“I’m proud of all of the work you did over that discrimination bill, son,” my father told me last week right before dinner.
He was of course talking about Arizona’s SB1062 – a bill that licensed discrimination – a bill that passed both the Arizona state house and state senate and was later vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer. It was a bill that I found so offensive I went all in in organizing urging folks to contact the Governor and asking her to do what she later did. Some twenty thousand people, thousands of phone calls, and half a dozen protests later, and I was sitting on the sweet side of a veto victory.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, my father is often proud of me and it’s something he is never afraid to tell me. But this time, my dad decided to tell me a story about his brother.
As my father thought back to the not-so-distant past, I sat anxiously waiting for what he had to share. My father told me about the time my uncle walked into a nail salon, wanting to have his nails professionally done. But the nail salon refused my Uncle Joe service, because my uncle was not only gay, but also had AIDS. My uncle filed a discrimination lawsuit against them because of this. He cited that it was not legal for the salon, or any business for that matter, to deny him, or anyone else, service simply because of their health or orientation.
My uncle proceeded with the case, as the virus wore away at his body. And as the case dragged on, my uncle’s life did not. According to my father, my Uncle Joe died before that lawsuit was decided in court. But, my father, being the incredibly supportive and incredibly loyal man he is, continued with the lawsuit. And my father eventually won some money, which he promptly donated to two charities that had helped my uncle battled his disease.
My Uncle Joe has always been my hero. I remember crying the first time I saw his panel in the AIDS quilt. I remember drawing on his own advocacy when I was fighting gay marriage amendments here in Arizona. For me, my uncle has always served as my guardian angel; one that has most certainly protected me from harm, but one that also inspires me to write and advocate for LGBT – my rights.
So it is what my father said at the end of our pre-dinner conversation that really hit me:
“My brother would be proud of you, too.” That statement, though meaningful and incredibly kind of my father to say, not only hit me, but impacted me in a really negative way.
Because, I am not proud of the work I did to fight SB1062 — or any public advocacy I have done. I’m not proud of any of it. I do it, because I have to.
To me, being part of the LGBT community means protecting it. It means standing up for it. It means standing in line for persecution, if it means one less member of your community is persecuted. To me, demanding equality isn’t something I am ever proud I am doing. It’s something I would be ashamed of if I wasn’t.
There’s no doubt in my mind that my uncle is proud of me. And there’s no doubt in my mind that my father is proud of me. But to be proud of me for defending my right to eat at any restaurant I want to seems — well, just disappointing. It is not something I’m proud of having to do, it’s something that I had to do. I’m pretty sure many other activists feel the same.
We shouldn’t be proud of the work we are doing to advance LGBT rights. We should ashamed of our state, our legislatures, and yes, even ourselves, because there’s any work left to do.