In the South, We Only Lose When We Do Not Fight

This May Be Our Finest Hour



NASA Director: This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever faced.

Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.


That powerful moment from Apollo 13 keeps playing in my head with each new headline from North Carolina showing the growing resistance from within and beyond the state's borders to HB2, the law aimed at legalizing anti-LGBT discrimination.


I am moved by the steady drumbeat of opposition from faith leaders and the nation’s largest corporations. I am inspired seeing the NAACP threatening a massive sit-in and Charles Barkley and Bruce Springsteen among the many using their celebrity to amplify the message that HB2 is wrong.


The line from Apollo 13 resonates for me because it delivers an important message to those in the LGBT movement who in recent years have turned their attention to the South: We only lose when we do not fight.


If we are truly committed to changing things for the better in the South, movement leaders must mentally prepare for rough road. We cannot be afraid on this mission. We will suffer loss. We will experience setbacks. Our opposition is vicious, desperate and dangerous. But those have always been the odds when fighting for justice in the South.


Astronaut Jim Lovell:  Houston... We are venting something out into space...

I can see it outside of Window 1 right now...

It's definitely a... a gas of some sort.  It's got to be the oxygen.


Think of the loss in Houston as the "wicked shimmy" just before the oxygen got sucked out of the room of a movement heady from a cascade of marriage victories. Having been the far right’s punching bag for decades on the marriage front, the series of wins that preceded the Windsor and then Obergefell Supreme Court decisions felt for many like the irreversible turning point. We had broken the code, the wind was now securely at our backs, the metaphors of conquest abounded. So it is understandable that the lopsided 60-40 defeat in Houston triggered PTSD in the national movement and suddenly local ordinance fights looked dangerous, potential time bombs waiting to destroy us or drain our meager resources. But fear can cloud good judgment and obscure some realities of doing this work in hostile territory. In national media and across blogs, the bathroom panic argument was described as if it were a new doomsday scenario despite the fact that it had been around for more than a decade and we’d beaten it more often than we’d lost to it.


Houston did not mean we should cancel the mission or lower our sights. It meant we needed to plan smarter, coordinate with state leadership better and suit up for the harder work of changing hearts and minds, not just policies.


We live in a country where 70% think anti-LGBT discrimination ought to be illegal but 75% think it already is outlawed. That may explain the lack of intensity on our side of the ledger, especially in low-turnout ballot campaigns.  


We will look back on the “setbacks” in the South as having been essential to changing that disconnect. Unlike marriage or military bans, discrimination in employment is like the sword of Damocles, it hangs over many of us but it is not inevitable.


With progress in many states and major metro areas; policies within corporate America, and a steady presence in pop culture, the general public might be forgiven for assuming discrimination is non-existent or extremely rare. But for those who experience the devastation of losing a career, of being humiliated trying to shop or rent, statistical probability is of no comfort.


But since the pushback in North Carolina, there's no mistaking that our side has urgency and intensity now. Folks in our community who believe they are insulated from the worst kinds of discrimination by geography or financial comfort are feeling the insult intended in the passage of HB2. Allies who had believed the process of securing protections was mostly ceremonial have now seen the ugly, unveiled face of bigotry.


So let’s not draw that wrong lessons the backlash hitting the South particularly hard. Instead, let’s lift up the voices of Southern leaders who have set the table for this moment.

Is it not poetic that Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, has been named to the NC legislature, the only out legislator in the state? I am still basking in the words of Georgia Governor Deal who invoked his faith to justify vetoing anti-LGBT language. Who would have imagined that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley would be warning her fellow Republicans not to send her an unnecessary HB2 style bill? Now Governor McCrory in North Carolina is scrambling to pass an executive order that includes sexual orientation and gender identity protections in state government as the drumbeat of opposition to HB2 continues to intensify. Mississippi is already feeling the first rumbles of the same economic malfunction that may cost North Carolina more than half a billion dollars.   

In Florida, the third most populous in the country, 56% of our population lives in places that have gender identity and sexual orientation nondiscrimination protections. We have carved out victories in progressive enclaves and Republican strongholds. We’ve confronted the bathroom attack locally and we have blocked that legislation at the state level. In doing so transgender leadership has emerged and solidified a voice in Florida politics. Will we face more backlash bills that threaten that progress? Quite likely. But the more they talk, the more they expose the contradiction between the values of equality and fairness and their work to legalize discrimination.


Our movement has turned hardship into fuel for ultimate success before. We can’t just savor the marriage victories, we have to remember the fire in the belly stoked by losses. It forced us to tell our stories. Our stories turned our neighbors to allies. Victory in the South is coming. The rough path will be worth it. It may be the only way forward.


Jim Lovell:

Everything shorts out right there in my cockpit. All my instruments are gone.

My lights are gone. And I can't even tell now what my altitude is.

I know I'm running out of fuel, so I'm thinking about ditching in the ocean.

And I, I look down there, and then in the darkness there's this uh, there's this green trail. It's like a long carpet that's just laid out right beneath me.

And it was the algae, right? It was that phosphorescent stuff that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship. And it was - it was - it was leading me home.

You know? If my cockpit lights hadn't shorted out, there's no way I'd ever been able to see that. So uh, you, uh, never know... what... what events are to transpire to get you home.





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