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My grandma and gay rights: Anchorage anti-discrimination measure divides

Anna von Reitz
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Editor's note: The following commentary was written in response to an Alaska Dispatch report published on Sept. 2, 2011, about a proposed ballot initiative that would expand Anchorage’s anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and transgender identity.

I remember the 1960 Presidential debate, when John F. Kennedy squared off against Richard Nixon. My Grandma was busy knitting and hardly seemed to notice the debate. Afterward, I asked her what she thought.

“What do I think?” She wheezed and snapped at me. “America isn’t about politics.”

There was a long pause. She finished her row of stitches and sat back in her chair.

“Now, you listen,” she said more softly. “There are a lot of people who will try to tell you that there is “us” and there is “them” -- but this is what I say. There’s just one thing, and that’s America. It doesn’t matter if a person is Democrat or Republican, black or white, Catholic or Baptist or Jew, Hispanic or Chinese or Creole. We are all Americans.”

I can hear her asking right now -- why aren’t we talking about American rights, instead of gay rights or black rights or the rights of this or that other group? Equal under the law is supposed to mean equal. There are no special gay rights and there are no separate Methodist rights, either.

If gay people feel that they aren’t being treated the same way as everyone else, she’d say, demand equal treatment under the law and bring all the rest of us along. Refuse to be separate.

Human rights are not based on being part of a minority group. Human rights are protected in America because that’s what we have guaranteed each other: respect for individual human rights, freedom, and equal protection under the law.

I will stand in the cold pouring rain and face bullets for the rights of Americans I disagree with, whose lifestyles I don’t approve of, whose opinions and politics are abhorrent to me, and whose skin color and religion may be radically different from my own. Why? Because if I treasure my own rights, I must equally treasure theirs.

Instead of seeking a separate solution for gays via a piece of administrative code, consider where the whole different and separate mentality leads, because it leads to minority groups being forever singled out, forever separate, and never treated like everyone else. If gays want real acceptance, and real justice, seek it as Americans.

When my rights are trampled, I don’t go to court as a German American white straight female Lutheran, but that’s where this is heading. All these labels -- black, Hispanic, gay, and so on -- fracture our world and our nation into smaller and smaller pieces. They don’t solve problems. They don’t create unity or justice, and that’s what I crave.

When I go into court and kick butt in response to injustice, I speak up for every other American who has ever or will ever suffer injustice. I make it count for as many other Americans as possible, for African American Wiccan Communists and German American Lutheran Feminists, and Irish American Anarchist Freemasons, Syrian American Republican Baptists, Native American Shamanist Tea Partiers and Democratic Asian American Transvestites in Texas, too. I don’t think in terms of minorities. I think in terms of America and Americans, and what we have promised to each other as part of our social contract: individual freedom and equal justice under the law.

So pardon me to all get out, but I would ask gay rights supporters to think about these things, to look at what matters, and maybe agree with me that justice isn’t a gay issue. It’s a human issue and an American promise. To the extent that we join together to assert and enforce the human rights of every individual, we all triumph. We all win. There is no longer “us” or “them” -- instead, there’s only we, as in We, the People, Americans.

By focusing on what we have in common instead of all our differences, we can get past every kind of prejudice, look beyond the surface of things, and find the beating heart within. Until the day when all the labels end, let’s remember what our ancestors pledged to each other, and what we still owe each other today: equal rights and equal protection for every American.

Anna Von Reitz lives in Big Lake.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.