THE NEW POOR PEOPLES CAMPAIGN: THE SOCIAL MOVEMENT YOU NEED TO KNOW

by Nicole Allen

the US Capitol Building
Poor People’s Campaign: Call for Moral Revival. US Capitol, Washington, DC. Source: Leeann Cafferata, Creative Commons

We are coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses…. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty.”Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

In his last sermon, King echoed the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty to call for national and global attention to address the dire economic circumstances of the poor. He and others founded the Poor People’s Campaign to influence how Americans view poverty. While the 1960s are behind us, poverty is not. A new organization, a new Poor People Campaign, aims to address continuing economic privation.

Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the Poor People’s Campaign (also known as the PPC and the Poor People March) following sustained civil rights action and hard-won legislation. These actions and laws included bus boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, the formation of the Direct Action Task Force, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. From its beginning in 1968, the PPC advocated wages that were high enough to support a “decent life.” It strove to become a powerful, social force to change how America understands poverty and worked to end it. It criticized the portrayal of stereotypes of the nation’s poor as dirty and unhealthy. The Poor People’s Campaign was a populist struggle against economic inequality and a reform movement that questioned how race related to economic and political power. Poverty and prejudice were “related enemies,” according to King. He believed that the poor could effectively confront the power structure if they had economic security, expanded education opportunities, improved housing, and unemployment income.

King recognized that poverty, racism, and power were (and are still) intricately linked. He claimed that, “African Americans are not truly free until they reach economic security.” In 1968, a PPC brochure proclaimed, “Poor people are kept in poverty because they are kept from power.” The organization lobbied against dehumanization and poverty wages. It advocated for changes in the federal food program and a significant expansion of food stamps.

Even though King mentioned “racial imperialism” as the primary cause of poverty among African Americans, his anti-poverty proposals were not limited to black Americans.

A committee of hundred religious leaders from several racial backgrounds helped organize the PPC. More than fifty multiracial organizations attended the first meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in March 1968. Attendees hoped to organize a march of thousands of people on Washington, DC to unify the nation. These plans shattered with the assassination of Reverend King in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

Ohio Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Week #3 Theme: War Economy: Militarism & Proliferation of Gun Violence. 5/29/18 – Columbus, Ohio Statehouse. Source: Becker1999, Creative Commons.

Following this blow, the key leaders of the PPC, including the SCLC’s new president, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and King’s widow Coretta Scott King, worked to coordinate a new march on Washington, DC. Their goal was to pressure Congress to pass legislation to address employment and housing issues as well as fund a war on poverty. The planned PPC march of 1968 divided into three stages. The first stage was the creation of Resurrection City, a makeshift town at the National Mall from Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. In May and June 1968, this 15-acre urban area served as the home of 1,500 to 3,000 occupants of different racial backgrounds. Resurrection City included a makeshift city hall, a clinic, a general store, and a day care center named for Coretta Scott King. Even though these amenities only covered the bare necessities, some residents received medical attention for the first time in their lives. According to the new PPC, such conditions persist in 2018, as many poor Americans lack health insurance or adequate medical care.

Resurrection City became a symbol for the PPC and made poor people and their fundamental human rights visible to the world. Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando, and Barbra Streisand visited Resurrection City, reflecting the attention the encampment received and illustrating the longstanding relationship between celebrities and social issues that continues to this day. The activists arrived from nine regions of the country in groups called caravans. They camped in tents and endured terrible weather that brought severe rain and mud, forcing many residents to build primitive A-frame homes. Resurrection City’s permit expired on June 23, 1968. Police forcibly evicted people (sometimes with tear gas) from the settlement the next day. The second stage of the march would have consisted of hallmarks of the civil rights movement: civil disobedience, nonviolent mass demonstrations, and police arrests. The third stage of the march was a planned national boycott of large industries and shopping areas to pressure business leaders to acknowledge the movement’s demands.

Resurrection City and the other actions organized by the PPC did not produce the results King, the SCLC, and other activists had envisioned. The assassinations of Reverend King and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and the Vietnam War hurt the movement causing many to blame Resurrection City leader Reverend Abernathy for the movement’s lack of leadership and disorganization. Racial prejudice, social frictions, and tension between Southern and Northern citizens eroded the movement further. While the movement was down, it was not out. While the Poor People Campaign’s proposed antipoverty legislation did not occur, the organization’s actions did continue discussions about poverty, race, and power. These sustained conversations helped contribute to the launch of the new Poor People’s Campaign (also known as the new PPC or the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival) in 2018. Like the PPC of the 1960s, the new PPC consists of a diverse coalition of activists battling poverty and racism, white supremacy, and greed.

Ohio Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Week #3 Theme: War Economy: Militarism & Proliferation of Gun Violence. 5/29/18 – Columbus, Ohio Statehouse. Source: Becker1999, Creative Commons.

Led by Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, a Disciples of Christ minister and the leader of the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina, and the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, a Presbyterian minister and the co-director of New York’s Kairos (the Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice), the new PPC calls for a national moral revival. The organization claims that although the United States is among the wealthiest of nations, it harbors severe economic inequalities that have persisted for decades, even centuries. Americans continue segregation by their living wages, according to the PPC. The organization has chapters in most U.S. states and strives to highlight problems associated with poverty and inequality. The new PPC worries that recent U.S. federal tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy have hurt less affluent members of society. Additionally, organizers reveal concern with increased funding to battle illegal immigration and illegal drugs, which can lead to rampant addiction. It fears that this funding detracts money and attention away from much-needed poverty programs.

To counter such power imbalances, the new PPC hopes to see a reinforcement of the Voting Rights Act to reduce the voting suppression of convicted felons. The modern-day activists of the new PPC argue that negativity surrounding poverty in America has persisted for centuries. They argue that an entrenched culture of racism and discrimination exists within the economic and political systems of the United States, and favors those with large bank accounts. The new PPC wants people to reconsider how they think about poverty. It emphasizes that poor people are victims of a power struggle, not moral failures. It asks for a moral revival to combat

  • While the U.S. economy has grown, the inequity between the richest and poorest Americans has also grown. Many lack money and health insurance.
  • Systemic racism. Imprisoned African Americans who are unable to vote, African American residents of Flint, Michigan grappling with a tainted water supply, and Muslims and immigrants facing discrimination are all examples of racism in American society.
  • In 2017, the U.S. federal government spent $190 billion on antipoverty programs while it spent $668 billion on the military.
  • Ecological destruction. Flint’s tainted water illustrates how ecological problems and pollution often affect minorities and the poor, who do not have the economic or political means to combat such problems.

The new PPC also boasts some familiar faces. Bernard Lafayette, a friend of Reverend King and the national coordinator of the first PPC, joined organization to train a new generation of PPC activists.

The question remains whether the new PPC will encounter the same problems Reverend King and other organizers faced during the 1960s: Is the message heard and received?

Ohio Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Week #3 Theme: War Economy: Militarism & Proliferation of Gun Violence. 5/29/18 – Columbus, Ohio Statehouse. Source: Becker1999, Creative Commons.

