I was at the gym when the funeral for the late Coretta Scott King was broadcast this morning. As I slowed down the elliptical machine, I paused to reflect on so many thoughts. I couldn't help but notice the other gym patrons going about their exercise routine without ever looking up to the television screens. Since she died last week at the age of 78, I have thought often about her life and the significance of her guiding light for nearly 40 years after the death of her husband, the great Dr. Martin Luther King. How could these people who surrounded me be so consumed that they were not aware of this moment of importance in our nation's history?
"Perhaps, they just didn't care?"
"I bet if it was Princess Diana again, they'd be all over the television set."
"Maybe it's simply because they are white, straight, old and mostly male...clearly they've never had to deal with the injustices of inequality."
These assumptions hastily sped through my mind but were quickly nixed as my mind moved into more soul searching reflection.
With Mrs. King's death and Rosa Park's passing just under six months ago I couldn't help but ask myself, "Is this the end of an era?" As the iconic figures of the civil rights movement age and pass on, who will...in the words of Mrs. King, "stand up" to the injustices of equality in our nation and throughout the world? What made Coretta Scott King so amazing was that along with her husband, they walked in the face of obstacles. Even through the beating of her husband, the death threats and the bombing of their home, they marched on. They did not rely on Hollywood to tell their stories, and they certainly didn't throw an Oscar Party (like the one recommended to me through an email from HRC to celebrate "Brokeback Mountain"...pleaseeee!) to celebrate their achievements toward equality. Upon her husband's assassination the world looked on as she gracefully honored his work by continuing his march towards freedom. Mrs. King was a woman of peace and universal love and we are blessed to be able to remember her in a time where "peace" is believed to be achieved only through war, and that love is only valid or worthy of marriage equality if it is contained within the limited thinking of the heterosexual box...which comes with a Celine Dion album, soccer ball, mini-van and subscription to Martha Stewart: Living.
As I watched the service I found it ironic that President Bush would even attend the funeral. It was only last month during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts that he even considered renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act which expires next year. Up until that time he had declined to support the renewal of Section 5 which is considered to be the "heart" of the Act and says that, "Under the provision, specified jurisdictions cannot change voting procedures without approval of the Justice Department, which must rule that changes will not restrict voting." Now, why would you fuck with that? He also stressed that there is still more to be done in the work towards equality and made this statement...
"We recommit ourselves to working for the dream that Martin Luther King gave his life for -- an America where the dignity of every person is respected; where people are judged not by the color of their skin -- by the content of their character; and where the hope of a better tomorrow is in every neighborhood in this country."
OK that's nice and peachy, but what he still doesn't understand (and Oprah Winfrey is not always great about showing her understanding either)...is that equality is not just a "black" issue. Whether it deals with the right to vote, the right to marry or the right to wipe one's own ass or not, the bottom line is... it is about choices. It's about every citizen of the United States of America having the choice to exercise their freedom, and live out their happiness without discrimination in any form.
I think what is so inspiring about Mrs. King, is that she understood that. So, as each of you take time to remember this remarkable woman and celebrate her life in your own way, I'll leave you with this quote from her in November of 2000 which shows me that yes, indeed, she... got it. Heaven just received the greatest of its angels...thank you Mrs. King!
"We have a lot more work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say “common struggle” because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination."