Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope and Change

Assalaamu Aleikum

I sat at my desk this morning watching the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, and after the historic event itself I had to turn off the TV, ostensibly to get to work, but who can work? Since this morning I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster, sometimes crying, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes exhausted with the relief of waking up from a horrible nightmare. Several horrible nightmares.

President Barack Hussein Obama. Saying that aloud, or just repeating the phrase in my head, it’s like listening to the angels sing. I remember attending Dr. King’s march on Washington. I remember the TV news with Sheriff Clark in Selma Alabama attacking civil rights marchers with dogs and fire hoses. I remember the freedom rides, the marches, black friends telling me how they couldn’t get service at a restaurant or a hotel. Only two years before I was born my mother went to the only public high school in her county, and black students were not allowed. Any who wanted a high school education had to go to the next county, and their family had to make any arrangements for travel, lodging, etc… And with such segregation, what kind of school would be awaiting those who made the effort? In my lifetime we have gone from Jim Crow segregation to having a black President, no less one with an African name reflecting his Muslim roots.

I remember coming out in 1970 when Illinois was the only part of the US where lovemaking between two men wasn’t a criminal act, when being gay was a shameful secret, when the only ones who were out were the few weirdos too flaming or radical not be in a closet. And how they paid the price! Bashings were common, even murders. Forget getting a decent job, and you were very lucky if your family wouldn’t banish you.

Things do change. In fact change is the only constant.

Now in contact online with GLBT folks in Muslim countries I hear their stories and try to offer hope. “Oh, but here is not like in America” they tell me. No, it’s not like America now. It’s like America 40 years ago. And it will change. We have changed. You will change.

The world is all about change, and today we have seen a change that is a culmination of centuries of striving and sacrifice on the part of so many African Americans who worked so hard to give their children better chances than they ever had, not to become president, but sometimes just to get their kids a decent education or a decent meal, and all too often just to survive the slave market and the whip, to escape the dogs and the lynchings.

President Barack Hussein Obama. Oh, how I love saying that! I have my reservations and doubts about this particular man. I’ve followed his record, and as we should regard any politician I only trust him so far, but after what we’ve had, we can at least count on President Barack Hussein Obama to be a huge improvement. He has a very tough road ahead of him and I hope and pray that he is up to the challenges. Jimmy Carter, a good, humane, and very intelligent man stumbled under the load of wreckage he inherited from his Republican predecessors. We enter uncertain times with the handicaps of the last eight years of hideous malfeasance. And for all that the mere fact that we have a president named Barack Hussein Obama and that suddenly our White House is not so entirely white, all inspires hope beyond reason.

President Barack Hussein Obama. Why does a black man in that White house matter to gay kids in Pakistan, Yemen, and Malaysia? Exactly because he does show that there is change, there is reason to hope, that things can eventually get better, and that there is a historical wave washing humanity of its prejudices, all our most stupid bigotries.

When I was a little boy with my family at Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, I had no idea that one of the organizers at that march was a man named Bayard Rustin, an African-American community organizer who helped Dr. King learn the ways of Mahatma Gandhi. Rustin had been arrested and exposed as a homosexual 10 years earlier and it hurt his career in the movements for peace and racial equality. He was much kept away from the cameras for fear of scandal, but Dr. King kept him close and never shied away from Rustin’s friendship, never pushed him out of sight.

And just a few months ago we saw a movie about Harvey Milk, a gay community organizer in the 1970’s. He learned organizing tactics from the example of Martin Luther King who had learned from Bayard Rustin who learned from Gandhi’s followers in India. And Harvey Milk came to the same end as Dr. King, and Mahatma Gandhi, and so many others, and perhaps that’s part of why I’ve been crying today – for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, for the four little girls in Montgomery, for Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Viola Luzzo, and so many others who were murdered on this terrible road of necessity. And make no mistake, racism is still strong in America and there is so much work left to do, but here we are with our president Barack Hussein Obama, showing that for all the work ahead of us there is so much that is truly, at last behind us.

And with President Barack Hussein Obama we already have four open gays and lesbians in high posts in the White House. Just twenty years ago that would have been impossible. Change happens. Wherever you are, whenever you are living, change happens!

Never forget that. Never forget that God is compassionate and merciful and that no matter how bad things are, and however slow and difficult the road is, change happens.


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