New PPC activists arrived on Capitol Hill on February 5, 2018, to deliver their message of economic justice to the U.S. Congress. The Capitol Police asked them to leave before they gave this message. Fifty years after the formation of the first Poor People’s Campaign, it is clear that its messages and struggles endure. The new PPC organized a 40-day event in May to late June 2018 that featured nonviolent action by the poor, clergy, and sympathetic allies. Echoing the inclusiveness of the 1960s, this movement united people across race, economics, religion, gender, geography, and sexuality. Similar to the 1960s, the event featured acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, teach-ins, workshops, cultural events, and other activities. The 40-day event culminates tomorrow, June 23, in Washington, D.C. for a rally to Stand Against Poverty, Mass Rally & Moral Revival. Although the event ends, participation can continue in various activities by

  • Joining an organization. Whether people join the new PPC or another organization, people can provide strength in numbers.
  • Speaking out. Writing to political representatives, media outlets, and social media sites can help spread the message.
  • Voting and helping others vote. Voting is another way of voicing opinions. Working at polling places, encouraging others to vote, and working for voting rights helps gives agency to more people.

 

Nicole is a freelance writer and educator based in the United States. She believes that her writing is an extension of her career as a tutor since they both encourage learning and discussing new things. Her degrees in creative writing, education, and psychology help her understand her target audience and how to reach them in creative and educational ways. She has written about fitness and health, substance abuse and treatment, personal finance and economics, parenting, relationships, higher education, careers, travel, and many other topics, sometimes in the same piece. When she isn’t writing, you might find Nicole running, hiking, and swimming. She has participated in several 10K races and hopes to compete in a marathon one day. A longtime volunteer at animal shelters, Nicole is a passionate supporter of organizations that help animals. She also enjoys spending time with the dogs and cats in her life and spoiling them rotten.

Give yourself a break. It’s your right.

Welcome to SUMMER 2018!! This is a repost from last Spring. 

 a picture of two beach chairs at sunset
A Nice Place to Sit. Source: Richard Walker, Creative Commons.

With spring break and summer just ahead, did you know you have a right to leisure and rest? It is in part because of Eleanor Roosevelt and the 18 representatives chosen by the Economic and Social Council in 1948, tasked with drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document that would become a cornerstone of peace around the world. Article 24 of the UDHR pronounces, “everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Researchers, writers, and business insiders market the right to leisure and rest as work-life balance. Harvard Business Review has an entire section of its current and archive database dedicated to the subject.

What is the right to leisure? Leisure is a part of the second generation of human rights. Roosevelt ascribed each right as a component of the “inherent rights of all individuals, without which no one can live in dignity and freedom.” In other words, it is a basic human right. She notes that the UDHR carries moral weight but no legal weight, thus making it easier for violations to occur. Often, governments through repressive systems and structures are responsible for human rights violations; however, the violation of leisure is often self-imposed.

A 2014 Gallup poll revealed that 42% of the polled full-time employees work 47 hours a week while 40% work 40 hours, and 8% work less than 40 hours. Ran Zilca suggests more people want community and relationship over a paycheck, but have not verbalized the desire for a job that will bring fulfillment. He concedes that unnamed values magnify discomfort and distress, clouding perspective. Age is also a factor in finding work/life balance. When all is said and done, work happiness depends on several factors, including having a life outside the office and possessing money to enjoy it.

The notion of “work/life balance” is recognized across the world as a difficult goal to attain because the lines between work and life are blurred. Paula Caproni, working wife and mother of two children under four, explains that achieving the Zen-like status of full balance is easier said than done, especially for the well-intentioned. Citing Martin and Knopoff, who assert, “it is not a stretch of the imagination to consider that a root of the work/life balance tension is that caretaking work in one’s own home—typically done by women—is undervalued and unpaid, and until this fundamental issue is resolved most other attempts that try to resolve work/life tensions are likely to be superficial at best”, Caproni hints that work/life balance is more about the flexible sharing of the work/life load, rather than the circular nature of devaluing the half often associated with women, prioritizing individualism over familial (or community) interaction, and misapplied excellence in the workplace. She acknowledges that the disconnection between the idea of work/life balance and the practical application may disappoint many who discover life values “do not fall into clean dichotomies that lend themselves to trade-offs or prioritization.” In other words, every attempt to compartmentalize one part of life from another will create frustration, disillusionment, and isolation since the ideal is unattainable. Caproni established rest amid the unpredictability of the ‘imbalance’ by embracing “tranquility over achievement, contribution over success, and choice over status”, creating an internal dialogue that helped to name essential values, changing both life and work accordingly.

a picture of a guy reading under a tree
Reading. Source: Marketa, Creative Commons.

David Maume states, “Research has looked at the symbolic meaning of time use and linked it to a person’s identity.” Men and women have different perspectives when approaching and participating in vacations. Gender roles plays a significant role in how often and if vacations happen in the lives of people. Generally, while on vacations with families, women are tasked with meeting the emotional and physical needs while men focus on work-related tasks. On one hand, women sacrifice their personal enjoyment for the sake of others, seeing vacation as an enjoyable ‘disruption of work’ that allows “work on daily family life and cement bonds between family members.” On the other, a man’s career and subsequent job concerns may lead to a limited presence or total absenteeism on vacations. He concludes that men, aware of misplaced values in the past, desire to spend more time with their children–making significant changes to create a more egalitarian home environment or staying home full-time while wives work outside the home. This decision is countercultural and sometimes detrimental to a career.

The acknowledgement of values should remain a priority of an employee, and at minimum, recognized by an employer. Sanghamitra Buddhapriya introduces three key concepts in her essay, “Balancing Work and Life: Implications for Business”: work-family, the guilt complex, and time sovereignty. She argues that work-life balance is not just a reduction in working hours. It is flexibility that allows for the removal of the guilt complex because the control of time has been entrusted to capable, motivated employees, seeking to dedicate themselves to work and family. First, work-family balance seeks out the space achieved when an employer sets, creates, and promotes an environment for an effective balance. The tension of work and family is complicated by typical business culture which emphasizes long hours means more devotion, scheduling conflicts and absenteeism are evidence of noncommitment, and time constraints implies time mismanagement or “role ambiguity”.

Second, the guilt complex magnifies the tension of work and family since domesticity is often attributed to women. Buddhapriya points out that within male dominated organizations and societies like India, women “face a dual burden” of having career aspirations and family goals. “Working women and their spouses continue to regard breadwinning as essentially a man’s job and home management as a woman’s job… women continue to bear the burden of household responsibilities regardless of their employment status.” Due to the weight of the burden, women, especially mothers, may be forced to ‘trade-down’ to part-time jobs, taking jobs for which they are overqualified, or make their career subordinate to that of their husband (Budig 2001, Correll 2007, Gash 2009).

