On August 26th, We Are Straight Allies sent this letter to city council – we encourage each of you to contact the city council member of your district and let them know that you support the LGBT community and the passing of a new Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville – inclusive of sexual orientation or gender identity:
For the past several years, I have served as an active and “out” straight ally working towards equality with the LGBT community. In 2008, I co-founded the first-ever Gay-Straight Student Alliance at Winston-Salem State University, an HBCU after hearing devastating stories from gay and lesbian students about on-going bias & discrimination, physical & emotional abuse, and abandonment by their families. Seven months later, the board of trustees unanimously passed the first-ever non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation. This work caught the attention of the White House Office of Public Engagement and led to one of our students, Michael Evans, president of the GSSA, being invited to stand with President Obama at a historic signing of the HBCU initiative.
While in NC, I also worked with Donna Payne and Karin Quimby of the HRC, Brian Bond with the White House Office of Public Engagement, Sharon Lettman-Hicks with the NBJC and Jasmine Beach-Ferrara with the Campaign for Southern Equality. I stood shoulder to shoulder with nine gay and lesbian couples as we marched from my downtown loft and art gallery to the Office of the Deeds where they applied for and were denied marriage licenses, and I worked with a dedicated, diverse group of community members to ensure a more inclusive policy for family memberships at a local YMCA.
You may be wondering why I have chosen to become involved in LGBT advocacy. The answer is both simple and complex. My mother, Susanne is a white, Jewish civil & human rights, social justice, and women’s liberation activist. My father, Rev. James Luther Bevel was a “fiery top lieutenant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a force behind many of the pivotal civil rights campaigns of the 1960s.” I am painfully aware that it has only been several decades since laws banning “race-mixing” were enforced in certain U.S. states. My parents’ legacy has informed much of my life and my decision to advocate for marginalized groups of people – women, those in poverty, victims of sexual violence and the criminal justice complex, people of color, etc. My earliest memory of activism was as a three-year-old, sleeping in concrete building tubes in the park across the street from the White House, eating rice and drinking water in support of the Bangladesh Liberation War and protesting famine in Pakistan.
When I was five, we moved to Memphis, TN. Our tiny, weary legs carried me and my sister to the Lorraine Motel – long before it was transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum in 1991. Back then, it an hourly-rate, seedy franchise with prostitutes and a dilapidated swimming pool near the balcony where Dr. King was assassinated. We sang freedom songs and listened to civil rights giants Andrew Young, John Lewis, Ralph David Abernathy and Jesse Jackson recount the horrors and joys of the movement. Stories of The Poor People’s Campaign, the resistance against the war in Vietnam, and the Memphis Sanitation Strike resonated in my soul and inspired me to become a freedom fighter.
Fifty years ago, my father initiated and orchestrated the Birmingham “Children’s Crusade” that helped revive the Movement and was the turning point that prompted President John F. Kennedy to publicly fully support racial equality and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thousands of children were beaten, hosed, attacked by dogs and arrested as they peacefully protested for human rights. Once again, we are standing at the crossroads of freedom and equality. In the spirit of his memory and all of the other foot soldiers who stood, fought and died for justice, I proudly stand in support of a comprehensive Human Rights Ordinance.
When I think about the vast and diverse group of people who have influenced and impacted my life, I am deeply appreciative that the list includes women, men, transgendered, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, white, Black, Latino, mixed-race, Asian, Democrats, Republicans, gay and straight. From a tiny jail cell in Birmingham, Dr. King wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Since arriving in Jacksonville last fall, I have become involved with a myriad of organizations and initiatives working to help move this community forward – JAX2025, Race: Are We So Different? exhibition, TEDxJacksonville, etc. I have also joined the Jacksonville Committee for Equality. Several weeks ago, I, along with Dan Bagan and Laura Riggs, created a straight ally ad campaign. We look forward to speaking with each of you as we work to find common ground upon which to stand.