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The Butler (Moving Toward Equality)

Written by Ken Murphy

Last night, I finally watched The Butler. Yeah, I know… I’m a little behind on the movies. It was a very good movie. Of course I like Forest Whitaker in all of his movies I’ve seen. The Butler is a great reminder of an ugly time in our country. The struggle of African-Americans to achieve the same freedoms and rights enjoyed by their White counterparts was bloody and painful. I remember seeing the violence on television as a young child. But to me, it seemed like another world, completely alien to everything I knew.

I grew up in a small town in South Georgia during the sixties. While I’m certain a great deal went on that I wasn’t aware of, desegregation was pretty much a non-issue. They closed the school where I attended first grade right after the school year ended. I went to second grade in a brand new building; to a class in which about fifty percent of the children were black. There were no protests, no police enforcement, nothing. It was just the start of a new day. My best friend that year was Terry. He had the darkest skin, and the biggest heart, I’d ever seen. Unfortunately, he and his family moved away the next summer and we lost touch with one another. It’s too bad the transition in the rest of the country did not go so easily. Did the community leaders in Thomasville desegregate the schools because they wanted to? Probably not. They did it because the Federal Government said they had to. Now, no thinking person questions that it was the right thing to do.

I brought this up because, as I said, The Butler is a poignant reminder of how ugly hate can be. And I think we need that reminder.  Our Great Nation still has a lot of people who believe it’s acceptable to treat others differently based solely on their sex, skin color, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Of course, few people are dumb enough to come right out and say “Jane doesn’t deserve the same pay because she’s a woman” or “Joe should be treated differently because he’s black.” Society has decreed that while you might think it, you cannot say it aloud, or act upon it. I know it still goes on, but the perpetrators of hate have to be a bit more subtle.

Members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) Community do not enjoy the same “protections.” Our struggle for equal rights is still somewhat in its infancy. Or maybe our movement is a toddler or a preschooler. Even so, we have a long way to go. I am encouraged by the seventeen states that have legalized same-sex marriage (as well as the District of Columbia). But we have 33 states that ban Gay Marriage. Several of those states have pending court cases to overturn those bans. Still, the fight is far from over.

This week, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill protecting individuals who refuse to serve same-sex couples based on the notion of protecting religious freedom. The bill is nothing more than state-legislated hate. I was happy to hear Senate President Wagle say “…my members don’t condone discrimination.” I hope that the Nation’s reaction to the bill will ensure that it dies quickly.

I like to think of myself as an optimist with open eyes. I realize we have a long way to go before all people are treated as equal without regard to sex, race, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any of the other wonderful things that make us different, not better or worse than anyone else, just different. I think we are making progress. There will always be haters. However, as more people stand up to these haters, they lose their ability to negatively influence and impact others.

I am heartened by the persistent and constant presence of the LGBT Community in the media. Good and bad. The good coverage helps people to understand that, even though I am different from you, we have more things in common than we have differences. As for the bad coverage?  Well, Kansas is a good example of how quickly people can change their tune. I would not presume to speak for Senator Wagle, but I wonder if she’d have been quite so quick to speak out if the rest of the country hadn’t reacted so negatively to the House passing the bill that would allow same-sex couples to be denied service.  Whether she intended to or not, she labelled the bill for what it is: legislated discrimination. Likewise, many of the ultra-conservative people who spend their time preaching hate are losing their followers. The absurdity of their discourses is obvious to most people.

I am convinced most people want to do the right thing. Yes, I know. But I did say that I’m an optimist. Very few people are truly haters for the sake of hating. People fear what they don’t understand.  The more we talk about our issues, the more people think about them. And we need people thinking. It should be obvious to any thinking person that nothing I say or do impacts the sanctity of your marriage. Denying me the right to marry the person I love does not elevate the status or meaning of your relationship, it simply discriminates against me.