Friday, March 5, 2010

Fighting Hate With History

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report this week confirming that membership in extremist groups in the United States saw exponential growth in 2009.  The report, titled "Rage on the Right," said anti-government "patriot" groups saw a 244 percent increase in new groups in 2009 - with the total number of groups growing from 149 in 2008 to 512 (including 127 new militia groups) that year.
"This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern.  The people associated with the Patriot movement during its 1990s heyday produced an enormous amount of violence; most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead."
--  SPLC Intelligence Report editor Mark Potok.
Hate comes in all forms, but at its root it's not complicated.   Change frightens people.  Cultural shifts in cultural norms related to skin color, language, religion and gender roles have rocked this country to its core on a regular, almost rhythmic, schedule.

One of the more recent of these shifts centers around sexual orientation.  As the overall climate of hate in this country has intensified, hatred specifically directed towards the LGBT community has intensified as well.

On one hand, this new climate has set the LGBT equality movement back on its heels.  Those working to pass marriage equality at both the federal and state levels have faced multiple setbacks.  Activists are still both stunned and frustrated in the aftermath of California's Proposition 8 still.  Larger LGBT organizations face uphill battles over ENDA and DADT.  LGBT individuals and communities are witholding political contributions around the country in protest.

On the other hand, though, it appears that the general pattern of social change is simply taking its course.  Before each breakthrough -the Suffragettes, the Civil Rights Movement, and others - the tectonic shifts of culture are inevitably preceeded by an intense moment of cultural conservatism.  As  change looms in the distance, those that are most opposed to its approach expend unusual amounts of energy to stop it.

I choose to believe that is where we find ourselves today.  This moment - as we face unprecedented backlash against the very idea that LGBT people could be legally and socially equal to their non-LGBT neighbors - is a necessary evil.  Our job is to survive it.  And to ensure that our community's children survive it free of the physical, psychic and social scars that so many of us have had to bear.

The truth is, there is only one way to survive intact.  And that is to carry our stories - our history - our truths - with us.  Without them, we have no community of our own.  We have no way to reassure our youth that they have solid, safe roots from which to draw strength when things get hard.

If we don't actively preserve our own stories, our community's history and legacy, we will lose them forever.  And we will lose a critical part of what we have been fighting so hard to acheive.  Political and legal equality will mean less if we don't collectively remember what it means to live without it.

The only way to win against those that are working so hard to destroy us, is to faithfully remember how far we've come - and that this is simply the last, painful - but so very necessary - step at the end of a very, very long road. 

There are many efforts underway to collect and preserve the LGBT history that is all around us.  A small handful of them are below. Please feel free to suggest additional resources in the comments section.


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Richard Keefe said...

You really have to take Mr. Potok's numbers with a grain of salt. Mr. Potok is a fundraiser, with no legal or law enforcement background.

Last March, Mr. Potok added 20 chapters of something he calls "the Georgia Militia" to his "Hate Map" fundraising tool.

The problem is, Mr. Potok cannot locate 18 of those alleged chapters, so he simply added 18 empty slots marked "Georgia Militia" to pad out his numbers.

See it for yourselves at the SPLC web site:

In all, 29 of the 65 "hate groups" Mr. Potok has designated for Georgia, (something even the FBI cannot do...) are homeless. That's nearly half.

Nationwide, 247 of the 1,018 "hate groups" designated by Mr. Potok are phantoms, (25%), and he provides no concrete information on any of the others.

We "know" there is a "hate group" in Kalamazoo or Podunk because Mr. Potok tells us so.

Sadly, hate IS a reality in the world, but Mr. Potok is paid $150,000 a year to find "hate groups" behind every rock and tree, and if he can't find them, he simply makes them up, as he clearly did in Georgia.

Thanks to Mr. Potok's imaginative efforts, donors sent the SPLC more than $106,000 donor-dollars each and every day last year (that's $4,400 every hour...) based on Potok's numbers.

That figure doesn't include millions in interest earned by the quarter-BILLION dollars in cash reserves.

I didn't agree with Ronald Reagan on much, but one thing he got right was his advice to "trust, but verify."