By Marsha Conant
It breaks my heart to see that acts of hate and hate speech are openly still being expressed in 2021. The insurrection in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 was filled with acts and words of gender, racial, political and law enforcement hate. Law enforcement officers were being called racial slurs; female officers being called “b—-,” threats to execute legislators of one party—all in the name of patriotism.
Overt hate speech and acts of hate seem to be on the rise all around us. A rise in acts of hate being perpetrated on Asian Americans as a response to the presence of Covid-19 has been reported in our country. Leaders calling Covid the “China flu” or “Kung flu” have given many the courage to turn on those of Asian ancestry in our communities.
In particular, hate crimes against particularly elderly Asians are surging. There are people volunteering to escort elderly Asians to maintain their safety. These acts of anti-Asian discrimination and hate are popping up all over the country.
Twice this last month, I was confronted with homophobia. On a Sunday morning while driving around the Tower District in support of the Save the Tower Theatre efforts, the opposition demonstrators yelled “Homo!” at me.
My reaction was to laugh and yell, “Is that all you’ve got?”
Those are words that I haven’t heard openly yelled in public for many years.
When walking our dog “Cody” the same week, I discovered “FAGGOT” scrawled on a trash bin behind a popular pizza restaurant on the corner of Bullard and West avenues—my own neighborhood.
These are certainly not the first times I have been confronted by homophobia, but it does make me realize that hate and ignorance, and efforts to oppress, continue, regardless of the legal rights that have been achieved. I am both sad and disappointed that this kind of behavior is still so openly expressed.
My personal approach to homophobia has always been to educate people. I have always felt that once people realized we were their sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, aunts and uncles, grandchildren, teachers, students, doctors and neighbors it would lead to greater acknowledgment of our rights to be ourselves.
Seeing that we are everywhere, people would come to realize that we are no threat and there would be greater acceptance. In some ways and in some places there has been greater acceptance, but my experiences last month suggest we have a long way to go.
We can’t legislate acceptance, yet without acceptance, the legislation will not be passed. Since January, dozens of bills have been introduced in 14 states that would negatively affect LGBTQ+, particularly targeting the transgender community. Is it any wonder that the rate of suicide and suicide attempts among members of the LGBTQ+ community is so high?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “more than half of transgender male teens who participated in a survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9% of transgender female teens said they had attempted suicide.” Those numbers are staggering.
The Quality Act, which the Biden-Harris campaign promised to pass, would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people across key areas of life. The areas affected would include protections in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service.
When this legislation finally passes, LGBTQ+ people will be covered under federal law and will have protection from discriminatory state and local laws. I encourage you to reach out to your Congressional member and urge her/him to vote for this legislation.
I was called to stand for Equality for Women and the LGBTQ+ community in my 20s. I have marched in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.; lobbied for legislation; organized rallies for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), equal pay, choice and against the “Briggs initiative” (which greatly expanded the kinds of cases in which the death penalty could be imposed); spoken in classrooms, on TV and radio; been a co-chair of the Lesbian-Gay Caucus of the California Democratic Caucus; started a short-lived gay Democratic Club (in the 1970s); and been a Grand Marshal of the Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Queer Hero of Fresno (in 2019).
I was a delegate to the 2016 National Democratic Convention, was elected to the Fresno County Democratic Party and served as a Presidential elector. I have been the president of the National Organization for Women and am currently president of the Fresno National Women’s Political Caucus and the Fresno Stonewall Democrats.
Feminism and the fight for equality for all of us run in my blood, and I am proud of my activism. But to some fool on the street in my hometown, I am still a “homo”!
Again, I say, “Is that all you’ve got?” We still have much work to do.
Marsha Conant is a lifelong activist and is currently the president of the Fresno Stonewall Democrats and the Fresno chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus.