifying ambush murders of two New York police officers at the hands of a mad man leave all of us feeling more dispirited and hopeless.

For many in our community, it is the worst of times.

We live in a nation where white privilege, racial inequality, implicit bias, and structural oppression are calcified and entrenched. And where the gap between the police and the citizens they protect and serve seems to be widening.

Many of us who have never been an object of racial bias or who have benefited in countless ways from white privilege, reflexively see the killings of Brown, Garner, and Rice as isolated or exceptional, or we make sense of the carnage by asserting that Brown, Garner, and Rice were complicit in their own deaths. These are reactions rooted in privilege. The privilege of never being hassled by the police, the privilege of seeing officers as protectors and guardians (which they generally are), the privilege of believing that life is mostly fair and just, the privilege of knowing that you will be judged based on character not color, the privilege of making a mistake and not losing your life over it.

From an early age many people of color learn that the system is stacked against them. When you grow up both as a target and a witness of daily injustice, resistance is a rational response. When you grow up aware that no matter what you do, you will be unjustly judged by many, defiance is a rational response. If such a response seems inconceivable to you, you are living with privilege and you are very likely white.

In the weeks since grand juries refused to indict the police officers in the Brown and Garner killings, the protests, the outrage, the actions, the conversation, the demands for change have swept the nation. Led by the communities most impacted by our broken system, including countless LGBT people of color, joined by the president, the Department of Justice, and very likely you and your neighbors, these actions have been vocal and visible in insisting that those of us living with privilege resist the urge to go back to our cozy lives until the next outrageous and sickening headline.

If we all keep resisting, we can help make the systemic changes that will be required to upend the system that makes too many lives mean too little. We all deserve a justice system we respect and trust. We all share a common humanity and no one can stand on the sidelines.

In a few short years, we have seen breathtaking forward movement in the struggle for inclusion, equality, and justice for LGBT people but those gains will decay if we do not assure that every LGBT person of color lives with dignity and freedom for ALL that they are. We cannot come close to declaring victory until we live in a nation where true and meaningful justice for all is a promise fulfilled.


Kate Kendell, Esq., is the executive director of the
National Center for Lesbian Rights.