The name Hazel Bryan Massery is probably unfamiliar to a lot of Americans. Similarly, Elizabeth Eckford, while probably more prominent, is still not an everyday name heard in 2011. These two women’s paths crossed in a single moment that would be photographed and evolve into one of America’s most notable icons of the Civil Rights movement.
Elizabeth Eckford was one of nine black students who were thrust into national attention when they broke Arkansas’s segregation laws by integrating Little Rock Central High School in September, 1957. Hazel Bryan (as she was known then) was photographed screaming at Eckford as she walked to school under the supervision of the National Guard. Most of us are familiar with this picture and have seen it in our history books since elementary school. Though Massery (along with many other Central students) later apologized personally to the Little Rock Nine and eventually supported integration efforts in the South, this photograph proved to be worth a thousand words and Massery would be remembered in history as an emblem of Southern racism despite her later renunciation of her segregationist stance.
Today we see a different version of the Civil Rights movement in the United States playinhg out. LGBT Americans are daily denied equal rights ranging from marriage to health benefits, to protection from the law to not being fired from their jobs due to their sexuality. We see people such as Fred Phelps and his rabid flock of crazies (possibly America’s most famous lunatics since the Manson Family) who picket everything from funerals to rock concerts shouting such malarkey as “God hates fags,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates America.” For a more complete list of what God hates, just Google “Westboro Baptist Church” (Note: God probably also hates the Internet, so be careful).
On a less extreme level (but perhaps a more dangerous one due to their being taken seriously and having actual authority), we see many politicians (mostly conservative but also some moderates who don’t want to lose conservative voters), religious leaders and everyday people who also believe and assert that LGBT Americans somehow do not deserve the rights or protection their straight counterparts enjoy.
I am certainly not condemning all politicians and religious leaders. Many politicians, including several Republicans, have been tremendous supporters of LGBT rights and even more religious leaders have been invaluable to the cause of full Queer equality in the United States. However, we are living in a time where the most vocal anti-equality activists are sending a message loud and clear in the United States that it is somehow wrong and not acceptable to be Queer in the U.S., which they do by supporting the Defense of Marriage Act and denounce DADT Repeal and the Matthew Shepherd Act.
Apart from being unethical, un-American, intolerant, backwards and untrue, such statements are dangerous and irresponsible. We all remember last year when there was a surge of LGBT youth suicides. These suicides, in my opinion, are the direct responsibility of those (like Phelps and other anti-LGBT voices) who create an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance much like those who shouted obscenities and death threats at nine teenagers for simply going to school 54 years ago. These people are certainly entitled to voice their opinions by comparing LGBT people to pedophiles, sexual perverts and deviates (however vile and demented these points of view may be), but when these comments and the atmosphere they creates begin to kill children, I’d say we have some serious soul-searching to do as a nation.
What I am interested in are the basic principles of liberty (including the liberty of being with whomever one loves under the same terms as everyone else) and fairness that the United States claims to love so much yet denies to its own citizens. To give ourselves the credit of being a diverse, accepting nation, we must act in that manner which isn’t accomplished by denying human rights to other human beings under any circumstances. Simply put, I ask those who oppose Queer equality for whatever reason simply to consider how future Americans will remember them when the LGBT rights movement finds its way into the history books. Just as Hazel Massery’s image has become one that characterized all of Arkansas as racist and intolerant, these same people who viciously fight against civil rights in the contemporary will make the entire populace look backward and intolerant in the future.
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