Gay eyes on the gay prize at Civil Rights Summit

As a gay man, I was excited planners for the historic Civil Rights Summit, at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, included a gay-heavy agenda complete with Jimmy Carter, our most outwardly religious president, gently reminding summiteers of St. Paul’s teaching that there is “no difference between people in the eyes of God.”

Carter’s message was in response to those who state religious objections to homosexuality, at the event marking the 50th anniversary of passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Other speakers, including attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson, also spoke of an America where the prize of civil rights to live openly and without fear is becoming a reality for gays.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 informed the civil rights struggle, debate and laws to enforce rights for the disabled in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It informed my gay brothers and sisters at Stonewall Inn 45 years ago when “enough was enough” and courageous and nameless drag queens and their lovers and admirers rioted on Christopher Street in New York City and inspired the ranks of Americans who later marched for gay rights in Boston, Washington, and in San Francisco in response to Supervisor Harvey Milk’s assassination.

Gay historians suggest the Stonewall riots inspired the AIDS activism in the early plague years when government officials did little but tell crude sexual jokes and laugh as our friends and family members in intense pain, suffering and anguish, left us too soon.  

If AIDS activism was inspired or informed by Stonewall then it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his brave army of dedicated marchers, white and black, gay and straight, young and old, abled and disabled, who began the march for equality and civil rights that continues today for the LGBT community.

Civil Rights Summit panelist and Proposition 8 liberator Ted Olson told me, as a conservative Republican, he was proud to of his work to end the last vestiges of discrimination in our society. Together with legal partner Boies, they are focusing their legal power on Virginia’s Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. When they bring it down in Virginia, my birth state, they feel similar bans across the South will fall.

I believe Olson and Boies will be successful in their legal battle in Virginia. I believe bans will fall across the South, on paper. For my friends and colleagues who desegregated businesses and services across the South in the 1960s and who won their civil rights amidst brutality, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are living laws we all must continue to champion.

Assaults on voting rights are ubiquitous with voter identification laws and other document requirement laws that needlessly complicate the voting process in many states. The purpose of these laws, to be clear, is to reduce minority participation in the democratic process. Despite the success of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts 50 years ago, philosophical opponents are actively working to overturn the spirit of these laws. It will be the same way when gay rights and marriage equality become our national law. Philosophical opponents will aggressively work to take our rights away.

My gay eyes are on the gay prize of full equality and civil rights throughout the country. I can see the prize in sight but I also see a long fight to keep the prize alive once we have won it.

A longtime Washington diplomat,  Patterson, who attended Alabama’s segregated schools, is now a San Francisco writer and speaker.



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