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Fighting for Equality

event_FreeheldLocal event sheds light on discrimination against LGBTQ people and others

Comedian Louis C.K. has an unforgettable routine that underscores the absurdity of legal battles related to gay marriage: “How do they argue it in court? I can imagine when they get to the Supreme Court, and the lawyers for the gay side are like, ‘Well, your honor, we pay taxes; there’s nothing illegal about what we do; we’re the same as anyone else. Why shouldn’t we get the same protection under the law that the heterosexuals get?’ And then they ask the other lawyer, and he says, ‘Your honor … THEY’RE F***IN’ QUEER!’ That’s it, isn’t it? Isn’t that the whole argument?”

What might be funny coming from Louis C.K., however, is tragic in many real-life contexts. Nowhere is this illustrated more poignantly than in Freeheld (freeheld.com), the 2008 winner of the Academy Award for Best Short Subject Documentary as well as a Special Jury Prize at 2007’s Sundance Film Festival. The film chronicles Det. Lieutenant Laurel Hester’s battle against the Ocean County, New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders to give her earned pension to her domestic partner Stacie Andree after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. In one of many moving scenes from the movie, Hester’s first police partner Dane Wells is seen passionately appealing to Hester’s elected officials, “What we are talking about here is no different than separate drinking fountains or a seat at the back of the bus. Gentlemen, you have in your hands right here and right now the awesome power to decide whether Laurel Hester will die a peaceful death.”

Freeheld will be shown at Aptos’ Jewish Community Center/Temple Beth El on Thursday, Jan. 28 as a part of “Social Equity through an LGBTQ Lens,” an event presented by the local philanthropic organization The Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County (cfscc.org) for the promotion of civil and human rights. The presentation will also feature a talk by Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), a national legal advocacy organization that’s been working for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community since 1977 (nclrights.org).

Kendell, a nationally known speaker, says of Freeheld, “You watch that movie, and you can’t help but feel that the trauma of the cancer and the death was made so much more egregious and painful to deal with knowing that they had no legal protection. To have to worry about that at the same time that you’re taking your partner to get chemotherapy—it’s really unconscionable that gay and lesbian couples are in that situation.”

Kendall, who believes movies like Freeheld can be a powerful force for changing hearts and minds, observes, “Every civil rights struggle is marked by the uncommon courage of folks who came together not because they identified as the particular marginalized group, but because they shared a vision of what the country should look like or how history should remember this moment.” She cites as examples the women’s suffrage movement, the fight to end discrimination against Irish Catholics and the African-American Civil Rights Movement. “And I think this is a particular moment when we’re called to think about what kind of a country we want to be, and how much more there is that we share than what divides us.”

Kendall points out that the LGBTQ community is unique in that its constituents belong to every social demographic. “We are poor; we are wealthy; we are everything in between,” she says. “We live in rural areas, we live in big cities; we’re represented by every racial and ethnic identification; we’re scattered all throughout the country.” In spite of this, the Will & Grace stereotype persists, with a huge portion of the popular media representing LGBTQ people as wealthy Caucasians living in big cities. “That can make it very hard for gay people who do not identify that way to feel like they have a place in our very own movement, and for us to have strong allies with people of color, people of faith, working class and working poor Americans who may feel that they have nothing in common with us,” Kendall states.

One way for people to help fight for social equity is to be more politically engaged. “The Obama administration is an administration that absolutely responds to public pressure,” Kendall states. “I think that much of what Obama promised he would do has not been done, and we have to hold him accountable at a greater level.” Kendell encourages people to write letters and make phone calls to congress and to the White House. “I’m telling you, that is how people respond,” she insists. “Politicians, elected officials, are only accountable if we make them accountable. We only make them accountable by talking to them and telling them what we expect them to do. If everyone who ever thinks about these issues did that, we would see a break in the logjam in D.C.”


“Social Equity through an LGBTQ Lens” takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 at the Jewish Community Center/Temple Beth El, 3055 Porter Gulch Road, Aptos. Tickets are $10 general, $5 for students and seniors. For more information, call 477-0800 or go to cfscc.org/DPSocialEquity.

 

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