Just How Long is the Arc of History?

22 Dec

There’s been a lot of discussion about patience within our movement. Why don’t we have full equality for LGBT Americans NOW?? We deserve it, right? We are owed equality by the Constitution and we should settle for nothing less. We’ve been getting crumbs – some small, some large – for a few years now. Why can’t we get the whole loaf of bread immediately?

These are tough questions to answer. Should we face our inequalities with patience? Do we wait around and just assume our rights will come with time? Or do we continue the fight with vigor and unabashed anger over our lack of equality?

Barack Obama and Kerry Eleveld (official White House photo by Pete Souza)

I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Should we fight every day of our lives until we have full equality for all LGBT people around the globe? Yes, I believe there is something we can do each day to move humanity forward. But we cannot do it blindly without respect for a process that takes many people generations to achieve. In 1924, on December 24th, the state of Illinois issued a charter to Henry Gerber’s Society for Human Rights, making this the very first officially-recognized gay rights organization in the country. It was a short-lived endeavor, but proved that we could indeed organize around our equality.

86 years later, we are protected by hate crime legislation, we can get married in five states and the nation’s capital, and soon we will be able to serve openly in the nation’s military. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.” It seems we tend to focus solely on the latter part of this quote – the “it bends toward justice” part, but we must respect the fact that it does take time for attitudes and minds to change. It takes time for our grandparents to fully grasp the change that’s surrounding them. Hell, my mother still can’t program the clock on the VCR – and who has a VCR anymore?

Today, the Advocate’s (and soon to be Media Matter’s) Kerry Eleveld published an exclusive interview with President Barack Obama. In it, they discuss the timeline for implementation for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which the President signed into law today. Kerry also goes on to talk to POTUS about marriage equality. Now, as we know, the President’s stand on this has waivered a bit, from initially supporting full marriage equality when running for the US Senate to only supporting civil unions when he ran for President. Most think that his views reflected a more mainstream view when he ran for the Oval office, which effected his electability – which would explain the shift.

But now, between an interview last month with AmericaBlog‘s Joe Sudbay and now with Kerry Eleveld, it would seem the President is making his shift back towards marriage equality. Some may argue that he’s following the trends instead of making them, but his gradual course may end up being a deciding factor in winning over the hearts and minds of US citizens.

So where does that leave us? Do we stop fighting because our equality is imminent? No. We keep fighting with all the passion we’ve had since 1924. We have not achieved what we have by sitting back. Ever. This has come from dedication and LGBT people literally laying their lives on the line for civil rights. We have every right to be impatient. Our equality is guaranteed by our Constitution. But let’s not forget – the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

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