Eight years ago, I did not watch Barack Obama’s historic inauguration. While campaigning, Obama courted the “gay vote” and reaped large donations as a result from these efforts. Yet, Rick Warren, the pastor who stated he opposed gay marriage just as he opposed “an older guy marrying a child,” was an honored guest and was invited to deliver a prayer during the inauguration ceremony. Disappointed by Obama’s hypocrisy, I boycotted. As someone with LGBTQ family, it was an easy decision, but as a mother of multi-racial children, not one I took lightly. It was a small action — and let’s be honest, not one Obama noticed.
A family friend found my lack of participation to be selfish, and chastised my brother — yes, a gay man — as she saw him responsible for my decision. She chided him for wallowing in his “own hurt” and reminded him that Obama’s presidency was testament of the “process” of change. Her response reminded me of the paternalistic moderate clergymen who “set a timetable for another man’s freedom,” insisting Martin Luther King Jr. needed to wait “for a more convenient season” to advocate for equal rights.
Fast forward eight years, and much has changed. Obama “evolved” on marriage equality, and set about making amends. He took action, and when the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, even Bill Clinton, who signed the law in 1996, called it a “great step forward.” This is, of course, history. But it is also a reminder that time itself does not heal wounds. Nor do mere words. Action is necessary. Because Obama took action, when my brother and his husband were invited to the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, they shook Obama’s hand, told him “it’s really wonderful being married,” and thanked him.
I understand this evolution: I was raised in a conservative Christian household, and once handed out magazines advising young people their homosexual thoughts were a phase. I preached the problematic phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Even after family came out, I had the audacity to argue that we might have to settle for civil unions for same-sex couples, reasoning, “Americans just were not ready.” My brother provided a rebuke, and I learned that only through listening can those with privilege be an ally to marginalized groups.
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I again found myself opting out of inauguration festivities. Some call this unpatriotic. I call it standing up for what you believe in. This time, I am not optimistic that President Donald Trump will make amends with anyone unless it is of benefit to him. Nor do I see a predisposition for reflection. From Trump’s sexism to his call for a Muslim registry, he demonstrates the continued relevance of King’s insistence that people have “the moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
We must listen to those whose rights and lives are impacted by systemic inequality, and take reasonable action. We cannot wait for a more convenient season.
Tiffany Hitesman teaches First Year Writing and Nonfiction at Boise State University.