MIXNER’S 2016 ELECTION CENTRAL—
This clip was taken from the hit independent movie Pride about the LGBT community in Great Britain joining with the miners to support their strike during Margaret Thatcher’s reign of repression against unions.
“Bread and Roses” has been an anthem for working people, especially women, for over a hundred years. The lyrics come from a poem written by James Oppenheim in 1911 which in turn was inspired by a speech given by labor organizer Rose Schneiderman. The concept was simple that not only must working people have decent working conditions they also have an inalienable right to a life of dignity and beauty. In one important sense, the song was a response to Henry Ford and William Jennings Bryan’s “guns and butter’ push to stop America from entering World War I.
The LGBT community must remember the lyrics of “Bread and Roses” as the massacre in Orlando echoes and re-echoes in our mind.
Yes, of course, we must stand with every other decent American against the slaughter brought to our streets because of hundreds of millions of guns in our country. There is no question that our long struggle with HIV/AIDS and for our freedom has given us a gift of knowledge on how to organize, raise money and fight against insurmountable odds. That is the gift we bring to America as it struggles to find its best self and its soul. We know how to love amidst hate and we know how to organize with love and still obtain victory.
However, bread without the roses would be a serious mistake.
While we join the ever growing coalition fighting the scourge of guns, LGBT Americans cannot in any way let up in our fight for freedom. Not only did Orlando remind us of the horror of guns but it also was a vivid reminder that our long march toward liberty and liberation is far from over in America. The Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality put good law into the books but did not erase homophobia in our society. Currently there are over 200, read that again, there are over 200 proposed laws that wouldn’t just block our continued progress but actually move us backwards. Their proponents have encased these hateful laws in the Trojan Horse of religious freedom.
Some of them are as odious as many of the worst passages in our national history.
They would make it legal to deny us service in restaurants, hotels, stores, businesses and other public accommodations if the owners of such establishments say it violates their religious beliefs. To some Americans it may seem reasonable that someone should not be forced to violate their religion by serving the LGBT community. After all, why can’t LGBT Americans go eat where they are wanted? Sometimes bigotry coated in sugar and sprinkles really doesn’t look all that bad.
As a veteran of the civil rights movement, the words sound too familiar in my head. Back in the 1960s the rationalization wasn’t called freedom of religion but freedom of association. Why should whites be forced to serve blacks? After all, shouldn’t an American have the right to associate with whomever they please?
In the epic poem “Easter Sunday, 1916”, William Butler Years wrote that in the horror of the Irish being massacred fighting for their freedom, “a terrible beauty was born.”
For the LGBT community, Orlando is a wake up call to shake off any misguided notion that the battle is won and all that’s left to do is go to PTA meetings or plan beautiful wedding ceremonies. There is much to be done. We must always be vigilant and always ready to respond anywhere and anytime to bigots and their attempts to devalue and discriminate against us. The dishonor roll of shame among states becomes longer as others seek to join North Carolina, Kansas and Mississippi in establishing new regimes of oppression. Georgia shows us that we can win such battles but that winning depends on unbending commitment, brilliant organizing and yes, even a song and poem.
One of the most effective organizations working at the local level to counter anti-LGBT legislation and seeking to pass vital new protections is Freedom for All Americans. It is structured on the spectacularly successful Freedom to Marry model created by one of our movement’s great heroes, Evan Wolfson.
Freedom for All Americans now has a presence in every state with first-rate organizing tools and expertise. The organization is headed by Matt McTighe who is an extraordinary organizer. Their efforts deserve our unstinting support.
The LGBT community needs both ‘bread and roses’. We need solidarity with millions of others as we demand and march, lobby and vote for not just gun control but also against climate change, poverty and hunger in America.
However, our community’s capacity to contribute to these common causes depends on the span and strength of our own freedom. The fuller our freedom is, the greater the difference we can make for America. So give your all for gun control. And as you do, never forget our unfinished struggle for justice and equality. We can pursue both and we have to remember to do both and even more. Our roses will be our own freedom. And the freer we are, the more bread we can offer our country and the world. Don’t forget that – now or ever.
All opinions expressed are those of the author.