To the small group of people holding signs along an overpass over Dodge Street: What, dear friends, is the point?
Motorists will glance up and read their signs, and if they agree they'll honk and think to themselves, “Good for you.” And if they don’t agree, they’ll scowl and stare ahead, turn up their radio and do whatever they can to blot the messages from their minds. The really angry ones may roll down their windows and share a little hate with the crowd.
The issue at the center of this lengthy introduction: The Equal Employment Ordinance scheduled to be introduced to the Omaha City Council by Ben Gray this past Tuesday. In a nutshell, it would add the LGBT (that stands for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community to the list of protected citizens in the city's current equal employment regulations. Translated: You can’t fire (or not hire) someone because of who he or she loves.
You’ve already made up your mind which side of this issue you're on. Nothing I write and no group of sign-carriers is going to change that. You either don't give two shits who someone is making a life with, or you don’t like gay people. There is no in between no matter what anyone says. All this bluster about “giving preferential rights to special interest groups” is complete bullshit. Don't hide behind that rhetoric. Say it. You don’t like gay people. You don’t want to work around them. You don’t want to be around them. You don’t want your children to be around them.
Those hiding behind a religious argument are only deceiving themselves. This issue has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with insecurity and hate and fear of people who aren't like you.
There used to be a time, not so long ago, that loving Jesus meant loving your neighbor, no matter who he or she was. But that was back in the ‘60s, when a Jesus freak was someone who embraced everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, belief, sex or no sex. Today, a Jesus freak is someone who hates everyone who isn’t just like them, who doesn’t believe in what they believe in. Go ahead and hate your neighbor, because the bible tells you so.
I first heard about this issue when it made its way to the Unicameral in the form of Nebraska State Sen. Beau McCoy’s bill, LB912, which, if passed, would bar municipalities from passing ordinances such as Gray’s that create a “protected classification.” In my naïve, Pollyannic view, I agreed with McCoy.
What are we doing creating rules that protect basic civil rights on a city-by-city basis? So it's okay to discriminate against gay people in one town but not another? It's okay to be gay in Omaha, but don't try that shit in Fremont? We’re not talking about a smoking ordinance here. These protections need to be provided statewide, and by god, nationwide, just like Sen. McCoy wants.
Ah Tim, you stupid, silly man.
Back to the overpass. Last Saturday morning I took Gilda and Evie on our usual stroll to the park, but this time we planned to hear a little more about the issue from Mr. Gray himself. As we crossed the ridge through the trees we could see them gathered on the concrete patio below Memorial Park’s monument, maybe 50 people, bundled to brace the cold. One held a large rainbow flag. A small generator sat in the grass connected to a PA.
I sat behind the TV cameras, where I could hold the dogs in tow. One guy about my age and his son visiting from rural Iowa asked what the crowd was all about. I pointed at the flag and said, “Looks like some sort of gay rights demonstration.” He shrugged, and then asked which war the monument was supposed to represent. I said, “All of them.” A few minutes later, he and his son disappeared.
A red-headed woman with an acoustic guitar kicked things off by singing a rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Those of us with dogs did what we could to control them.
Then Ben Gray, wearing a crocheted rainbow scarf, stood behind the microphones in front of the video cameras and spoke about the 14th Amendment, and whether the issue was a question for the Constitution or for the Bible, saying that our founding fathers came here to escape oppression. He closed by urging the crowd to make its presence known at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
After a few more speakers, they began to make their way to the sidewalk leading down to Dodge Street and the overpass. I found Gray and asked about LB912. He said the bill, which will never pass, had one goal in mind: To crush his ordinance and a similar ordinance trying to gain passage in another town.
Yeah, but shouldn’t these basic human rights be statewide, even nationwide? “That’s exactly the argument that they’ll make,” Gray said. But when it comes to a statewide law protecting LBGT rights, “We have the means, but we don’t have the will.”
Not yet, anyway. Gray said over time ordinances like his passed throughout the state will put pressure on the Unicameral to get similar laws on the books. But it has to start somewhere.
Maybe that’s the point of those signs on the overpass. You can agree with them, you can embrace the message. Or you can laugh at them. You can hate them. But you can’t unsee what you’ve seen. Try as hard as you like, you can’t ignore them. The message may be forgotten, but it’s not going away.
Beyond Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on arts, culture, society and the media. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org