Lastly, time sovereignty places responsibility to organizational commitment in the hands of the employee, citing an ability to manage life stressors and job stressors more effectively, improving work performance and satisfaction. Time sovereignty is not unaccounted time; it is a flexible work arrangement. Using Marriott International, Aetna, UPS, Hewlett-Packard as examples of companies utilizing time sovereignty, Buddhapriya reaffirms that the best employers have cultures and policies which promote a meaningful and supportive workplace, company productivity, movement towards gender equality, and organizational mobility and retention.

Leisure is defined as free time. It is an opportunity afforded by free time to do something that renews, refreshes, and destress you. Leisure is unhurried ease. It is sleeping until 10am or gardening or reading your favorite novel. Taking a trip to a foreign country or to Wyoming or learning to play an instrument. It is about binge-watching a television show and stopping to smell the gardenias by yourself, with a friend, or with family. It is your time and right so do what you want with it.

 

Additional Resources:

Budig, Michelle J.; and England, Paula. 2001. “The Wage Penalty for Motherhood.” American Sociological Review 66(2):204-25.

Correll, Shelly J.; Benard, Stephen, and Paik, In. 2007. “Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?”. American Journal of Sociology 112(5):1297-339.

Gash, Vanessa. 2009. “Sacrificing Their Careers for Their Families? An Analysis of the Penalty to Motherhood in Europe.” Social Indicators Research 93(3):569-86.

America’s Youngest Prisoners: Inhumanity of Family Detention

**As the US government flip-flops on its “zero-tolerance” Biblical mandated immigration policy that isn’t a policy but enforcement of the law, this repost, from this February, describes some of state-sanctioned child abuse and human rights violations experienced those seeking safety in “the land of the free and home of the brave.” You can read more information and some of the latest reports: here, here, here, including former first lady Laura Bush, and this video of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The United States has long been lauded as the land of the free. As Americans, we have a tendency to consider our country to be an almost utopian land, far removed from the bleak landscapes and brutal violence of foreign countries that appear on the news. However, this ethnocentric attitude blinds us to the human rights abuses that happen frequently within our borders. Family detention centers are one such environment where human rights are regularly violated. The United States has three remaining family detention centers, referred to as “baby jails” by dissidents. Family detention has dwindled over the years due to protest, but our government currently detains close to 3,000 non-criminal immigrant mothers and children in horrifying conditions.

A couple sits next to a large wall with graffiti saying "Freedom," and "Take down this wall!"
Yarl’s Wood Protest. Source: iDJ Photography, Creative Commons.

“We are not delinquents who should be imprisoned.” – Eleven-year-old girl on her detention at Berks County Residential Center

Of the three family detention centers that remain open, the South Texas Family Residential Center (Dilley, Texas) is by far the largest. The other two centers, Karnes County Detention Center (Karnes City, Texas) and Berks County Detention Center (Leesport, Pennsylvania), hold less than 700 detainees combined. Dilley, as it is known, has a capacity for 2,400 inmates and, as of 2015, holds over 1,000 children and around 750 mothers. The fifty acres of land that comprise the Dilley center are dotted with small, two-bedroom, one-bathroom cottages with no kitchen, no telephones, and hold up to eight people per house. Nights in all centers are punctuated with officials checking in by shining flashlights on the sleeping families every fifteen minutes, reportedly causing insomnia and anxiety for the children. Medical care is essentially non-existent, as individuals report that the available doctors often only advise mothers to give their children water for any sickness they might have instead of prescribing medicine. On-site doctors have prescribed water instead of medical care for broken fingers, conjunctivitis, and even for a child who vomited blood, according to detainee’s reports.

A young child in a pink dress has her fingers held by a white-sleeved hand for an examination.
The Touch of Hands. Source: Alex Priomos, Creative Commons.

 “Simply, they don’t care. What is more important for them is control. These are delicate situations when someone is sick and vulnerable. They just care about control. I thought I came to this country to escape abuse, mistreatment and disrespect. But it’s the same here.” – a detainee at the South Texas Family Residential Center

The conditions at these centers are incredibly dangerous for children and mothers. Many mothers at the center have already faced sexual assault, brutal violence, or threats of murder against them and their family. This would normally grant these families asylum status, which is a status granted to people who are unable to return to their home country for fear of persecution. Asylum status is granted partially on the basis of past abuse or violence enacted on a person by a foreign government, but trauma survivors often struggle sharing details that would ensure asylum. Most asylum hearings do not have childcare available, so mothers must choose between either sharing explicit traumas in front of their children in order to be granted asylum or minimizing their struggle to protect their children but be denied asylum. The conditions of the centers themselves also are fraught with abuse. An increase in violence in Central America has led to an influx of migrants from unstable countries; most of the detainees at detention centers are of Central or South American origin and predominantly speak Spanish. However, few staff members are fluent in Spanish and the subsequent miscommunication lead to abuse. The women are rarely allowed to speak on the phone, and it is next to impossible to obtain legal advice privately within the centers. This denies women the ability to detail abuses of the center without fear of retribution by the staff. Detainees have been raped and assaulted by guards without adequate punishment; in 2016, a guard was sentenced to less than two years in prison after being found guilty of institutionally raping a nineteen-year-old Honduran woman.

Additionally, the children are deeply at risk for developmental regression and major psychological trauma. According to a report by the child advocacy group First Focus, over half of all children in family detention centers are under the age of six. Children under six are undergoing crucial stages in their development, and can easily be traumatized for the rest of their lives if exposed to the stress of detention centers. Children who have been detained are shown to have increased psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, self-harming, and suicidal thoughts or actions. Even short durations of being detained can have the same impact of week-long detention on children. Mothers have frequently reported their children losing unhealthy amounts of weight quickly, but doctors reportedly overlook the weight loss by claiming that the children are simply not used to the food or even claiming that they are bulimic. Children have been forced to sleep in rooms with non-related adults, creating a vulnerable situation that puts children at risk for sexual assault. At a now-closed center, kids as young as eighteen months were made to wear prison jumpsuits and expected to sleep in locked rooms with open-air toilets. Though the detention center where this occurred was shut down several years ago, similar abuses that display a blatant disregard for immigrant’s human rights have occurred in all family detention centers.

A crowd of people appear to be yelling as they hold signs that say "Close Karnes."
“Karnes Petition Delivery.” Source: WeAreUltraViolet, Creative Commons.

The overwhelming issue is that there is no legislation that ensures appropriate standards for immigrant detention. Management is left to the private companies who own the centers, and the desire for profit often overwhelms the adherence to ethical treatment. GEO Group, the company who runs Karnes, received $161 million in taxpayer dollars in 2015 from their contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Dilley, run by CoreCivic, generates 14% of the company’s income each year, despite owning seventy-four other prison centers– CoreCivic took away $71.6 million dollars from Dilley alone. These detention centers generate huge profits, which encourages the prison owners to fill beds with more detained immigrants. Last year, legislation was introduced in Texas to allow family detention centers to obtain child care facility licensing without meeting the minimum standards that other child care facilities must meet. Eventually, the bill was not passed and licensing was revoked from the Karnes center. However, the center continues to detain children. This is in direct violation of the Flores Agreement, which states that detained children must be kept in the least restrictive environment possible, requires child care licensing, and states that detainment for over three weeks is unlawful. Inaction from the government enables these centers to continue substandard practices that have harmed and will continue to harm children.

