Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Civil Rights Teachings of Harvey Milk

In a blog post back in April, I noted:

"You cannot compromise equality! Ask the Gay Rights Movement. They know this and they are very successful - they have just gotten the third state to give full equality since just 2003.

They understand that Civil union is not marriage. Domestic partnership is not marriage. These compromises deny same sex couples benefits such as marriage tax credit

Equal is equal. It cannot be compromised. Separate but equal is not equal. Brown vs Bd of Ed proved that."

Tonight - late to the party - I saw the film MILK, staring Sean Penn.

I highly recommend this film to all, for it's acting and directing and also as a piece of American civil rights history in depicting the challenges faced by homosexuals who were classified as "deviants" and were being fired from teaching positions for fear of child molestation. States were enacting and repealing laws to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Harvey Milk was killed in 1978 after becoming the first openly gay elected to public office.

Thirty years later, states are now enacting (and in one case repealing) same sex marriage. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in six of the 50 states.

What does any of this have to with family preservation or adoption? Well, let's compare success rates:

FOUR states have achieved total equality in 56 years of seeking openness and equality. Four others have partial access with caveats, conditions, restrictions and compromises.

What Can We Learn From Harvey Milk?

Harvey galvanized the gay community in San Francisco. After being himself closeted for forty years, Harvey encouraged the gay community to come out to their mothers, their fathers, their friends, and co-workers ...because...everyone needed to know that "gay" rights were not about "others" but were about their sons, their daughters, their sisters and brothers...

Just three years after Milk's death, the same was said about mother who lost children to adoption:

'There is a need for us in society to learn to know the women who have come to call themselves 'birth-mothers.' They are women who know that a child is part of his mother forever. They are women who know that separation can never sever the bond between them. They know what it means to love a child and to place the child's welfare above all else in life. They know the pain of wanting what is best for the child they love, while society tells them that what is best is that they never see that child again. They know the ultimate act of love. They know the ultimate sacrifice. They know the never ending grief of being continually denied what every por¬tion of their souls demands: the knowledge that their children are well.

"We, as a society, have perpetrated the crudest deception. What we have believed to be altruistic has been, in reality, destructive. We have sought to create without any understanding of how much we destroy in the process.

"Birthparents now know that separating a mother and her child is not in the best interests of either of them. Their enormous sacrifice was based on society's misconceptions. The adoptees' sense of rejection is the most painful irony of all: what was done out of love is mistaken for a lack of it.

"For us to truly learn what a birthparent is, is to learn that we, as a society, are hypocritical. We urge surrender, then later rebuke it. We make laws that we purport to be for the welfare of our children, then ignore or suppress their pleas to satisfy the most fundamental and compelling need they have: to know their mothers.

"What we must understand is that we have held im¬prisoned an important part of these women. They must be made whole again, this task will not be difficult when we understand who they are.

"They are our mothers.

"They are our sisters.

"They are our daughters."
Harold Cassidy, attorney for MaryBath Whitehead who got surrogacy outlawed in New Jersey, at a public hearing before the Assembly Institutions, Health and Welfare Committee on adoption held December 9, 1981 in Trenton, New Jersey.
Quoted in The Dark Side of Aoption, 1988)

The personal is political and the everything political is personal. By "coming out" to those we know, one-on-one -- adoptees, as well as parents who have lost children to adoption -- we put a face on those of us who are ostracized, marginalized, invisible and denied rights. We make "an issue" human.

There is a part in the film where Milk speaks of it not being an issue but life and death because of the many gays who commit suicide. There is likewise a higher rate of suicide among adoptees and birthparents. Life and death. Being denied access to one's family history, including being able to ask about the family medical history. Life and death.

When each of us "comes out" about our true feelings regarding adoption issues we increase support for our cause. If we tell our mothers, who in many cases encouraged us to lose our children, the pain it has caused us...if we share with our adoptive parents a need to know our roots...we risk being hurt. But we also have a chance of obtaining supporters.

In 2009 mothers still need encouragement to come out of the closet:

Jun 21, 2009

DEAR ABBY: I became an unwed mother many years ago, when there was a stigma attached to having an illegitimate child. Unable to care for my son, I placed him for adoption. He has now found me.
I have a family, and my husband does not want me to tell our adult children or contact the young man and his family.
Do I go against the wishes of my husband, whom I love very much, or should I tell our children and perhaps risk my husband leaving me? – CONFLICTED IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR CONFLICTED: From the tone of your letter your husband is the dominant partner in your marriage. If that’s the case, and you really think he would leave you after all these years because you leveled with your children about the fact that they have a half-brother, then keep the secret.
However, if your relationship with your husband is anything approaching a partnership, then stand up for yourself and make it clear that you are the sum total of all your experiences – both the joyful and the painful – and you need to see your son, thank his family for the love and care they have given him, and let your adult children make up their own minds about whether they want to be contacted.
This is the 21st century, and we are far beyond the attitudes of the 1950s in which a human being who is born out of wedlock is a shameful secret forever to be buried. In addition, secrets have a way of always coming out eventually.

It is the 21st century, but the shame and guilt of the past still haunts many as it does this woman. Our coming out can also help such mothers. We must never cease speaking out!

And until we can stand as proud a sour gay brothers and sisters and march in the streets by the thousands, we will remain shrouded by shame. "They" risked so very much - they risked losing their employment. Yet ...

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anaïs Nin

"Speak your mind even if your voice shakes." Maggie Kuhn

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