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Why I Fight

On Behalf of | Jun 4, 2015 | Civil Rights |

Or…Why I’m still committed to Garden State Equality now that we’ve won the Equal Marriage Rights Battle 

“Equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air; we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it.”

Maya Angelou

Why would a straight person care so much about the missions of Garden State Equality? Why still care when the “big fight” – the fight for equal marriage rights – has apparently been won in the State of New Jersey? I could give you any number of answers.

I could tell you that I’m still committed to Garden State Equality because my mother’s younger sister was a lesbian and I never knew it as a child, though I loved my Aunt dearly and thought she was one of the most fun, coolest, most loving people in the world. It was she, for example, who introduced me to some of the most enjoyable and mind expanding-books (she got me my first copy of Lord of The Rings). She was always up for play fighting on the couch and tickle fights anywhere else. Her laugh was infectious and she seemed to live on hugs.

That was the Aunt I knew. The Aunt my family knew was a lesbian of whom they tacitly disapproved, a woman who could never bring a “friend” to family dinners even though my brother and I could always bring friends. A woman who seemed so happy with my brother and I, yet sometimes clearly in pain when she spoke to my family in those hushed conversations kids ignore and don’t understand.

The aunt who purposefully overdosed on prescription pain killers at the age of 39 before I grew old enough to understand who she really was; old enough to validate her, even in the face of my family’s opposition.

I could tell you that I’m committed to Garden State Equality because I lost the opportunity to affirm my Aunt Maureen, but that would only be one answer.

I could tell you that I’m still committed to Garden State Equality because, years after my Aunt Maureen left us, my family “mellowed” and became more in tune with social justice and civil rights than the average working class Brooklyn family. They told me to be brave in the face of opposition to what I knew was right, not to “get along to go along” and to fight when necessary.

I could tell you that I’m still committed to Garden State Equality because I wanted to make my family – which had undergone some admittedly painful soul searching after my Aunt’s passing – proud of me for turning into the person I did.

I could tell you that I’m still committed to Garden State Equality because my law school education taught me that the mission of the law is to deliver justice as best it can, though always imperfectly, that the court system and the right to a trial by jury is as close to a sacred right as any human might have (and one of the most important rights that a government ought to protect).

I could tell you that I learned in law school not to chase corporate law firm dollars, but rather, to represent plaintiffs for far less money – and under far more challenging socio-political-cultural circumstances – at the start of my career (and under a much harder social-cultural zeitgeist now).

I could also tell you that in my career, I’ve watched children struggle to be who they knew they were inside in the face of familial, school, community and cultural opposition, ignorance and hatred. That I’ve watched young people at the mercy of families who put them into “gay conversion therapy” in the horribly mistaken belief that sexual orientation is simply a “disease” that can be “cured.” I’ve represented people who’ve had to recover from the damage done by such quackery in the same way that people need help recovering from time in a cult.

I could talk to you about the transgender woman we represent who was pulled over for a broken taillight and then humiliated by the police simply because she was a trans woman; when a genetic woman would’ve simply been given a ticket and wished a nice day. I would tell you about the trans students we represent who are still, in the year 2015, being told that they have to use a “third” bathroom despite the fact that they identify as their trans gender; despite the fact that the school has a legal obligation to allow them to use bathroom of their putative gender notwithstanding parental “panic” and “transphobia.”

I could give any of these answers, and they’d all be true. All of them would be important. All of them are a part of who I am. But the answer that’s closest to the truth embodies Maya Angelou’s quote.

When I was kid, I was a huge Star Trek fan; still am. I was deeply influenced by the idea that at some time in the indefinite future, a future I’d certainly not live to see, mankind would “get over” all of the petty differences that currently separate us, differences borne of ethnicity, religious observance, culture, economic circumstance and sexual orientation. It’s not that there were any homosexual characters on the bridge of the 1960s era Enterprise, but you had the feeling that if there were, it’d be “okay,” that such folk would simply be other members of the crew.

I truly, deeply wanted to believe that one day, that’s where we’d be; “together.” I still believe that. But I no longer believe as a child does. I don’t believe that we’re just going to “fall into” a human family, one without any dysfunction, hatred, judgment or ignorance. I no longer believe that if enough time passes, the human race will simply “mutate” into enlightenment. I now understand, as a man understands, that everyone has work to do to make that day come. Anyone who doesn’t do that work can’t call themselves a just person, can’t say that they’ve done their human work to make the world a better place for their children and their distant descendants.

Poet Angelou was right. Justice is like the air, and like the air, justice can be poisoned. When it is positioned, then everyone breathes the toxins. No one is spared. We all become sick. Just like we need the air to be clean for everyone, whether they appreciate that the air has been cleaned for them or not, justice has to be delivered to everyone by everyone, or no one has it. Dr. King said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Maya Angelou said much the same thing, just as eloquently, better than I ever could.

I have a son who turns twelve this June. I have a wife who helps run the law firm that represents civil rights for people and their families. My son knows what his parents do. He knows we don’t just work hard to support our family, but that we work hard to support everyone’s family. He knows what our mission is, and he’s proud of it.

I don’t know what kind of man my son will grow to be, though I’m sure I’ll be proud. What I do know is that my wife and I will pass to him the duty to provide “clean air” to his fellow human beings, to his distant descendants, to his human family.

I want my son to be proud of me. I want to leave him a better world. That’s why I’m still committed to Garden State Equality.