December 14, 2014

Not In Our Town

My membership in Not In Our Town is a reflection of my life-long development as a Quaker and an activist. I came of age during the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. Just as I was coming out as lesbian, my country’s prejudice and inhumanity was exposed in the starkest possible terms, with President Reagan refusing to address the growing crisis, and Pat Buchanan giving his infamous “Culture Wars” address to the Republican National Convention. Desperate and dying, AIDS activists brought a fierce creativity to their protests. I can still hear ACT UP”s chants from those days: “Act Up, Fight Back, Fight Aids!”

My life partner and I were finally able to marry and secure our full federal rights (after nearly 20 years together!) in 2011. In the course of my lifetime alone, so much has changed for the better in the LGBTQ community in America. But the lived experiences of people of color, and particularly that of black Americans, remain plagued by the effects of entrenched racism.

On September 3rd, 2001, our son was born. Eight days later, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought America to a stunned and grieving halt. I looked down at the infant in my arms and thought, “What kind of world have we brought you into?” Since becoming a parent, my activism has been informed by the knowledge that our son is surely watching, and that my world is now his as well.

As a Quaker, I believe that there is that of God in everyone. I also believe that it is my responsibility to work for the change I long to see in the world. A fellow Quaker, Liz Oppenheimer, traveled to Ferguson, Missouri this past October and, in keeping with Quaker tradition, returned with some queries that she encouraged others to consider. Among these was the query, “Does your checkbook or calendar provide evidence of your active commitment to racial justice?”

This query was in my heart as I followed the stories of continuing protests and listened to the perspectives of the (often young) leaders at the heart of the renewed struggle for racial and judicial justice. I was reminded of one of my favorite Jane Addams quotes, an excerpt from an essay in which she says, “'The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

So when a friend reached out to me about the possibility of joining Not In Our Town, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to “walk the walk.” I am grateful for the opportunity to join with others who have made a personal commitment to creating inclusive and safe communities for all. I am tired of wondering, when I hear of a young person’s death at their own hand, if they might have been struggling with their sexual identity. I'm sickened by the ever-expanding list of unarmed black citizens who have been tragically turned into hashtag echoes of themselves. I am aching to have the luxury of speaking of prejudice and injustice in the past tense. Darnell Moore, who helped organize the Black Lives Matter ride to Ferguson after Michael Brown’s death, said, “you need embraces, to be angry, to breathe, to be creative, and to think about solutions with folks who care about you.” 

With luck, Not In Our Town can be a space for all of that.

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