Today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we hear from PFLAG National board member Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell. Rev. Caldwell is a retired United Methodist Minister who lives in Asbury Park, NJ. He was active in the Massachusetts unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and participated in the civil-rights movement throughout the nation. In 2000, he, with others, organized the RMN Extension ministry United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church (UMOC), an organization committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in every aspect of church and society.
Recent reversals in long-ago approved legislation on voting rights and affirmative action have caused me to respond with these words: The negative music of laws that once separated and segregated persons because of their race may have ended, but the melody of those laws lingers on.
It is difficult for me, as one of many who risked life and limb in the Civil Rights Movement to gain voting rights and equal access for blacks, to see those rights experience reversal by today's legislators in Washington and in the states. It is made even more difficult during this time when we acknowledge what would have been the 85th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King.
I cringe as I think of how he would respond to these reversals if he were alive.
Theodore B. Olson, the conservative lawyer and co-lead counsel on the Proposition 8 case, wrote these words for TIME magazine in the issue reflecting on the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech:
"King pronounced the time for patience to have expired and shared his deeply rooted conviction that his dream would, at long last, coalesce. He made clear that the need for action was immediate and compelling while exhorting blacks to renew their faith in America. There has been no greater reminder of what this nation held itself out to be and no greater plea for us to attain those ideals. No greater invocation of the spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln. No greater manifesto for America."
As a member of the national board of PFLAG and as a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, I truly believe that PFLAG's work to change policy on LGBTQ issues at every level of government while, at the same time, working to change the minds, hearts, attitudes, and actions of persons in response to people who are LGBTQ aligns Dr. King’s intent and actions.
King said of laws against lynching, "A law may not make a man love me, but it will discourage him from lynching me." So too, a law may not make people change their personal beliefs on LGBT persons, but it will keep them from being able to openly discriminate against and denigrate them. As my colleagues with PFLAG often state: policy builds a bridge to equality, but to get people to cross that bridge, we need to change their hearts and their minds.
Beyond policy, Dr. King consistently spoke of creating "The Beloved Community,” a nation and world that embraced ALL people, regardless of their differences. In fact, it was because of human difference that he felt hearts and minds must be changed as well as laws.
I strongly believe that Dr. King, due to his personal, family, and historical awareness and experience of racial hatred and legalized discrimination, would agree with Ted Olson's advocacy of equal rights and marriage equality for LGBTQ persons. And I believe he would be in strong support of PFLAG’s work toward building a beloved community.