"Kids Out of Detention Centers" is stamped onto concrete in black ink with barbed wires surrounding the text.
Keep Kids Out of Detention Centers. Source: Stephen Mitchell, Creative Commons.

The government justifies the practice of detainment through “aggressive deterrence strategy,” which is meant to dissuade more migrants from attempting to gain entry to the United States. This strategy is not effective; the mass violence that many immigrants flee from is far deadlier than the misery of detainment, though both are damaging to families. Women with children are the least mobile group among communities in conflict, and often only flee in the face of real danger. Essentially, families who have fled violence must go somewhere, and the United States is both geographically convenient and generally safe. To deny families refuge is cruel enough, but to create more misery, vulnerability and trauma through inhumane detainment should be an unacceptable practice. We cannot deny that the United States is violating the human rights of thousands of children and mothers. Children in detention centers have a right to education, a right to an adequate standard of health, and the right to freedom from torture, along with all other human rights as defined by the UDHR. Educational needs have not been met by any standard, available healthcare is abominable, and much of the circumstances for detained children could be defined as torture or degrading treatment. Beyond this, the practice of family detention alone is a violation of the human rights of many detained children, as the Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

“No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

Smiling children hold signs that say "keep families together."
Untitled. Source: Peoples World, Creative Commons.

The conditions in which these vulnerable groups have been forced into are inhumane and dangerous. The detainment of children at U.S. centers rarely conform to the law adequately and detainment periods are often months long. Family detention is punitive by nature, yet none of the detained mothers or children in family detention centers are detained on the basis of crime. Data collected by the Detention Watch Network shows that the majority of families in the centers qualify for asylum status and therefore deserve to be freed, but institutional obstacles prevented the obtainment of that status. Families in detainment simply seek safety and protection from violent conflict in their home country. The mother who make the decision to uproot their homes in search of a better life have not committed a crime, and neither have the children who accompany them. The United States is actively harming a blameless population who has already been subject to trauma and abuse. This problem is not confined to the United States; family detainment occurs around the world in varying degrees of injustice from Australia to Israel. It is essential to call attention to this issue in order to preserve the human rights of children internationally. The global community must condemn the actions of any government that engages in the inhumane practice family detention.

A LGBTQ+ Perspective on Today’s World

picture of a gay pride rally in Leeds, England
Leeds Pride. Source: Bryan Ledgard, Creative Commons,

LGBTQ+ youth today may look at the world around them and think all hope is lost. It is understandable because the possibility of an entire community losing their civil rights at any moment is creating a looming fear. As human beings, we all come to terms with ourselves in our own ways; whether it is simply growing into yourself in order to find out who you are, or growing into someone you never imagined. The process of coming to terms with identity is completely different when your sexuality is not the “social norm.” Growing up, I felt scared of myself, and fearful of what the future might hold for people like me. However in 2015, when marriage equality became law, I thought to myself, “We are finally getting to a place where children will not have to grow up like I did.”

My story is not the same as every LGBTQ+ individual around the country, and certainly not across the globe. Every day, I wake up hoping that I do not hear of another story about a Matthew Shepard or Pulse Nightclub tragedy. To live as an open member of the LGBTQ+ community is to live in a constant state of worry. You may not always feel it, but the hum of it, however quiet it may be, still echoes through the back of your mind. It is a worry for your brothers, sisters, others of your community, and for yourself. This infringes upon our right to security, as we are afraid to be ourselves in public spaces. This fear even extends to private places because for many, our families are the main aggressors. For youths who suffer through the pain of oppression at the hands their family, there is never a true sense of peace.

I have faced discrimination throughout the course of my life. Based on my rumored sexuality, I experienced exclusion from many of things. It is a pivotal moment in one’s life when they choose to come out. It is a time that you accept all the ridicule, the torment, and the imminent threat of attack. I have emotional scars from peers and family that still haunt me to this day. Yet, what hurts me most is the look in another person’s eyes when they become aware of my sexuality; it is that look—from people whom I have never met—which is devastating. How can someone who knows nothing about me, judge me?

While the future for American LGBTQ+ youth seems frightening and uncertain, it is nothing compared to those of the LGBTQ+ community across the globe. A LGBTQ+ youth in the Middle East and Northern Africa has a different perspective based upon cultural experience and a belief that there is no hope and fear that there never will be–an upbringing filled with trials comparatively different to those I suffered as a youth. Living as an open member of the LGBTQ+ community in a Muslim country can potentially turn into a life threatening choice. Imagine that: telling your friends and family who you are, and then fearing that your life could end at that exact moment. That fear, no matter how far from home, affects us all.

Turkey is one of the few Middle Eastern countries where homosexuality is legal. Unfortunately, homophobia is still very prevalent so when a group of members from the community tried to initiate their own Pride festival, local authorities shot them with water cannons, rubber bullets, and sprayed them with tear gas. Across the Middle East, there are standing laws to persecute those of the LGBTQ+ community, including imprisonment for up to 10 years. In Ancient Egypt, being gay or lesbian was a godlike quality; however, in modern times, homosexuality is viewed as sin and punishable by death. When the White House went up in rainbow colored lights in 2015, the authorities in Saudi Arabia went on the hunt. Children face death around the country for “deviant” behavior by their own governments. A privately run school in Riyadh was fined $26,500 (in U.S. dollars) for painting the rooftop in rainbow stripes, and one of the administrators for the school was jailed for allowing such a “monstrosity”. Afghanistan banned the decorating of cars with rainbow stickers because it “may be misinterpreted.” In Iran, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern countries, many face execution for engaging in sodomy.

 

a picture of a city hall building, lighted with rainbow colored lights in honor of gay pride
City Hall. Source: Tom Hilton, Creative Commons.

An assembly was called on in 2015 by the United States and Chile to bring light to the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community that are prominent in the Middle East, specifically by the Islamic State. Syrian refugees who fled their war-torn homeland spoke to the United Nations about what their life and the suffering they endured. One man admitted to hiding his sexuality his entire life, saying, “In my society, being gay means death.” Another man told of his witnessing of an al-Qaeda affiliated group taking control of his hometown and began torturing and murdering men that others thought to be gay. Cheering audiences attended the executions of gay men. Some men, tossed from building ledges, meet their death; however, for those who do not die upon impact, the hateful crowd stoned them to death.

Institutionalized discrimination is a prominent threat no matter where one may look across the globe.

In the south and in the US, we feel criminalized; in the Middle East, we are criminalized. 

Being a part of a marginalized community has affected me in many negative ways, but also in positive ways. I feel a commonality with people I have never met and will likely never have the luxury of doing. As a part of the community, I am “branded in rainbow”, which is the most fulfilling feeling that I had experienced. I chose to take all of the negativity that surrounded me and channel it into positivity. This community and a shared experience has made me stronger, more confident, and allowed me to channel my anger by turning it into passion. As a member of this community, I implore you to become more accepting of the people around you, no matter where you may be from or what you may practice. It is powerful to feel human, and it is a feeling we all deserve.

