“They will say we are not here”: Choices, From Uganda to Arkansas

David Kato’s murder in January 2011 was a brutal footnote in the ongoing attempt to fully criminalize homosexuality in countries which are heavy in Abrahamic religion and light in liberal arts education. U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement of support for same-sex marriage in May 2012 was a touchstone in the history of LGBT people’s relationship with the U.S. electorate.

Two events in LGBT history involving two men of color of renown in two different political climates, in two years.

But I think that they, both Kato and Obama, are examples of what can happen when someone decides not to hide, but to stay, come out and fight.

Some time before his murder, Kato told filmmakers Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright this:

So if I run away, who will defend the others?

And defend he did, even to his last breath, even as the threat of the upcoming Anti-Homosexuality Law continued to enshadow so many LGBT people in Uganda. It has gotten worse since his death, with the bill now law and more Ugandans seeking asylum in neighboring Kenya or elsewhere.

By contrast, Obama was one of countless beneficiaries of those in the United States who did not run away from their home communities, but stayed and fought for better conditions. By the time he stated his support for marriage equality for same-sex couples, tens of thousands of couples had already gotten married and challenged other states’ prohibitions on their marriages. Several more jurisdictions – state, county, city – had placed non-discrimination laws into their books. But none of these laws would have been instituted had the LGBT residents of these jurisdictions had ran away or focused on their vacations in more LGBT-friendly destinations rather than sought change in their own neighborhoods.

California would not have overthrown Proposition 8 had safer conditions had not been fought for in the 1960s and 1970s by the likes of Harry Hay, Harvey Milk and Jose Sarria. New York would not have gained marriage equality in 2011 had the Stonewall riots not happened against gross police brutality. No anti-discrimination laws would have been sought to the present without a bunch of activists getting them put into law in Ann Arbor and Lansing, Michigan in 1972.

People stuck it out and fought for their posterities when their own sexualities and gender identities were proscribed under state law, when they were subjected to police abuse, when there was nothing to protect them from violence or discrimination.

And now, you have marriage equality in freakin’ Arkansas! South of the Mason-Dixon Line!

So if someone stuck it out here in the Southeast, if someone waited for all these years somewhere in a region which tends to be the last to do anything that is politically inclusive and progressive until after every other region has written such legislation into law, then why can’t I?

My friend Edric from Macon, who runs PFLAG Macon and MaconOUT, tells me often about how so many LGBT people in Middle Georgia would rather indulge in Atlanta Pride every year rather than have a pride festival in Macon or Middle Georgia. But is there nothing in Middle Georgia that is positive for LGBT people?

Nothing at all?

This is why I’m torn right now. I will put myself more into website design, make some money, pay for my expenses, and spend the rest on LGBT-related or UU-related work. But when I have the opportunity to leave for a greener pasture, will I leave? Or will I stay and fight?

Politically, I want to stay, whether it is in Columbus or in Macon, but I want to stay and help the LGBT community here in Georgia.

I want to help build a better, more inclusive community for HIV+ people in the community, LGBT people, women, people of color, organized labor, secular atheist, etc. – in Middle and West Georgia.

By the day, I revisit my interest in going to places like California, with its enticing tech sector, but right now, it’s only half a place I’d want to live in and half a place to visit. The people there are leaps and bounds ahead of where we are here in Georgia, but their experience of equality is only one experience by people who already have a lot more going for themselves.

I think these two regions of Georgia, if we pulled hard and long enough, can go much further. I think this place can be much more inclusive. We can have non-discrimination ordinances, and domestic partnership registries, and more pride/diversity events, and LGBT people being elected to office, and less homeless or destitute LGBT adults and young people on our streets.

I hope to help with that, just as I’ve already helped as President of a Gay-Straight Alliance in college. I plan to stay and fight, whether in Columbus or in Fort Benning, until more people are awakened to the possibilities and can fight for themselves.

David Kato stated “If we keep hiding, they will say we are not here”. That can accurately describe the present situation in Middle and West Georgia.

Edric, let’s not hide. Let’s stay and fight. For Middle Georgia and West Georgia.

My weapon of choice will be this blog.

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