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Having “The Talk” With My Sons

By Sarah Thach

My partner and I are the mothers of three beautiful sons aged 10, 6, and 4. Our youngest two boys are African-American, and my partner, our oldest boy, and I are white. Currently in our country there are so many exciting advances for LGBT marriage equality and so much violence against African Americans. This juxtaposition is painful. It is amazing to watch the rapid adoption of marriage equality across the land and poignant to see the dramatic shift in popular opinion about LGBT people. And it is frightening to witness African American boys and men being killed in interactions with law enforcement over and over again throughout our country.

This summer and fall it hurt to see many white friends weigh in on Facebook about Robin Williams’ death and remain silent about Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s deaths. It hurt to hear them discuss the rioting in Ferguson more than the precipitating police killing. It felt as if they did not think these deaths were relevant to their lives. I am guilty of not fully noticing my connectedness too – despite having grown up in a town adjacent to Ferguson, I did not feel fully sucker-punched by Michael Brown’s death until I learned his mother worked in my home town.

When many LGBT youth died – taking their own lives after being bullied about their sexual orientation – Dan Savage spurred a movement telling youth how “it gets better.” I am afraid our country sends the opposite message to African American boys: as you hit adolescence, others stop seeing how beautiful you are and start seeing you as a menace.

I do not want to have “the talk” with my sons, telling them to be careful of and submissive around police officers and other authority figures. I do not want to raise my white and African American sons differently – to prepare my African American sons for discrimination while resting assured my white son is not as likely to be harassed by police officers, watched closely in stores, or have teachers ignore his potential and not challenge him. I do not want to teach my three boys that the world is less safe for two of them. I do not want to be the instrument that brings down the oppressive burden of racism on my precious 6 and 4 year olds.

We named our youngest son after Bayard Rustin, the African American civil rights leader who helped Martin Luther King embrace nonviolent civil disobedience and organized the 1963 March on Washington. The only reason he is not a household name yet is because he was gay and purposely kept out of the limelight. I do not want to crush that rebellious, justice-seeking spirit in my boys. And I am afraid that spirit could get them killed.

LGBT people have gained acceptance in popular culture in part because we are embedded in every family. Straight family members, friends, and coworkers who know and love us recognize the injustice of laws treating us differently. Harvey Milk was right about how important it was for us to come out. As white LGBT people raise African American and African children (which we seem more likely to do than straight white couples), brown-skinned children are part of our extended families and social networks. My father, a good ol’ boy from Oklahoma raised with pretty traditional views, embraced my African American sons as he did my partner when I came out. White friends told me they thought of my boys when they heard the police officers had not been indicted.

I think we white parents of African Americans have an important role to play in holding (white-dominated) institutions accountable to fair treatment for all. And in standing in solidarity with – and learning from – African American mothers and fathers who have been navigating these injustices with their children a lot longer. It pains me when I hear stories from African American moms about how their boys are not challenged academically as much as their daughters, but are more likely to be suspended from school. But these are not new experiences for them. It hurts me when I hear white parents’ incredulity that their privilege does not protect their African American children.

As a white parent of African American boys, I love my children with the protective fierceness of a mama bear. But that does not mean I do not have some unexamined white privilege, some racism smeared on me that I have not scraped off yet. When I do something stupid, I want my African American friends to let me know, to point it out just as if I had spinach in my teeth – “hey, you got something there, might want to remove it before you go out in public”… might want to remove it before you hurt your kids.

I want my white friends to notice that all of these murders of African American boys and men affect them too. I want my white friends who have already noticed this, who commented on the lack of indictment with cynicism, to act. I want my activist white and African American friends who are already leading marches, writing blogs and challenging unjust policies to gently spur the rest into action and give the benefit of the doubt when people unintentionally act racist.

I want to hold my sons tight and keep them safe. I want to keep your children safe too. I want us all to keep each other’s children safe and help them grow to their full potential, enriching the world with their gifts.

Sarah Thach is a health educator promoting healthy aging and racial health equity in Asheville, NC.  

