The following essay was written by my friend Roscoe Woods, president of the American Postal Workers Union, 480-4781 Area Local which represents postal workers in the southeast part of the state. A version of it first appeared in their newsletter The Communicator over the summer.
I particularly love this piece because it tells a personal story of acceptance of an LGBT person in a context where that is not at all a given: the military. Thanks to Roscoe for his thoughtful essay. Enjoy.
I am going out on a limb here – I am going to write a bit about a friend of mine from the 80’s a friend who I met when I served in the Army…
I find my days filled with a fight that is truly, at its core, the defense of labor issues and workers’ rights. As I get older and move forward into my evolution as a labor leader , I find – as the Reverend Doctor William Barber has said over and over – that social issues and workers issues are the same, and the entire fight is about justice; justice in the workplace as well a justice in our neighborhoods.
We recently stood witness to the Supreme Court’s ruling that consenting adults have the right to marry another consenting adult regardless of their gender. In short, marriage equality is now the law of our land.
Gay people now have the same rights as traditional married couples: the right to marry, the right to divorce, and, in the end, they have a shot at committing to one another and trying to find happiness in the chaotic difficult world we live in.
It’s not surprising that this is an issue that divides many along what are considered moral and religious lines. However I may feel personally, I do not believe I have the right to force my beliefs onto others.
Nor do not believe that others have a right to force me to live my life by a moral code or religious dogma that is not my own. In fact, we have been fighting a war against religious extremists who believe they have a right to force the entirety of the world to live by their specific interpretation of one specific religious document. They are killing, beheading, and oppressing people for no other reason than that these people do not believe or worship as they do.
I think all Christians who espouse our freedom here ought to set an example and enjoy the freedom to practice their religious beliefs but not do so at the expense of others who may disagree or choose to believe differently than they do.
I do not believe Christians in general are under attack here in the US. With 80% of the US identifying itself as Christian, along with 70% of our Congress, I believe this perceived attack on Christianity is a smoke screen that is raised to distract us while the richest of the rich pillage the tax wealth of our nation and erode the middle class while enriching themselves. I cannot understand why Christians are not as outraged at that as they seem to be when it comes to marriage equality.
The pursuit of unfettered wealth and possessions at the expense and on the backs of others is immoral isn’t it?
My religion and my morality are my own. I have an inner voice that guides me and I try to live every day of my life in a manner that leaves the world around me a better place. I try to help my brothers and sisters and I try to be an example and avoid hypocrisy.
Some of the best words I have ever heard have not been uttered by a prophet or a priest; they came from my mom when she told me she was proud of me for what I was doing with my life. If my mom and others I look to for guidance are proud of me then I will assume I am on the right track. I will assume I am making the right decisions and I will simply move forward from there.
I grew up in Madison Heights, Michigan. At that time, in the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s, it was not a hot bed of diversity. But it was a great place to be a kid. I had and still have a wide circle of friends that I still keep in touch with even after all these years.
Until I joined the Army in 1983 I had never experienced prejudice or ever witnessed someone verbally attacked because of their race, gender or sexual preference.
I had a friend in the Army. His name was Anthony “Tony ” Kizlauskas, he went through training with me. Tony and I ended up serving our nation at Walter Reid Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington D.C. We were there from early 1984 through the summer of 1987.
When I arrived for duty at WRAMC we became closer friends and, as our friendship grew, one day he confided in me he was gay.
Looking back 30+ years ago, I guess what is remarkable to me now about my reaction to the news was that I had none. Finding out my friend was gay did not impact my friendship with him one way or the other.
I believe that, aside from his family, I was one of the first people he told and in the end, after all these years, I am glad I was a person he felt he could tell. I was glad we were friends and I was glad he could trust me.
Looking back I hope my mom is proud because I did not judge Tony, I did not condemn Tony, and all those years we were stationed together I did not turn gay, he never tried to recruit me, and all those fears we see people espousing about gay culture never came true.
What I did witness, however, was his parents shunning him and his sister writing to him some of the most hateful letters I have ever read from one family member to another. What I did witness then was that people have a great capacity for hate. I hope my mom is proud because to this day I do not understand that hatred.
As our years of service passed and his sexual preference became known to a wider group, I found myself the subject of some harassment myself because not only were we friends, we were also roommates. I found it funny that, because we were friends, for no other reason than we shared a room in the barracks I was somehow gay.