 

 

Science of Heaven and Hell

**As the world pieces together the details from the Singapore Summit, Trump’s praise of Kim Jong-un solidifies his disregard for human rights violations and violators. In this blog, reposted from last summer, Verbeek identifies subordination as an obstacle to peace. He also says dialogue, if successful, may be a viable option. Only time will tell…

Nagasaki Journey. Picture taken by Yosuke Yamahata on August 10, 1945, the day after the bombing of Nagasaki.
Nagasaki Journey. Picture taken by Yosuke Yamahata on August 10, 1945, the day after the bombing of Nagasaki. Source: Creative Commons

On August 8, 2017, following a news report that North Korea had succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to fit its class of intercontinental ballistic missiles, President Trump, on a working vacation at his Trump golf resort in Bridgewater, New Jersey, proclaimed “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States . . . they will be met by fire and fury like the world has never seen”. I have been trying to imagine what this unprecedented fire and fury would look, smell, and feel like. In his peace declaration commemorating the 72nd A-bomb anniversary the mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, provides some hints as he invites us to imagine what happened in Hiroshima that fatal day of August 6, 1945 at 8:15 am:

Let’s imagine for a moment what happened under that roiling mushroom cloud. Pika — the penetrating flash, extreme radiation and heat. Don — the earth-shattering roar and blast. As the blackness lifts, the scenes emerging into view reveal countless scattered corpses charred beyond recognition even as man or woman. Stepping between the corpses, badly burned, nearly naked figures with blackened faces, singed hair, and tattered, dangling skin wander through spreading flames, looking for water. The rivers in front of you are filled with bodies; the riverbanks so crowded with burnt, half-naked victims you have no place to step. This is truly hell”.

The mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, in his 72nd A-bomb anniversary peace declaration, mirrors this horrific image,

On that day, the furious blast and heat rays reduced the city of Nagasaki to a charred expanse of land. People whose skin hung down in strips staggered around the ruined city looking for their families. A dumbfounded mother stood beside her child who had been burnt black. Every corner of the city was like a landscape from hell. Unable to obtain adequate medical treatment many of these people fell dead, one by one”.

Source: Creative Commons

Science has made great advances in the development of nuclear arms, and the power of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki pales in comparison to the power of today’s nuclear arsenals. Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s bombings created hell on Earth, and it seems almost impossible to imagine what the fire and fury that Mr. Trump talks about would amount to. I wonder whether Mr. Trump has an idea of the degree of hell that he can unleash if he sees it fit to do so. Like I am doing here, he may have looked back at the pictures of the charred remains of the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and of the wounds on the bodies of those who were not instantly incinerated. In fact, I do not think that it is a coincidence that Mr. Trump’s threat to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) resembles President Truman’s threat to Japan made in early August, 72 years ago. Calling for Japan’s surrender, Mr. Truman warned Japan to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth“.

Mr. Trump’s threats to the DPRK follow a series of threats directed at the USA and its Southeast Asian allies by the DPRK’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un and his military leaders. It is likely that a threat delivered on August 7, 2017, by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho to a gathering of foreign ministers from the US, China, South Korea, Japan, and other Southeast Asian countries, was instrumental in Mr. Trump’s “fire and fury” threat of August 8, 2017. As Mr. Ri Yong Ho told this gathering, “Should the US pounce upon the DPRK with military force at last, the DPRK is ready to teach the US a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force”.

Behavioral science tells us that there are a limited number of possible responses to a threat. One is a counter threat, another is attack, and yet another subordination. Each of these responses represents an obstacle to peace. A fourth approach is an offer of dialogue, which, if taken upon, can be a catalyst of peace. If Mr. Trump launches a preemptive strike in response to the threats of Mr. Kim Jong Un, it is likely that China will come to the aid of the DPRK, irrespective of whether the preemptive strike is nuclear or conventional. An English language editorial in China’s unofficial state newspaper, Global Times, targeted at an international audience, suggests as much: “If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.” If Mr. Kim Jong Un launches an attack on the USA in response to Mr. Trump’s threats China will likely remain neutral at first: “China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral”.

Judging by what has transpired thus far, neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Kim Jong Un can be expected to respond submissively to the threats of the other, and so additional counter-threats, attacks, or offers of dialogue are options remaining to them. I expect that threats and counter-threats will prevail for a while and then taper off unless and until the DPRK launches more missiles or conducts another nuclear test. For Mr. Trump issuing threats scores points with his supporters and bumps up his approval ratings. For Mr. Kim Jong Un issuing threats signals to his military command that he is in charge and may help keep challenges to his regime from within the military at bay. The danger to the world is the possibility that someone misreads a radar image or misinterprets a military training exercise as ‘the real thing’ and sets in motion the chain of events that leads to either Mr. Trump or Mr. Kim Jong Un, or both, pushing buttons to launch nuclear warheads. The reality is that both in the democratic USA and in the DPKR dictatorship the decision to rain fire and fury on the citizens of another country rests with the one man at the top.

As a scientist, I share the view of other concerned scientists that there are no military options to the North Korea issue and that dialogue is the only viable option. Both as a scientist and as a private citizen, I believe that a nuclear strike of any kind, irrespective of who is carrying it out, is morally unacceptable and a crime against not just human life but against all of life.

I am familiar with the arguments for nuclear deterrence and for so-called justified nuclear strikes. As a young man I had heated debates with my step-mother about whether or not the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were justified. My step-mother spent part of her early youth in a Japanese internment camp in Indonesia. Her Dutch family was rounded up by the Japanese army when it invaded Indonesia in 1942 and she and her mother were interned in one of these infamous camps where an estimated 3,000 Dutch women and children perished. She stated that the nuclear bombings saved her life because they led to her liberation from the camp. The policy of the Japanese military regarding foreign women and children in internment camps and male prisoners of war toward the end of WWII was “kill all leave no traces” (1). General McArthur wanted to liberate Java but was ordered not do to so by the joint chiefs and President Roosevelt. It was indeed Japan’s 1945 surrender to the Allied Forces brought on by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s bombings that led to the liberation of the survivors of the internment camps and the surviving prisoners of war. While I feel great joy that the lives of my step-mother and other surviving victims of Japan’s wartime aggression were saved, I continue to believe that nothing justifies unleashing hell on earth through a nuclear attack. The fact that my step-mother and I had this debate illustrates the insanity of war.

If dialogue is the only option for the North Korean crisis, what is the outlook for a successful dialogue between the USA and the DPRK? It is actually quite good. While Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father, engaged in military first politics, Kim Jong Un has launched a new doctrine calling for simultaneous progress on nuclear deterrence and economic development. Work in political science suggests that the DPRK will start focusing on its prosperity instead of its self-preservation once it no longer has to worry about its own destruction (13). Political scientist John Delury, a member of the nonpartisan and nongovernmental National Committee on North Korea, sees the prospects for peace this way:

Trump can now help him pivot to the economy, as Kim appears to have wanted to do all along. However unlikely a pair the two might seem, Kim and Trump are well positioned to strike the kind of deal that could lower the grave risks both their countries (and the region) now face. Such a move would also allow Trump to reaffirm U.S. leadership in a region critical to U.S. interests, and to finally start resolving a problem that has bedeviled every U.S. President since Harry Truman.”

