Pour yourself a quad and put your feet up, it’s a long blog. Before we get started, I’d just like to say that the following opinions are my own and that I realise that some of you are inclined to disagree with me. I understand this but also ask you to respect these things as my opinions and if you disagree not to get all under the collar about it. I know exactly what I’m writing and I write it for a reason. It even sickens me that I feel the need to include this paragraph.
Back in early January I was asked to teach a lesson on MLK day (Martin Luther King day for those Brits who don’t know). Being from England, I had to read up on it all and I quite liked what I saw. Essentially, MLK day is a bank holiday in the US where there is a special emphasis on helping other people and on community projects and suchlike. The best part of the lesson though was when the teacher gave me a DVD of Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
Now, I’m a lover of good speeches and good speakers and Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my favourite orators. There’s a monument to him in San Francisco which Luke and I visited last summer and it is covered in quotes from some of his speeches. Just walking along a reading a wall of his rhetoric made me so fired up to campaign for equality and justice it was exhilarating. So when I played the whole of the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech to my pupils I was sat there with my spine tingling and a huge grin on my face.
It wasn’t until about half way through however that I realised just how much the fight against intolerance was still going on. I had it in my head that the fight was over. After all it’s now forty years since MLK’s death and part of me had filed him and his campaigning in the ‘done and dusted’ section of history but that’s totally incorrect. Yes, although MLK saw many victories as a result of his campaigning and fighting for equal rights and today we have far more equal rights for people whether they’re black or white but the fight is far from over.
"No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’"
Although the paragraph before talks about being satisfied when white and black people can live without segregation and discrimination, I take the above sentence as covering far more than just the fight for racial equality. After all, we have far better racial equality (though by no means is it perfect) but I don’t think that anybody could say that "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
Do nations yet "rise up and live out the true meaning of [the] creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’"? No.
Do we "live in a nation where [people] will not be judged by the colour of their skin" or indeed their social standing, religious beliefs, sexuality, bank balance or background, "but by the content of their character."? No.
The issue in question that has been so bothersome to me is intolerance, and from it the injustice, judging, discrimination, slander and ignorance that is prevalent in today’s society.
It disgusts me, it really does. When I see it, hear it, watch it or read about the intolerance of people the world over for other people who are different I become so angry and sad. For some reason, over these past few weeks I’ve been exposed to more than your average number of stories about homophobic discrimination. Now I don’t know whether this is some sort of chosen period in which all the homophobes joined together and coordinated their gay-bashing but here are three quite separate stories which made my blood boil:
- A lesbian teenager has her high school prom cancelled because she wanted to bring a girl as her date.
- A gay guy has some random person write on his Facebook group wall insulting him and calling him mentally retarded. N.B. this is only in the first part of the video, the rest is for his subscribers.
- A gay couple are refused a room at a B&B because of their sexuality. Thankfully there is a slight glimmer of sunshine in this story in the form of strangers offering the couple places to stay for the night.
What is it that makes people think they have a right to treat anybody so badly just because they’re different? Those three examples above were all about sexuality related discrimination and that’s because it’s an issue very close to my heart but I know that I could go onto any news site and pull up articles about discrimination because of age, race, religion, sex and a host of other issues. Why is there still so much injustice and intolerance today? It seems that we’ve forgotten a part of MLK’s speech:
"…their destiny is tied up with our destiny… their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."
It’s interesting to note, following two of the news stories above, that in the following paragraph, he says this:
"We can never be satisfied as long as [we] cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities… We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only."
So fitting are those two examples that you could almost replace the last sentence with "signs stating ‘For Heterosexuals Only’".
I feel as if we’ve all just dropped the ball over the past few decades and that the debate is no longer as heated for many of us as it once was. I for one plan not to rest until I see equal rights prevail in the country in which I live, and not just in my country but in the rest of the world. I plan not to rest, not to stop lobbying and campaigning until two men can marry. Until two women can adopt. Until all women have the right to choose. Until pay is equal for men and women. Until racism is torn out of all politics. Until people can pray what they want, where they want, when they want to. Until parents are not hassled for presenting their beliefs and opinions to their children. Until free speech is free for all and cannot be bought by offending corporations. Until opinions can be expressed without a police caution. Until people learn that other people have different opinions and that this is their fundamental right. I don’t expect I’ll be resting for a while.
Let’s let (a slightly edited) Martin Luther King say the rest shall we:
"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today my friends – Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.
I have a dream that one day nations will rise up and live out the true meaning of the creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
This is our hope, and this is the faith with which I go about my day.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform jangling discords into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing… From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And so let freedom ring
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Muslims, homosexuals and heterosexuals, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"