Thach-Walton family

Sarah Thach (standing) with her family.

Fifth Circuit will hear appeal in Mississippi marriage case

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has announced that it will hear oral arguments in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant on January 9th.

“We are very pleased that the United State Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has agreed to expedite the appeal of Judge Reeves’ ruling. This means that the voices of gay of Mississippians will be heard when the Fifth Circuit takes up the issue of the equal protection and due process rights of gay people.  We look forward to presenting our arguments to the Fifth Circuit,” says Roberta Kaplan, lead counsel in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant.

Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant will be heard by the same Fifth Circuit panel of judges as the De Leon and Robicheaux cases from Texas and Louisiana, respectively. The motion to expedite the appeal can be downloaded at: http://www.southernequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Order-re-Expedite-Appeal.pdf

Joce and Carla are plaintiffs in  Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant.

Joce and Carla are plaintiffs in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant.

Today the court also granted the State of Mississippi’s motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction issued by Judge Reeves in his November 25th ruling.

Kaplan adds, “Our clients and other gay couples throughout Mississippi are of course disappointed that the Fifth Circuit extended the stay of Judge Reeves’ ruling. However, we are confident that the Fifth Circuit will affirm Judge Reeves’ opinion so that marriages can begin in Mississippi as soon as possible.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals released a briefing schedule for the hearing. The brief by the defense (State of Mississippi) will be due on December 19, 2014; the brief from the plaintiffs will be due on December 24, 2014, and the State of Mississippi’s reply brief will be due on January 2, 2015.

The full briefing schedule is available at: http://www.southernequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Fifth-Circuit-Briefing-Schedule.pdf

Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant challenges the constitutionality of marriage laws in Mississippi that ban marriage between same-sex couples and deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed out-of-state. The lawsuit was filed on October 20, 2014, on behalf of two same-sex couples – Andrea Sanders and Rebecca Bickett, and Jocelyn Pritchett and Carla Webb – and the Campaign for Southern Equality, which represents its members across Mississippi.

An estimated 3,484 same-sex couples live across Mississippi, with 26 percent of them raising children. The plaintiff couples are both parents to young children.

Lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.  Plaintiffs are also represented by Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd, based in Jackson, Mississippi, and Dale Carpenter, a professor of civil rights and civil liberties law at the University of Minnesota Law School. Kaplan was lead counsel in United States v. Windsor, the landmark case that struck down sections of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and paved the way to marriage equality from coast to coast.

Black Lives Matter

By Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director, Campaign for Southern Equality

It is hard to find words as I process the fact that a grand jury did not bring charges against the officer who killed Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY.

But silence can’t be an option when so many are hurting and grieving, and when national wounds, both old and new, are so raw.

I have just returned with my family from St. Louis, which is the hometown of my wife, Meghann. The city is electric with tension right now. People are living into that tension – protesting, organizing, and praying as they seek a path forward. The NAACP is leading a march across Missouri to call for an America in which young men of color have the freedom to be who they are, the freedom to thrive, rather than being profiled and at risk when they enter public space. And today similar protests are taking place across the country, calling for justice.

For me, this is both a broad national concern and a very personal issue, as I worry about the safety of my brother, a young man of color, and about the safety of people of color whom I love.

Also in my heart are friends who work in law enforcement, who show up each day taking seriously their oath to protect and serve and who often encounter real risk in their work. This includes many who are part of the Campaign for Southern Equality family and who have been with us every step of the way, helping to ensure our safety as we take public action and handle safety threats.

These are the human and personal terms in which I am experiencing this moment. 

But to understand race in America we must move beyond the personal and also look at structural and historical forces. We cannot understand what is happening in 2014 if we do not understand what was happening in 1964, or 1864. The past is with us every step of the way.

