Why I'm Marching: A Rural American View
|by Butch McKay|
There has been a lot of discussion regarding the Millennium March on Washington for Equality, to be held April 30, 2000. Some of the most often asked questions are "Why march?" and "Why now?" and "What are we marching for?"
Everyone has an opinion and I'm not here to support or reject anyone's personal views, only to offer you reasons why I will be marching. Growing up in the South and being gay was not always a comfortable life. Early on I learned and mastered the art of living a double life. While I prided myself on never denying my homosexuality when asked about it, I never took a stand or spoke out on issues affecting the gay community. I was afraid of losing my employment, and losing my friends, and fearful of bodily harm.
However, if I was totally honest, I would tell you that I was also suffering from internalized homophobia. Having been a missionary with the Southern Baptist Church, I had been taught that to be gay was the ultimate sin. Thankfully I had a wonderful and supportive family that assured me that there was nothing wrong with me. So one of the reasons I'm marching is to send a clear message to the religious right that I'm reclaiming my spirituality.
I live with shame of standing silently at the grave of my friend John who was brutally murdered and his naked body dumped beside a busy highway outside of Birmingham, Alabama. He was murdered by a person he had provided a home for and had shared a bed. The guy pleaded he murdered him because he made a pass at him. He was found not guilty. I failed to speak out against this injustice for fear of repercussions.
I live with the shame of silently attending the funeral of my good lesbian friend Janice. Janice loved motorcycles, and while working at a gay bar in her hometown, she met a guy who was riding a new Harley. He offered to ride her home. She had previously waited on him and felt safe with him, thinking he was gay. Her dream ride was to be her last. He took her into the woods and raped and murdered her and hid her body. She was found days later. Again I said nothing. I only mourned. I wasn't alone in my silence, few if any spoke out for fear of being outed. I will never be silent again! I will be marching for John and Janice, and for all victims of hate crimes and call on national leaders to pass and enforce hate crime legislation.
I have a loving partner of 22 years. We have no rights or protections when it comes to employment. Our straight married friends enjoy benefits denied to us. We have been together longer than most of them. I will be marching for fair and equitable employment practices.
We live at the beach in a wonderful scenic atmosphere in which to bring up children, but we are denied the right to adopt. Florida remains the only state where gays cannot legally adopt. I will be marching for legal unions or marriage for gay couples and the right to adopt.
The year 2000 is a mile marker for all people. I cannot think of a more appropriate time to take a stand and be visible on issues that are so critical to our future. I will be marching to draw attention to the importance of the voting booth. I will be calling on all our community to register and to vote. I will be marching for political gain.
As Director of an AIDS Service Organization and with eleven years of service to the HIV/AIDS community, I have another reason to march. AIDS is not over and it is time to recommit our community, our time, and our resources to fighting this war. I go to Washington, D.C. and to Tallahassee on a regular basis to meet professionally with legislators, and will continue to do so, but often it is necessary to take to the streets to show massive support for our program needs. I will be marching for the thousands of lost lives claimed by this epidemic. I have personally had to say good bye to almost eight hundred people lost to AIDS. I will be marching for the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS. I will be marching for AIDS awareness, funding, education and prevention.
Last and perhaps the most important reason I will be marching, will be to call attention to the plight of sexual minorities in rural America. Our issues and goals are similar to those of all our brothers and sisters regardless of where they live, but there is a big difference in the way in which we achieve them. We cannot afford the same level of visibility in small towns that people can enjoy in metropolitan areas. We rarely have the backing of our local officials or the support of our friends, neighbors, and often our families. Coming out is a very difficult choice, but one which I believe is necessary. I attended the March on Washington in 1993 and it totally changed my life. Returning home to the Florida panhandle, I faced my own homophobia, and gained the strength to deal with the larger community homophobia. I agreed to an interview with the local paper to talk about the March and the issues that gay people face living in the Bible Belt. That interview was total liberation for me and made me stronger, more self secured, and prouder than I have ever been. In small towns we depend on federal mandates and protections as the most effective way to secure our freedom. I will be marching for equal rights for our citizens in all our communities, especially those in the rural areas of this great nation.
Each of you has to make your own decision of whether to support and participate in the Millennium March on Washington for Equality. You can support the March and still support the important local issues facing you at home. I encourage you to do both; both are empowering and important and each can contribute to the strength of the other.
PRIDE is not a birthright, it is a COMMITMENT!
Butch McKay is a member of the Board of Directors, Millennium March on Washington for Equality.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 14, Oct. 15, 1999