The Amazon Trail: Damned if I Know by Lee Lynch

Damned if I know whether or not all the rabble rousing of the last sixty years has done us a lick of good. I thought the issue of our rights was pretty much settled, but on October eighth, 2019, Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that gay employees are already protected from job discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 federal civil rights law.

Some of the Justices seemed to believe that inclusion of sexual orientation in Title VII would have appeared preposterous to the court in 1964. Yet, Ms. Karlan argued, the Supreme Court has applied twenty-first century standards to a number of prior decisions. Discrimination against a person because of gender, she stated, already covers discrimination against sexual orientation.

A woman who dates another woman and is fired for it, is the object of discrimination by the simple fact of her gender. A man will not be fired for dating a woman.  The argument is plainspoken and ironclad. Some of the judges needed it repeated many times in many ways.

I’d been out four years by the time Title VII went into effect. The practice of favoring men over women was so blatantly wrong in my mind, I couldn’t believe a law was necessary. It certainly had nothing to do, in the late 1960s, with queer people keeping our jobs. You just shut up and stayed in your closet at work.

When I became a vocational counselor a few years later, my focus was on getting people employed, anywhere, anyhow. There was no question of finessing hires. Women became sewing machine operators at the clothing manufacturers of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Men delivered the raw materials, carted away the completed garments, and, for maybe ten cents an hour more, maintained the sewing machines. To have questioned the part I played in matching the unemployed to jobs by gender was to let my principles—and the law—come between desperate women, destitute men, and their survival. To invoke, or even be aware of, their newly stated rights, was irrelevant for most minimum wage workers.

Hearing Title VII invoked in defense of gay workers in 2019 was an eye opener. Ms. Karlan offered the Supremes, and Congress, an out. New, excruciatingly drawn out legislation is not needed. If a man is fired because he loves another man, and a woman is not fired because she loves a man, then the original man was fired because he’s a man. Period.

These arguments come up, not because the fired individual is a bad employee, but because the employer has a prejudice, an historical, religious, or personal belief about gay people. In other words, because the employer has the power. Just like the women ruining their eyes and hands sewing, the men destroying their back and knees carting, the fired gay person is a victim of someone who has more power, in these cases, the employer.

The United States was not created to disenfranchise people, although we do a lousy job of respecting the rights of Native Americans and other people of color. When the worker is powerless, the employer can dictate who feeds their families and who doesn’t. Laws have always been bandied about, reinterpreted, applied rightly or wrongly, bent and ignored, depending on who is in power.

And that’s where the activism of the last sixty years does make a lick of sense. We-the-people, must stand against courts which would sustain the imbalance of power and we must stand for the use of law to protect workers from prejudice, to protect veterans who live in the streets with their war nightmares, women battered into submission by employers and partners, queer people whose existence is an offense in the eyes of all-powerful beholders.

I no longer believe we can stop war, erase bigotry, take power and use it for only good. I no longer suit up with a wet bandana headband for tear gas, carry a rolled-up newspaper for protection, stay ever on the lookout for escape routes should the march, the rally, the sit-down, turn dangerous. I know now that the rabble rousing must go on and on, if only to keep the lid on the inhumanity of humanity.

 

Copyright Lee Lynch 2019

October 2019

 

10 comments

  1. Lee, I agree it is disheartening to know how long and hard we’ve struggled for our rights. I don’t believe it is time to give up. Individuals might give up (I don’t blame you if you want to), but others must continue the struggle. I believe we elders have to continue to encourage and support the younger generations to keep fighting. This is a very difficult time. But the world hasn’t ended yet. If the young people fight hard enough, they might save humans from extinction. Until humans become extinct, those of us on the right side of history have to continue to try to make things better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I turned 70 recently, and for some years I’ve thought about the work done by my generation to bring more justice, health, fairness to all… I did not interpret Lee Lynch’s words to mean, We should give up and desist, at all. I took these words to mean, change is much harder to achieve than we thought when we were younger. So we do what we can, even though we now know the power of our opposition.

    I heard an AOC interview where she said in some frustration, “There are people who do not want health care for everyone. There are even Democrats who do not support universal healthcare.” It seems to me a relatively simple problem with an obvious solution, but the chilling power of “we can’t afford it” “we’re not like Sweden” etc is ruling the public debate.

    Some of the change we want would require an actual change of heart in human beings. It would require a deep and real acceptance of other human beings, including LGBTQ+ rights such as marriage, parental rights, and protection from discrimination. But it is not unthinkable that our present Supreme Court will eliminate in law much of the progress made over the last half century. It is possible that marriages now recognized may lose legal protection, parental guardianship, employment protection, and more. Voting rights are already marginalized and the road is prepared for permanent minority rule by white men.

    I identify with the things Lee Lynch has written here. Those of us who remember the radicalism and street protests of the 60s and 70s hoped to accomplish a lot more than we did. What we did accomplish is being undone. The effectiveness of protest demonstrations, even enormous ones, has been limited in many ways. We have permanent war and infinite surveillance.

    But this is not to say we give up. It is that we have to keep doing all the rabble rousing we can muster, and we must do it without much hope of really succeeding, but simply because we create some bit of counterbalance against the worlds drift into a cultural sleep, a cable tv insulated dream of a ‘good life’ without the inconvenient thoughts about who is suffering and why we are suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lee, I’ve never told you this before, but you are my shero. You’ve had an amazing life and in your insight in to this crazy world we live in is special and everyone should pay attention to your words. You’ve got a wisdom that is precious and I’m glad that you’re here to share it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lee-thank you for your words, as always. I remember, I tire, I despair at times thinking about the one-step forward, two-steps back dance of our ages. But there is always a need to fight for humanity and a civil society.

    In your article, your words have provided me with an edited, new slogan:
    We-the-people
    must stand against courts
    which would sustain the imbalance of power,
    if only to keep the lid on the inhumanity of humanity.

    Sorry, I’m opting it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lee, thank you for blog post. You have expressed your thoughts so eloquently. Just when we thought we could see the light of fairness and equality, a tarp made of fear, hatred, and ignorance has been thrown over us. And so, the struggle continues. Once again, we must free ourselves from this shroud.

    Liked by 1 person

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