Monday, October 5, 2009

After 416

FROM THE ARCHIVES (Daily Nebraskan columns)

After 416

Jeremy Patrick (

Daily Nebraskan (

November 06, 2000

"The moments of freedom, they can't be given to you. You have to take them."
---Robert Frost

When the Initiative 416 campaign began months ago, the queer community sent out a cry of alarm. Opposing groups formed, canvassing started, rallies were held. Yet I did not take part; I was certain the measure would pass. Opposing it would simply be a waste of time and resources.
My certainty in its success has not changed, but I regret not having done more to oppose it. I have come to understand that the process of resisting is far more important than the outcome of tomorrow's vote.
From our defeat here, we have laid the groundwork for future victories.
Never before in Nebraska's history has there been such widespread public discussion of GLBT issues. Every speech was an opportunity to show we exist, that we have families too, and that our lives are worthy of respect and equality before the law.
Simply reading the newspapers should encourage us for the future. From the sidelines, it's clear that this was an issue Nebraska really struggled with. The letters pages were often filled with heated debate, but usually letters from 416-opponents outnumbered those of its supporters. Nebraska's two largest newspapers, the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star, even came out in opposition to the measure.
We saw leaders in high places put their jobs on the line to stick up for equality; Regent Allen's attack on Interim Chancellor Perlman only testified to the integrity of the latter, the dangerousness of the former and the real progress we have made.
We saw hundreds of students rally for our cause. Guyla Mills, at a recent hearing on campus, complained that she was "ambushed." She wasn't "ambushed" - she knew opponents and supporters of 416 would show up - she was simply surprised and overwhelmed by the number and enthusiasm of 416's opponents.
This youth activism is an example of what's happening around the country. Studies show that younger generations are increasingly accepting and supportive of GLBT equality. The future, if nothing else, is on our side.
Perhaps most importantly, dozens of religious leaders proclaimed their opposition to 416 and their belief in the essential dignity and equality of all Americans. No longer can anti-gay groups claim that this is a battle between the "religious" and the "godless." No longer can they claim the Christian view to support their prejudices.
Just as in the latter parts of the black and women's civil rights movement, the once-unified religious opposition toward equality is crumbling from within.
Even the polls are a testament to our progress - a solid third of Nebraska supports us, inconceivable a decade ago. The right wing's haste to abandon homophobic rhetoric and cloak themselves solely as "Defenders of Marriage" will undermine them in the future.
As Dan Rather said recently: "The conundrum the Republicans are facing now echoes the one with which segregationists of both parties were confronted as the black civil rights movement matured: Once bigotry falls out of mainstream fashion, it's hard to talk the accepted talk without walking the walk."
"When the prevailing political winds force a party to abandon prejudicial rhetoric, how can it continue to advocate prejudicial policy without wrapping itself in the cloak of hypocrisy?"
Like all civil rights movements, ours too will face setbacks. This is an issue, however, that the entire world is facing, and it is clear that the trend toward full equality is picking up steam.
The supporters of 416 will see tomorrow as a victory, but in reality, they have already lost - they will never again make us be silent, ashamed or secretive. Their dream of a 1950s-style patriarchy have already been shattered.
A conservative professor (and supporter of 416) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln likes to say that "as long as there are traditional families, there will be traditional family values." I know that as long as there are queer people, there will be queer families with just as much warmth, love and support.
Perhaps, someday, our families will coexist peacefully with mutual respect and full equality under the law. Someday, when he and other Nebraskans let them. Until then, however, the struggle continues.

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