I believe that the prospects for peace as outlined by John Delury are real, but it will take statesmanship and savvy, not brinkmanship and bluster to realize them.

Nobel Prize Laureate Niko Tinbergen writes that scientific research is one of the finest occupations of our mind, and ads that, with art and religion, science is one of the uniquely human ways of meeting nature, in fact the most active way. By developing ways to harness some of the fundamental powers of nature, science has brought us hell on earth in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Science also brings us new insights into the natural bases of peace. Rather than the traditional perception of nature as an arena of unmitigated violent competition, new fields like peace ethology show us that life sustains itself primarily through networking, rather than through combat (2). Applying what science teaches us about our evolved abilities for peace and how to harness them will not bring us heaven on earth, but it will surely move us away from human-made gates of hell.

 

Dr. Peter Verbeek is an Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He teaches in the Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights program and does research on how humans and other animals make and sustain peace.

Footnotes: 1) Stichting Japanse Ereschulden – English; 2) Verbeek, P. & Peters, B.A. (Forthcoming). Peace ethology: Behavioral processes and systems of peace. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Publishers.

 

 

Continuity and Change on the Korean Peninsula

**As Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump prepare for the North Korean Summit in Singapore on Tuesday, this repost from last Spring sheds light on the complexity and seriousness of this summit. 

by GRIFFIN LEONARD

a picture of two North Korean soldiers looking through binoculars towards the South
North Korean Guard looking South. Source: Expert Infantry, Creative Commons.

A lot has been said recently about the seemingly worsening relationship between the US and Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK). Unsurprisingly, much of the commentary revolves around the Trump Administration at a time where the new President seems confronted by numerous international “situations.” The dropping of a MOAB in Afghanistan and missile strikes against Syria, when taken together with heightened tensions between the US and the DPRK, paint a broader picture of the direction the Trump Presidency is taking. While this may be helpful to Americans as they try to understand their President’s decisions, putting Trump as the centerpiece of analysis has the dangerous potential to obscure other important factors, namely the continuity and change that has marked the US-DPRK relationship. Only by including both in our analysis can we begin to understand the events unfolding on the Korean Peninsula.

Change

Like any relationship, that of the US and DPRK does not exist in a vacuum. Their bilateral relations are well known. Diplomatic efforts have failed to yield real progress towards a resolution of the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, much less move towards a sustainable arrangement between the parties involved there. Border incidents that have claimed the lives of South Koreans, North Koreans and Americans have been ongoing for as long as the current border has existed. These incidents have, of course, been the cause of heightened tensions at different times between the US and DPRK.

The relationship is also subject to changes in the international environment. Authoritarian practices in South Korea following the end of the Korean War forced the US to consider what exactly the South Korean people had inherited from the devastating conflict. The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 raised concerns of nuclear terrorism and therefore nuclear proliferation more generally. The growing power of China in military and economic terms continues to raise the significance of the steps they are or are not willing to take in trying to tackle the issues at hand on the Korean Peninsula. These and other global trends influence the measure of significance which the US attaches to the Korean Peninsula at any given time; and the way by which they choose to engage with the DPRK.

There is no doubt that the election of Donald Trump could be, or cause, another significant change in the US–DPRK relationship. Of central importance is Trump’s demonstrated impulsive and inconsistent behaviour, especially when it comes to how he communicates with others. He differs from other Presidents because not only are the policies towards adversaries and allies in question, but as an international community, we find ourselves wondering how he will behave on a more basic level. Will he put aside basic and long-standing diplomatic decorum, aggravating other world leaders with hostile rhetoric akin to what he employed during his campaign for the Presidency?

The same countries and their leaders that Trump dealt out insults to as 2016 ticked by are the same countries and leaders that he must deal with in 2017.

Of more concern is whether Trump will be able to communicate a clear message to adversaries at all. It remains to be seen whether Trump can frame the many public announcements he has to make in a way that appeals to his domestic support base (something all politicians do) but also conveys the US’ position on important matters to other world leaders, adversary and ally. Doing this requires consistency and coherency across the many mediums through which the President now communicates: social media, informal television interviews and formal White House events and statements. The outlook is not good so far.

a picture of the DMZ between north and south Korea
Joint Security Area, North Korea-South Korea border. Source: SarahTz, Creative Commons.

It has been widely reported that the Trump Administration’s statements regarding the DPRK have been hostile and inflammatory. This is undoubtedly true. An important aspect to note is that through deliberate decision-making or gaffe, much of the communication by the Trump Administration has created confusion among the parties invested in the Korean Peninsula.

I will explain this point using two examples. First, the vague statement released by Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, following a recent missile test by the DPRK and Trump’s refusal to answer questions on the matter on American television. Trump has long promoted the idea that not to reveal his next move is, in and of itself, a smart move. The issue is that when states do not want to fight over an issue, they seek information about how far they can push their luck, making as large a gain as possible (whether this be in terms of prestige or something more material) while avoiding direct conflict. In other words, they attempt to discern when to yield. To do this, a state must have some idea of what their adversary is willing and/or capable of doing to resolve a dispute in their own favour.

For all the absurdities of the North Korean regime, it is highly unlikely that they want to ever see a direct confrontation with the US. Vagueness on the part of the Trump Administration keeps the DPRK in the dark as to where the line is and increases the chance that they will trip right over it. The DPRK wants to make gains in the form of developing its missile capability. Trump needs to find a way of communicating to their leadership when, where and how the US is willing to act; therefore, talks with DPRK are far from being complete.

The second example is the mistake made by Trump and other officials when an “armada” heading towards Australia was said to be heading in the direction of North Korea. Inaccurate information compounds all the issues related to ambiguity mentioned above. What is more, this error unsettled South Korea with politicians and media outlets questioning Trump’s will and ability to deal with the DPRK. This response should, perhaps, not be unexpected. Given their common border, the DPRK could inflict massive damage on South Korea through conventional weapons alone. Similarly, Japan feels threatens due to their proximity and the 50,000 US troops stationed there. Experts vary in their predictions of by which date the DPRK could develop a missile capable of reaching the US.

Taking these two examples together, while it is clear the rhetoric emanating from the White House is inflammatory, it is less clear whether it is effectively conveying information to the parties involved regarding America’s stance and intentions.

It is important to say that this is not simply a matter of finding Trump to be a distasteful person. His public performance in dealing with this issue is of real significance. While academics debate whether rhetoric utilised by politicians has any influence over the course of events in foreign affairs, policy makers themselves seem to place great importance on the public pronouncements made by state officials. In reading the autobiographies of former US Presidents, one quickly realises that they believe their words are important in directing the course of events; therefore, we should not be surprised that politicians place a lot of value in their own words! The South Korean response to Trump’s mistake in stating that the US was sending an armada towards the Korean Peninsula is an indicator of the importance that other world leaders place in the statements of their colleagues. Trump’s statements can heighten tensions with adversaries and offend allies whom he claims he would persuade to take more of the financial burden of dealing with said adversaries.

