My Heart Will Go On: The Tireless Minorities

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Rose DeWitt Bukater: It’s unfair.

Ruth DeWitt Bukater: Of course it’s unfair. We’re women. Our choices are never easy.

You may not recognize the quote, but I’m sure you know the movie it’s from: Titanic (1997), re-released a few weeks ago to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the domed maiden voyage. My cousin and I, sappy teens when the movie was first released and still romantic saps to this day, were part of the millions who saw it again.

It was just as great as I remembered. In fact, better, really. Not because of the 3D (which is really lost on someone who wears bifocals), but because of how much I’d matured in the nearly 15 years since I’d last seen it. This time, I was better able to appreciate the class/caste commentary and recognized for the first time the gender/feminist themes in the film. I was mesmerized all over again.

My mom, playing Ruth to my Rose, was sure to warn me that gender would inevitably, if uninvitedly, play a central role in my life. Only, she added race to the mix, because, well, it matters just as much, if not more. I’m sure countless little black girls heard these same words my mother spoke so forcefully to me:

Siobhan — you’re black and you’re a girl. Because of that, you can’t just be as good as or equal to. You have to be better – a lot better – to succeed.

Sure, it sounds harsh. But it’s true. And I know that I am a better person because my mom was willing to share that truth with me.

Only, she left out one thing. Unbeknownst to her (or was it?), there was a third label to slap on my forehead: I was gay.

Adding gay to my dyad of labels hasn’t been too difficult a thing. It’s not hard to embrace a minority status when you were already a minority twice over. I’m used to working harder, struggling longer, and being looked at sideways.  Life wasn’t going to be “fair” for me any way I sliced it, and I was ok with that.

But some of y’all…

Allow me be the Ruth to your Rose.  The very harsh reality is, my dear friends, that we’re gay. Of course it’s unfair. And no, our choices will never be easy. Get over it. Be not discouraged.

I pointed this out last fall to a group of LGBT parents and prospective parents at a discussion about parenting rights. As I pointed out earlier this month, LGBTQ parents face legal vulnerabilities, options and obligations that straight parents simply don’t. We have to jump through hoops to secure rights others take for granted. The break up of our relationships and the way we subsequently parent our children are not private, two-person struggles. They are very public social phenomenons that will be scrutinized by friends and foes alike for their own purposes and agendas. We don’t have the heterosexual luxury of selfishly and immaturely dragging our exes through the mud for no purpose other than the satisfaction of a primal need for revenge. Because when you do, in the eyes of our greater society, you drag the entire community with you.

Does this suck? Most certainly. Is it the end of the world? Absolutely not.

Should black people still be struggling with disenfranchisement nearly 40 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.  Nope.

Should women be fighting for the right to have access to basic medical services, birth control and equal pay 30 years after women’s lib?  No again.

And yet we are. Not because we’re doing it wrong. Not necessarily because our leaders are pussyfooting. And not for a lack of passion, commitment and drive on the part of the minorities themselves. We are still fighting because we are still the minority, they are still the majority, and power never shifts quickly or smoothly (if at all) one to the other.

That the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of the history of the whole world. — John Adams

Likewise, the battle for even the most basic protections for gays is decades long. Disappointing? Yes. But not devastatingly so. Granted, I’m comparatively new to this struggle and recognize that my perspective lacks the foundation of years of frustration and hard work that many others have. But that concession does not alter my position. We are a minority engaged in a struggle against the majority. To expect anything other than innumerable battles in an endless war is to set oneself up for mental and emotional failure.

It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, TIRELESS minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds. — Samuel Adams

I write about this as my own gay community, Columbus particularly and Ohio generally, struggles, rather publicly, with a reality that could have Titanic-like implications.  On the one hand, there are those who would steadily and cautiously sail through the North Atlantic, proud of the ship we’ve built, but not willing to press her too hard.  Then there are others who would engage all of the engines, pushing all of the power of our recent triumphs into New York’s harbor ahead of schedule.

[And there is a third contingent who wonder what in the hell we’re doing in the North Atlantic in the first place when there are other, less grandiose but more worthy, voyages to be sailed.  But I’ll leave that discussion for another time.]

Looming in the distance is an iceberg-sized disagreement, set to rip a hole in the side of our movement and flood our past accomplishments with distrust, discord and confusion.  If we as a community are not careful, what we have built will be torn in half, lying at the bottom of the ocean, with many more casualties than survivors.  Among those casualties will be the neediest among us, the minorities of our minority, who depend upon our community for many different kinds of support.  The teens, the elderly, the sick — left in the cold because of the decisions we, the first class passengers, have made, all with access to life rafts (personal wealth, supportive families, youth, age) should we need them.

That’s pretty heavy, right?.  Like, 100 ton cruise ship heavy.

Which is why decisions that are based upon impatience rather than evidence seem so dangerous to me.  Is it “past time” for our equality to be a reality?  Certainly.  But it’s “past time” for many people in this country.  And, as the struggles of those minorities has shown us, being “past time” is not a silver bullet for defeating the big bad majority.  It’s a reality to be overcome, not succumbed to.

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