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Politics need not serve self-interest alone

Alll politics may be local, but your politics don't need to be driven by self-interest alone, writes Amy Hunter.

The promise 

The United States: "We hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal…” Many of you, American or otherwise will find these hallowed words familiar. They come from America’s Declaration of Independence. They form the first notes of a clarion call heard now for over 200 years and which resonates still in the souls of oppressed peoples the world over. 

As is so often the case, words are difficult to translate into reality. No matter how “self evident” the principles behind them may be, our self-interests will often trump the broader good they imply. Those principles can become conveniently forgotten when it serves a political expedient or financial gain to ignore them.

High ethical ideals are twisted, when fear that the promise they hold insists you sacrifice something dearly held. Universally accepted moral axioms are readily perverted and held high as the moniker of things quite the opposite of what those who penned them intended.

America’s history is rife with struggles to live up to the magnificent ideals embodied in these simple phrases. Nearly all of the United State’s historical record of conflict, both foreign and domestic in some manner or form is imbued with and shaped by the meaning of these words.

The unfortunate reality

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons are the only two classes of citizens in the United States that are legally second-class citizens; Meaning, that there are no protected class provisions under federal law against discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Every other person in American society enjoys protections against discrimination as a matter of course. Discrimination against LGBT persons is routine and it is legal.

That leaves it up to the states and local municipalities to provide protections. State and local laws and ordinances leave the LGBT communities with, at best, a hodgepodge of inconsistent laws and protections (or none at all) that roughly conform to the ideological predilections of the regions in which they have been enacted.

Many areas have large, sufficiently organized LGBT populations to bring non-discrimination measures to vote but are unlikely to overcome the fear and ignorance of the general population. Many times “old” money and entrenched power in a community will quash any measure before it has the chance to gain much public traction.

Organizations that are natural allies for the LGBT communities and which routinely provide services and resources to LGBT clients suddenly become equivocal when asked for public endorsement in a campaign setting. Social justice often must take a lesser role when Executive Directors and Board members of these institutions find themselves forced to choose between the financial health of their organization and public positioning.

Dependant on conservative money to keep their organization afloat, they cannot risk the fiscal difficulties they will face by losing a major contributor who does not want to be publicly associated, even indirectly, with the LGBT communities.

Now it's personal 

Recently, while working on one of these “hodgepodge” local initiatives,  a couple of things struck me hard. I had expected the first: Opponents of the LGBT equality movement are not above doing or saying anything – no matter how false, to control the public dialogue.

I knew this to be true from observing other campaigns but this was different. It was my hometown and I was unprepared for the ferocity of emotion I felt when I saw my transgender brothers and sisters portrayed as freaks and paedophiles.

Second: in the process of doing research polling to discover how much support we had for the measure, it became clear that many people assumed that LGBT people were protected as a matter of course by existing federal civil rights legislation, therefore, an ordinance was not necessary.  Yet another layer of ignorance to be overcome and which the opposition was busily exploiting.

 'All politics is local' 

It has been said, “All politics is local”. That may be true in the sense that what drives most political decisions are the self-interests of the individual. And that may be just fine when it comes to a school millage or a zoning proposal but, when the question being considered carries with it significant implications for the lives of others, self-interest must be tempered with compassion. 

At first glance, for those who do not embrace diversity, how easy it must seem to make a choice. Of course, the LGBT communities do not need to think at all. Our default position is often one of righteous indignation when our opposition dismisses us as freaks, or shouts that we don’t deserve equality and shouldn’t enjoy the same basic protections they take for granted.

We know that the LGBT family is full of intelligent, passionate, and articulate and…normal people. On the surface, it would appear that our detractors do not know this, or worse, don’t care.

Sometimes, when you lie outside of the mainstream, people are quick to make assumptions about what you do or do not need and what you are or are not worthy of. Those who perpetrate what we perceive to be social injustice do not see it that way at all. They cannot understand why we think we deserve equality anymore than we can understand why they think we don’t.

Becoming angry is the natural reaction and let’s face it, anger feels good. Stomping about in self-righteous indignation feels good too while adding the illusion of being in control. Both of these highly charged emotional states block our ability to respond reasonably. By responding reasonably, I am not suggesting that we attempt to sit down and have reasoned discourse.

Bigotry and ignorance do not lend themselves well to productive debate therefore, it is imperative that we take the initiative to break through our own fear driven anger and apathy.

Change is hard but not impossible. America’s road toward social justice is a bumpy one. Institutionalized bigotry supported by twisted religious justifications is the hallmark of every struggle for equality in our history. 

The question becomes do I as a person and do we, as a community have the political will? I think we do. It is going to take a well-orchestrated effort. It will take hundreds of volunteers, a lot of money, and sacrifice from all of us.

Volunteer your time to make phone calls, knock on doors, man phones, and handout flyers. Recruit other volunteers. Open your home for a few hours for a fundraising house party. Help organize an event—maybe a dinner party. Write a letter to the editor. Speak at your church. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Talk to your co-workers.

The payoff comes from knowing that everything you have done to help is in the best interest of us all. Proving that, indeed, “all politics is local” but that your politics do not need to be driven by self-interest alone. I know for myself that when I act out of a genuine desire to help another, I stand a little straighter, and hold my head a little higher and I would not trade that for anything.

Think about this:

 It is possible, just possible that your actions may move us all a bit closer to realizing the promise held in those few simple words penned over two hundred years ago. I for one believe that that is self evident. 

Amy Hunter focuses most of her energy on advocacy and political activism for the transgender, lesbian and gay communities. She is the Transgender Services Coordinator for the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center (KGLRC) and runs TransCend, a transgender support and advocacy group for KGLRC. Amy holds seats on the Boards of Directors for Michigan Equality and the KGLRC. She is a contributor for US-produced national and regional blogs: The Bilerico Project, Pam’s House Blend and Rainbow Mittens, and is associate editor of The Scavenger

Amy credits her spouse Cindy as her inspiration. Together, they love sharing their home in the woods near Kalamazoo, Michigan with four cats: Duncan, Thomas, Annie and Frosty.





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