Regarding the DPRK, few governments, if any, are so committed to the “performance” of governance. Large portions of the DPRK’s state structure are committed to promoting the party line to both the domestic population of North Korea and the international community. Strict media and Internet control by the state demonstrates the significance attached to the control of public information.

DPRK officials do this precisely because they know that other state leaders and intelligence agencies monitor speeches by regime officials, television broadcasts, and internet traffic, to read between the lines and get a better picture of what happens in their secretive society. Similarly, they would remain committed to trying to glean information from the televised interviews, public speeches and, yes, even tweets of Donald Trump’s Administration. To think otherwise is naïve.

a picture of the 3rd Tunnel which joins North and South Korea
The 3rd Tunnel – joining North and South Korea. Source: Dushan Hanuska, Creative Commons

Continuity

It is easy to allow our focus to drift too quickly to new developments in this unfolding situation. Some elements of the continued tension between the US and DPRK, while not as exciting or topical as Trump’s Presidency, are equally as important in explaining the current state of affairs. One such element is the presence of nuclear weapons. Three parties involved in the dispute, the DPRK, US and China, are nuclear capable to one degree or another.

In an indictment of nuclear deterrence theory, the very manoeuvres–diplomatic, military and otherwise–that both the US and DPRK make due to the significance they attribute to a dispute in which nuclear weapons are involved, may be the very thing that, deliberately or otherwise, spark the use of military force on the Peninsula. Even if it were true that, as proponents of nuclear deterrence advocate, weapons of mass destruction make the cost of entering and engaging in conflict so high that no reasonable state leader would consider doing so, the constant need to balance armaments leads to an arms race that only serves to heighten the tensions one wishes to avoid, increasing the risk of unplanned escalation. It should not be lost on us that this current round of tensions was triggered, in large part, by exactly this: the DPRK undertaking missile tests. Moreover, as explained below, not only could state leaders consider using nuclear weapons despite knowing the consequences, they have!

It is simply a convenient out to equate the problems generated by nuclear weapons with the current occupant of the White House. Throughout his presidential campaign, the question of whether (Trump) was the “type of person” that we would want having control of the US nuclear arsenal was often raised. While this question is reasonable at face value, it suggests that the threat of nuclear weapons does not have so much to do with the weapons themselves as the person empowered to use them or the state that possesses them.

As to the last point, having to ask this question of US electoral candidates belies the idea that certain types of states can be trusted to possess nuclear weapons. One could argue that democratically elected leaders must consider domestic support for a decision to use nuclear weapons, whereas dictators do not. However, of all the situations in which we can imagine decision-makers considering the use of nuclear weapons, cases in which contemplation could be given to domestic support for the idea make up only a small portion. It is likely that such a situation would be characterised by small time-horizons and partial information. If nothing else, it is perfectly consistent with democratic systems that a person we would not want in charge of nuclear weapons can be elected.

Here we are back to the notion of whom. If there are types of people we cannot trust to be in charge of nuclear weapons then perhaps there are types of people that we can trust too?

In the well-known documentary, The Fog of War, in which Robert McNamara imparts lessons from his life, he describes the parties involved (and the world) as having “lucked out” in avoiding nuclear confrontation during the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Regardless of what one thinks of John F. Kennedy, perhaps it is not too strong to say that he was a more experienced political operator than Donald Trump. Yet, even JFK and the leaders of the Soviet Union and Cuba–all rational people, per McNamara, came exceptionally close to making decisions that could end their societies, as they knew them. McNamara concludes the combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations. This is not due to the character of one particular person but the inescapably imperfect process of human decision-making.

The failure to understand both the current events and long-term processes at work in this situation has consequences beyond a lacking analysis. Trump and the members of his administration need to be included in any understanding of US-DPRK relations. On one hand, the Trump Administration undoubtedly plays a role in determining the course of events regarding the Korean Peninsula, so attempts to downplay the administration’s significance is to remove their accountability for the dispute’s trajectory. On the other hand, to ignore ongoing issues, such as the presence of nuclear weapons in this dispute, suggests a fatalistic perspective where the resolution of all international affairs rests on the shoulders of one person – the US President. There are a multitude of drivers of this conflict and thus a multitude of levers that can be pulled in trying to steer the course of events towards a peaceful resolution. Groups of concerned people tackling the issue of continued nuclear stockpiling are only one example. While we rightly continue to understand our political leaders’ decisions, holding them to account for the consequences thereof, it is important to remember that they are not the sole causes or agents of social change.

 

Griffin Leonard is a third year PhD candidate at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago. His research analyses the role of US Presidential rhetoric in determining militarised interstate dispute outcomes involving the US since 1950. His expertise is in American foreign policy and diplomatic history.

 

The History of Pride

Pride Flag flying
Rainbow Pride Flag. Source: Benson Kua, Creative Commons.

The month of June is known as Pride Month for the LGBTQ community. Pride means more than its dictionary definition to the LGBTQ community and has a long history.

The fight for marriage equality began in 2010 with United States v. Windsor. This case challenged the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This Act stated that only marriages between a man and a woman were recognized by the federal government, but allowed for state governments to recognize them. Edith Windsor was widowed after her spouse, Thea Clara Spyer, who passed away in 2009. She was the sole survivor of their estate. Windsor and Spyer were legally married in Canada in 2007, and their marriage was recognized by their home state of New York. Spyer left in her will that the estate would be left to Windsor, but because their marriage was not recognized by federal law, over $350,000 in estate taxes was issued to Windsor. If their marriage would have been recognized by the federal government, no taxes would have been issued.

Windsor filed a lawsuit against DOMA and its constitutionality in 2010. At that time, DOMA was upheld by the government; however, in 2011 President Obama and Attorney General Holder announced that they would no longer defend DOMA. The House of Representatives then created a provisionary group to defend DOMA but the district court found the group to be unconstitutional. Windsor was given a refund for the estate taxes she was forced to pay and DOMA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). States were then allowed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if their governments chose to allow such.

Efforts for marriage equality continued with James Obergefell and John Arthur James, who were residents of Ohio. They decided to go to Maryland to get legally married after years of being together when James was diagnosed as terminally ill. The couple wanted to designate Obergefell as the surviving spouse on the death certificate, but Ohio’s laws allowed for refusal of same-sex marriages and their recognition even if the couple was legally married in another state. Obergefell v. Hodges was brought to the South District Court of Ohio to challenge the state’s discrimination against same-sex couples. The Ohio Registrar agreed that the law was unconstitutional but the Ohio Attorney General decided to uphold the state’s same-sex marriage and recognition ban. The case continued through the fourth, sixth, seventh, ninth, and tenth circuit courts of Ohio. All but the sixth circuit court agreed that the state-level ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Because all of the courts did not rule the same, a Supreme Court intervention was inevitable. While the case was going through the circuit courts, James passed away.

