An Open Letter to Freedom to Marry Ohio (And Too May Other LGBT Rights Organizations)

Dear Freedom to Marry Ohio:

LGBT Rainbow Flag in a Ohio Outline

By Map_of_Ohio_highlighting_Coshocton_County.svg: Gay_flag.svg: derivative work: Fry1989 eh? 00:49, 12 January 2012 (UTC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I will start by admitting that you are not the entire focus of my ire. You are not even necessarily the center of it. However, you are the organization that most recently committed the sin of far too many LGBT rights organizations that are dominated by white, middle-class people.

You weren’t paying attention.

Well, you weren’t paying attention and you quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. on a pretty fraught day in the United States to be co-opting Civil Rights/Black Liberation leaders and not connecting with the movement.

I understand that Freedom to Marry Ohio has a very specific mission, and that is to repeal Ohio’s Defense of Marriage Act and open up legal marriage in Ohio to two consenting adults, regardless of their gender. You aren’t necessarily a racial or class rights organization and I haven’t seen much awareness of the ways in which you integrate the ways that other aspects of identity such as race or class (among others, of course) affect the priorities, needs, and experiences of LGBT people in Ohio.

This is a common problem in LGBT rights organizations, not yours alone.

However, your organization is the one that made the decision to send out a fundraising email in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s Thursday decision regarding Prop 8 and DOMA. Your organization is the one that sent that email today with this as the first line: “The time is always right to do what is right.” — Dr. Martin Luther King

Yes. That’s a great quote. Dr. King was an amazing speaker and said many, many quoteable things about social justice and equality. He was also the mouthpiece and figurehead of the Civil Rights/Black Liberation Movement in this country, one that fought hard for a number of legal and social changes.

One of those changes was the Voting Rights Act of 1964, an act that was functionally-decimated today in 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court.

TODAY. This happened today, a mere 4 hours before you sent out this fundraising email. Today, many poor people and people of color discovered that protections to changes in voting laws were no longer in place because they worked so well. Today, our constitutional right to vote and participate in democracy was set back 50 years.

There are lots of things that affect the lives of LBGT Ohioans – housing rights, employment protection, harassment, and, yes, marriage. But we also have other identities that are at play in our lives, and poor Ohioans and people of color in this state have just had what could be a huge blow to our voting rights, including those of us that are LGBT.

Not only would it not have hurt to acknowledge this devastating decision and the important ties between all social justice movements, it really has to happen. For too long, mainstream LGBT rights organizations have failed in this and moved ahead as if the most salient part of justice has to do with my sexual orientation.

There is no path to justice that leaves people behind. The combination of your poor choice of opening line and lack of commentary on the Shelby decision makes it suspiciously clear that Freedom to Marry Ohio can’t see where alliances need to be built.

In disappointment,
Krista Benson

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