Simon Williamson: Our work for equality is never done

In my native South Africa, the rights of gay people are, as written in law, sacrosanct. When the folks who ran apartheid cried “uncle,” and our political leaders went into negotiations over a new constitution, Nelson Mandela and his party’s leadership insisted on protections for a whole host of people the previous government had willingly and intentionally marginalised. These included a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and our nation at the bottom of Africa became the first to constitutionalise that right.

Yet South Africa still suffers from severe and gory hate crimes against LGBT people. Gay folks in Johannesburg and Cape Town are unlikely to experience much blowback, but outside the middle class centers of the major cities (and a few small liberal towns), the law on the books does not necessarily equate with protected rights for our family members across the nation. In fact, it lets them down repeatedly. People are more rigid than rigor mortis when it comes to enforcing their idea of gender roles upon others.

Why am I giving you a South African history lesson? In Georgia, we’re going to get gay marriage eventually, and many will incorrectly declare the gay rights fight won. One day we will get an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (and not the HRC skim-milk version, but one that includes transgender people too). And one day we will get immigration reform and not have a Florida senator wank out over whether gay couples are included in it. But we need to remember that our jobs are not done when our aims are passed into law—and even when they are, they have to be fought for day in and day out (I refer you to the carrion that is the Voting Rights Act).

This warning applies notably, albeit not exclusively, to those of us who live outside the metropolitan areas. In many instances we can’t rely on the police or public institutions to get over their personal views and adequately protect us. The Georgia Voice reported in its last issue that the Atlanta Police Department fell asleep at the wheel over a gay bashing in Midtown—MIDTOWN. That’s home turf, for goodness’ sake.

Me and my people in the boonies are going to find it even harder, where we don’t necessarily have a supportive media or electorate, to get all up in the face of bigoted civil servants. Brandon Bush, a friend of mine who is one of the founding members and former board members of South Georgia Pride in Valdosta, told me Valdosta’s first-term mayor, John Gayle, refused to sign agreeable, if incidental, paperwork (which his predecessor hadn’t taken issue with), and used his public refusal to let his voters know all about his anti-gay sentiments.

As Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum will be proving all over Iowa over the next year: our victories and successes will result in pushback. My husband’s hometown of Meadville, Pennsylvania, tried to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance last year, and the public absolutely freaked out, to the point that the city manager tabled the issue. In 2014, the state of Nebraska’s legislature didn’t even get to a vote on nondiscrimination legislation due to procedural trickery. Michael Sam and I have played the same number of NFL games. And the police chief of Philadelphia has a gay-bashing daughter.

These incidents and attitudes are not going to change with the laws. Look at Florida: the introduction of same-sex marriage to the Sunshine State has been complicated enough to deserve its own Taylor Swift album.

So it is up to us not to let it go. There are too many people desperate to take away the basic civil rights we want—the same ones that everyone else has. I’d love to know I could phone the police without worrying about the personal prejudices of whoever might answer the phone.