During two years of appeals, Obergefell v. Hodges became larger. Plaintiffs of Bourke v. Beshear from Kentucky, DeBoer v. Snyder from Michigan, and Tanco v. Haslam from Tennessee were added. The plaintiffs in each of these cases had been denied marriage rights from their home state, even if their marriages happened in another, just as Obergefell had. It was in April of 2015 when Obergefell v. Hodges, which now consolidated the cases from all four states, presented oral arguments to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to challenge the states’ same-sex marriage bans constitutionality. Two months later on June 25th,  SCOTUS ruled that marriage is a constitutional right and ruled in favor of marriage equality. This allowed for same-sex marriages to be legalized by the government.

While the historic ruling by SCOTUS happened in 2015, June has been Pride Month for decades before marriage equality. We know Pride Month today as a month-long celebration full of parades, events, and parties. It did not begin that way. The first Pride Parade was a riot at the Stonewall Inn, which is known as “the place that Pride began.”

The Stonewall Inn. Photo by Tyler Goodwin

Stonewall Inn, New York City, 1969

It was illegal to engage in homosexual behavior, giving the police the “right” to attack anyone thought to be gay and arrest them. A majority of the gay bars and clubs had been raided and shut down by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). On the evening of June 28th, a group of people gathered at one of the few gay bars that remained open, The Stonewall Inn. The police barged in shouting, “We’re taking the place!” The patrons then began to resist. As those who were at the Stonewall Inn were arrested, a large crowd formed outside of Stonewall. Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender woman of color and LGBTQ activist was outside. She threw the first brick in protest and ignited the Stonewall Riots. The riots were eventually doused that evening by police reinforcements but protesters returned the next night with over 1,000 people filling the streets. The people of Stonewall emerged victorious by fighting back. As a result of the riots, the police ceased to interfere with LGBTQ safe spaces and no longer attacked them on the streets; and by making headlines across the country, LGBTQ issues were brought to the forefront, organizations were started, and the community began to fight for their rights. The Stonewall Riots began the LGBTQ movement.

Marches, today known as Pride marches, sparked across the US when news spread of the riots. The Stonewall Riots were violent; however, they ignited a nonviolent movement across the nation and world. June has been deemed Pride Month in honor of the riots.

A Symbol of Unity, Hope, and Safety

The first Pride Flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978, in San Francisco. It was in honor of Harvey Milk, who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk tasked Baker with drafting up a design for his campaign. His platform was hope for the young gay people, saying, “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope, and you have to give them hope.” Thus, the Pride Flag was born. Milk was the first openly gay person to hold public office in a major US city and was later assassinated for that same reason. After his death, the Pride Flag production increased. Businesses all over San Francisco were flying them proudly in remembrance of Milk. “The flag is an action – it is more than just a cloth and the stripes. When a person puts the Rainbow Flag on his car or his house, they’re not just flying a flag. They’re taking action,” Baker said, “I am astounded that people just got it…that this was their flag. It belonged to all of us.”

The original Pride Flag had seven colors, with fuchsia, which represented sexuality, at the top. However, due to a shortage of fuchsia in the factory where it was reproduced, it was condensed to the six-color flag that flies today. The remaining six colors also represent something powerful and meaningful to the LGBTQ+ community. Red stands for life. To some people, coming out as LGBTQ can mean life or death. In a lot of scenarios, when one comes out their family shuns them, kicks them out, and/or verbally abuses them. This pushes a lot of youths to suicide. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people, and LGBT youth are four times likelier to attempt than straight youths, according to the Trevor Project. Red represents the importance of life, and how giving up on it is never the answer. Orange represents healing powers of love in the community. Yellow is for sunlight. It is a metaphor for being yourself rather than hiding in the shadows. Green stands for nature and everyone’s ties to it. Blue represents serenity, which is defined as a state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. Finally, violet stands for spirit, which is the most important of all the colors, as the spirit unique and inalienable.

Other symbols of Pride and safe-spaces have also emerged in the past few years. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign have trademarked the yellow equal sign with a blue background. This symbol is known in the United States but the Pride Flag remains the prominent international symbol.

Human Rights Campaign. Source: Ron Cogswell, Creative Commons

Progress has been made for the LGBTQ community, but there have been large setbacks as well. During Pride Month last year, 49 lives were taken at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in modern-US history that took place during Orlando’s Pride celebrations. Sean Kennedy was another hate-crime victim. In 2007, he was leaving a bar in South Carolina when he was attacked for his sexuality and died as a result of it. In 1998, Matthew Shepard made headlines across the nation when he was found beaten, tortured, and left to die while tied to a fence in Wyoming.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) sets fundamental human rights to be universally protected. During Stonewall, the Pulse Shooting, and the individual murders, many rights declared by the UHDR were violated:

  • Article 3: Right to life, liberty, and security of person. The Stonewall Riots happened because queer folk had been attacked by the police without cause, violating their security of person. The Pulse Shooting and the Kennedy and Shepard murders were violations of the right to life.
  • Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman punishment. Shepard was tortured and brutally beaten before he died.
  • Article 7: All are entitled without any discrimination and equal protection to of the law. In the case of Stonewall, NYPD had not only been attacking the LGBTQ community, they were being denied justice by not having their attackers persecuted.
  • Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest. The LGBTQ folk were being arrested for being LGBTQ in New York.
  • Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Throughout history and in modern times, the LGBTQ community is targeted simply for existing.

There were many countries that gave same-sex couples the right to marry before the US. The Netherlands, in 2001, became the first country in the world to allow same-sex marriages. Many countries joined the Netherlands, including Canada, Belgium, France, and Ireland to name a few (You can see the timeline of when countries allowed same-sex marriage here). Today, June 30, German Parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage. That makes 22 countries in the last 16 years allowing same-sex marriages, which is important as it shows that the world is growing to be more accepting of the LGBTQ community. Countries that allow same-sex marriage gives validity to its citizens that identify as LGBTQ and promotes a more accepting environment. According to Forbes, when same-sex marriage is legal, LGBTQ youths are less likely to commit suicide and hate-crimes decrease.

In contrast to the 22 countries that allow and support same-sex marriage, there are 76 countries that have anti-LGBTQ laws in effect today. Last week, Turkish police shot rubber bullets at Pride Parade attendees and proceeded to detain who they could. In Chechnya, reports of a concentration camp for those who identify as homosexual made headlines as more than 100 men were abducted, tortured, and few were killed in a systematic purge of the LGBTQ community. 

The world can be a scary place for someone who identifies as LGBTQ. It is imperative that those of us who can remain resilient and visible by not being afraid to show who you are. Showing up at Pride celebrations are easy ways to let the world know that the LGBTQ community exists, and gives comfort to those who cannot “come out”.  That is exactly what Pride Month stands for. It is a time for us to unite and show our pride. Pride means strength, unity, and acceptance.