For example, I am keenly aware of a systemic tension when we look at how the justice system is engaged with LGBT rights and with racial justice issues. Right now, the judicial system is working to dismantle discriminatory laws that target LGBT people, as one federal court after another strikes down state marriage bans. Here, the judiciary is providing recourse to achieve equality where other democratic institutions have failed to. Federal and local law enforcement have also been an ally in our work, protecting us from threats and accompanying us at actions to ensure safety.

But when it comes to the fates of black men in America today, our justice system is failing. Across the country, we see patterns of systemic inequality and violence in day-to-day interactions between law enforcement and people of color. And with each such incident, we see a broken trust further eroded. When an unarmed black man is killed by police in broad daylight – as happened to Eric Garner – there must be a trial, there must be justice.

We have to be talking about these issues, and listening, and learning. The only thing that is not an option is more silence. And as we move forward in this national conversation, we cannot be afraid to disagree. Our country can handle disagreement, our relationships can handle disagreement. I know this is possible because every day I see us having a complicated conversation about LGBT life in the South – breaking a thick veil of silence that has surrounded us for our entire lives.

As an LGBT person, I count on straight allies to have my back and also know that allies play a crucial role in our efforts to achieve full equality. Similarly, white people must be vocal allies around racial justice issues. To be silent in this moment is to risk complicity. 

So much is at stake in our country right now. As a person of faith, prayer is a guiding force for me, and I have been praying a lot – for all the families impacted by the violence we are witnessing, for those overcome by grief and rage, for those who are seeking a path of reconciliation. I pray that we will take care of each other in this moment, and always.

Mississippi's ban on marriage equality struck down

U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves issued a ruling this evening in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, striking down Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage. Judge Reeves placed a 14-day stay on the order.

The order can be found here: http://bit.ly/1thJuaT

“Soon, families throughout this country will be gathering together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Our clients and thousands of other gay people throughout the State of Mississippi can now enjoy their turkey and pecan pie with their families thankful that a court has recognized that their government must treat them the same as everyone else. This is a big day since it means that gay Mississippians will have the right to be married in their own home state that they love so much. It is also a big day for our country and for our Constitution, since it means that Americans in yet another state can now appreciate that gay people, who are their neighbors, friends and family members, have the right to equal protection of the laws,” said lead counsel Roberta Kaplan.

“We are overjoyed that gay and lesbian families in Mississippi are finally equal under the law and that a shameful, discriminatory law has been struck down. As soon as marriages begin, gay Mississippi families will be able to conduct their lives knowing that a safety net of legal protections surrounds them, and knowing that their fundamental dignity has been affirmed by their home state,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of CSE.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Mississippi, has scheduled oral arguments in two similar marriage cases from Texas and Louisiana for the week of January 5, 2015. Currently, same-sex couples can marry . . . → Read More: Mississippi’s ban on marriage equality struck down

There's lots of equality news this week...and it's only Wednesday!

Colleen Condon and her wife Nichols Bleckley pose with their marriage license after Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday, November 19.Source: South Carolina Equality

On the heels of a flurry of legal developments Tuesday afternoon, Probate Judge Irvin Condon of Charleston County, South Carolina began issuing marriage licenses this morning! Judge Condon did not wait for the stay deadline of November 20 that had been set in the ruling striking down South Carolina’s ban on marriage equality.

Marriage equality is now the law of the land in South Carolina and LGBT couples will be able to receive marriage licenses across the state Thursday, November 20. (There is a 24-hour waiting period in South Carolina to marry.)

In Mississippi, we’re waiting for a ruling from Judge Carlton W. Reeves in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, which will hopefully strike down Mississippi’s marriage ban. We don’t know when Judge Reeves will rule, but to put things in perspective, a ruling in the next week would be considered fast.

As we’re finally breaking through across the South, it’s hard to believe it has been a month since we won marriage equality in North Carolina.

An important article about the role that faith communities have played in this movement for LGBT rights was just published by ThinkProgress. Please take a moment to read it: The Unlikely Story of How Religion Helped Bring Same-Sex Marriage to . . . → Read More: There’s lots of equality news this week…and it’s only Wednesday!