But what was funnier looking back is that none of that bothered me either. I was comfortable with who I was. I knew I was not gay. I ran with Tony, we worked out together, we hung out together, and, in the end, when we departed the military for our civilian lives, we parted as good friends.
I bring all this up is because I find the attacks on gay people to be a needless waste of energy and I believe what we see in the media and elsewhere is a distraction from the real immoral acts being heaped upon the middle class and working poor in this nation.
All any of us want is to be happy and if finding the right person and marrying him or her would have made my friend Tony happy then I would have gladly stood next to him at his wedding and stood witness to his vows.
I have my religious beliefs; I live my life by a morality that, while not steeped in religion, is most certainly guided by it because of my mother and others who were there to shape my direction and opinions as I grew up. And, make no mistake sisters and brothers; while I may be turning 50 this year, I still have a lot of growing and a lot of learning to do.
I believe that at the end of the day we are all obligated to treat others as we wish to be treated. I live my life fighting to see the people the APWU represents get the dignity and respect they deserve. I do not care if you are a man a women or if you are black, white, brown, gay or straight, we are in this together and I am in this for my membership.
An injury to one is an injury to all there is no asterisk or “unless” in that statement. It applies to every damned one of us.
With all this commentary around the Supreme Court’s decision I find myself thinking about my friend Tony and the way he was treated by his family by others we met over our years in the service. They called him names, horrible names, and he got beaten up pretty bad one weekend in DC, all because he was gay.
My point, I guess, is that I don’t care if a gay couple wants to get married. It impacts me in no way whatsoever. If two consenting adults can find happiness together then isn’t the world better for that? Who am I do deny anyone happiness?
If my beliefs are different then I live my life according to my beliefs. Not once did my good friend Tony ever question why I wasn’t gay and at no time did I ever question why he was.
I believe what we need to do is attack the real lack of morality in our world: elected representatives who think corporations are people and elected officials who pass legislation that denies minorities and the poor the right to vote.
In my opinion, the real lack of morality in our world deprives people of clean water, families of short term assistance to live, and workers the right to organize and have a voice in their workplace.
In my opinion, we ought to be fighting for social justice so kids can feel safe in their homes and in their neighborhoods. We need to fight for better schools and, in the end, we need to avoid distractions that divide us and rally to each other’s side whether we are gay or straight and regardless of our gender or race.
How is it in the greatest nation on this earth we have the energy and time to fight denying certain segments of our society certain rights but we don’t have the time and energy to feed or house the homeless veterans that number in the tens of thousands?
In my opinion, the real lack of morality is thinking health care is only for those who can afford it. A living wage is less than $8.00 an hour, and we need to raise the retirement age to 70.
In my opinion, the moral crisis of our age is this brazen attack on the middle class and the poor. It’s the Michigan state legislature taking away the earned income tax credit. It’s the Nerd and his ilk creating an economic and job climate that makes the earned income tax credit necessary in the first place!
This was a tough article to write but not because I am afraid what I believe will offend others. As with my sexuality, I am quite comfortable with my political direction and I am certain not one of you who has known me or been paying attention to this column over the years is surprised by my opinions. It’s tough because I miss my friend. You see Tony was a good guy. He was a kind, caring, respectful soul and in the early 90’s he died, as countless millions of others have, from the AIDS virus.
I wish Tony could have lived long enough to see marriage equality become the law of this land. I recall his sister telling him that if he did die of AIDS, he was getting what he deserves. That breaks my heart to this day.
I think as responsible free people we have much larger concerns than to be spending so much time debating something that, in the end, does not really impact many of us directly or negatively.
Have we ever considered that the arguments against marriage equality are nothing more than smoke screen used to divide us because a divided people is much easier to break?
In the end, my only concerns are whether you stand with the middle class and working people, if are you a member of my union, and, if you are not, when do you expect to join?
An injury to one is, in fact, an injury to us all and my solidarity with you does not stop if we disagree on issues that, in the end, do not affect our ability to protect all we are entitled to.
If you read this to the end, I appreciate your patience. I hope you are all having a great summer and I look forward to seeing you at the picnic, the ball game, or perhaps the next union meeting.
[CC LGBT graphic: The Limpa-Vias Blog]