Every December 1, I’m torn about what to write. Item #1: It’s World AIDS Day. “This year’s theme is “World AIDS Day 35: Remember and Commit.” This annual event serves as a reminder of the global struggle to end HIV-related stigma, an opportunity to honor those we have lost, and a rallying cry to commit to working toward a day when HIV is no longer a public health threat.
In the national goal of ending the HIV epidemic by 2030, GLAAD “noted an alarming generation gap. Gen Z, the youngest generation in population surveys, is the most diverse and most out LGBTQ generation in history. According to our study, Gen Z is also the least knowledgeable about HIV.” Ignorance is NOT bliss.
Here’s a JEOPARDY clue:
|#8974, aired 2023-11-16
|THE NAME OF THE LAW $1600: The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 was named for James Byrd Jr. & this Casper, Wyoming man
The $1,600 clue was a Triple Stumper, with no one even ringing in to say the name of Matthew Shepard, born on December 1, 1976, whose brutal death in Wyoming in 1998 because he was gay I mentioned here and elsewhere.
(In case you’ve forgotten Byrd, he was the black man “who was tied to a truck by two white supremacists and a third man who had no racist background, dragged behind it, and decapitated in Jasper, Texas” in the same year.”)
It only took a decade and a black President to enact the bill.
“The measure expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
“The bill also:
- Removes, in the case of hate crimes related to the race, color, religion, or national origin of the victim, the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity, like voting or going to school;
- Gives federal authorities greater ability to engage in hate crime investigations that local authorities choose not to pursue;
- Provides $5 million per year in funding for fiscal years 2010 through 2012 to help state and local agencies pay for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes;
- Requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to track statistics on hate crimes based on gender and gender identity (statistics for the other groups were already tracked).”
The other December 1st recollection involves Rosa Parks being arrested on a Montgomery city bus in 1955 for failing to cede her seat to a white man.
As I noted back in 2010, Rosa was hardly the first person unwilling to give up her bus seat. Claudette Colvin had done the same nine months earlier, but she was young, loud, and brash.
What got me thinking about this was a new movie about Bayard Rustin, which I have not yet seen. He was the most important civil rights organizer that most people never heard of. It was his study of Gandhian nonviolence that informed much of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s strategies. He was also instrumental in forming the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
You probably didn’t know him because he was gay at a time when, at best, it was inconvenient to the civil rights movement. At worst, he could have been jailed.
This makes me think about how well we marginalize folks who either don’t fit a particular narrative or else we cast aspersions on them to make them less than.
The defense in the Shepard case suggested that his ruthless murder was just a drug purchase gone wrong.
Many high-profile murder of a black person while dealing with law enforcement since the Black Lives Matter movement began has involved the victims painted as criminals. George Floyd allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill. Philando Castile was stopped for a traffic violation. Eric Gardner was selling loose cigarettes. And so on.
So, December 1st often fills me with hope. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 wouldn’t have happened if Martin Luther King Jr. and MANY others hadn’t used the Montgomery bus boycott as a launching pad for another phase of the Civil Rights movement.
But I have no illusion that these hard-won victories can’t be rolled back. Since Shelby County v. Holder, when SCOTUS gutted the Voting Right Act, the “Brennan Center has consistently found that states previously covered by the preclearance requirement have engaged in significant efforts to disenfranchise voters.”
Books being banned and challenged usually highlight black people, brown people, gay people, trans people… you get the drift.
My Christmas wish is for people to register and vote, not just in presidential years. Folks should be voting in school and library board selections, city and town council races, state and county legislative contests, etc. If possible, get involved in campaigns. Or – if you’re brave enough, and in this social media environment, it is brave – run yourself.