January 17, 2011

Remembering MLK And The 1960s

When I was a junior at Boston College, I took a class called "Remembering the 1960's".  It was taught by a woman who lived the decade and knew the subject intimately.  In fact, she had attended Bob Dylan's bar mitzvah!  Anyway, it was an amazing class as she told the story of how the decade that changed this country actually began in the 1950's, most notably in the 1955 Montgomery, AL bus boycott organized by a young preacher named Martin Luther King.  As she told the story of Dr. King and his use of non-violence to change the hateful Jim Crow laws across the South, I was deeply moved and also somewhat inspired.  Dr. King's words and actions showed a great nation that it had forgotten one of its founding principles...that ALL men were created equal.

While many in my class bemoaned the fact that the 80's were not as interesting as the '60s and that there was nothing to fight against, I knew this was not true. The AIDS epidemic was killing the gay community and polarizing the straight world and, once again, there was the assumption that a certain group of people (gays and lesbians this time around) were not so equal as the rest of Americans.  I wondered why the nation viewed us as The Other?  I thought one reason was that this country hardly knew us, outside of what they'd gleaned from Elton John and episodes of SOAP.  And so I started writing openly and honestly about my experience as a gay man.  It began as short stories in a writing class that same year, then became films and books and even some plays.  But, looking back, I can trace the inspiration for all my writing back to that history class in which I learned about the civil rights movement and how one man raised his voice and made a difference.  Even though I was not a politician or a preacher, I thought I would do what I could to show people that we were not The Other.  We were human, just like everyone else, and wanted the same things that all Americans are promised; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Anyway, as I reflect today on the the legacy of Martin Luther King, I can see that the struggle for equality and equal rights is not over.  Though we have certainly come a long ways since his death more than 40 years ago (we've got an African American President!), his remarkable dream is not quite complete.  Gays and lesbians still suffer from hate and discrimination and a lack of equality when it comes to some pretty basics rights, including the right to marry.  So in honor of Dr. King, I urge you to look around and do what you can to support the continuing struggle for equality for all.

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