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    Nobody’s Stealing Our Joy

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    Alabama earlier this month enacted the most draconian state anti-transgender law yet. The grossly misnamed “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act” makes it a felony for healthcare professionals to provide gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers or hormone therapies, to transgender minors. When Governor Kay Ivey signed the legislation (which is anything but compassionate to vulnerable queer youth), she callously proclaimed: “I believe very strongly that if the Good Lord made you a boy, you are a boy, and if he made you a girl, you are a girl.” 

    To add insult to injury, Ivey the same day also signed a bill prohibiting trans students from using bathrooms or locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, and outlawing classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity before the sixth grade. Medical providers and parents of trans kids immediately filed suit to block the trans health care law, and legal action against the education bill will soon ensue.

    These are just a few of a slew of bills conservative Republicans are enacting to attack LGBTIQ youth, women, and racial minorities to energize their conservative political base as the midterm elections approach. However, amidst this horrific cruelty and vengeance, our minds also turn to an extraordinary exchange between New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson last month at her historic Judiciary Committee hearing for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Jackson, who with her full Senate confirmation will become the Court’s first African American woman Justice, had endured hours of conservative Republicans’ spurious attacks on her credibility and smears with racist subtexts that no white male nominee had ever faced.

    When Booker’s turn to speak came, he proclaimed boldly: “Nobody’s stealing my joy. Nobody’s going to make me angry, especially not people that are called in a conservative magazine ‘demagogic’ for what they’re bringing up that just doesn’t hold water. I’m not gonna let my joy be stolen.”

    Booker described what made Jackson’s ascension to the high court so profound to him as a Black person and to many other African Americans, especially Black women. He explained: “You did not get there because of some left-wing agenda. You didn’t get here because of some dark money groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who has gotten anywhere has done: by being like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards in heels.’”

    Then Booker articulated a unique patriotism based in radical love that many African Americans as well as LGBTIQ people, women, and other minorities, possess. He said that “there’s a love in this country that is extraordinary” in which minorities, such as Jackson’s own parents, “didn’t stop loving this country, even though this country didn’t love them back.” They persevered as we do today, saying, “America, you may not love me yet, but I’m going to make this nation live up to its promise and hope.”

    Therein lies the challenge we as LGBTIQ people face today. How do we sustain our love and joy in the face of today’s vicious attacks on the humanity of queer youth, women, racial minorities, and other targets of conservative Republican politicians? How do we forcefully and effectively oppose tremendously harmful laws and undermine conservative Republicans’ divisive, self-serving tactics and rhetoric without feeding the “us and them” paradigm that is ultimately destructive to everyone? How do we not replicate “us and them” attitudes within our own movement?

    Affirming each other and cultivating community are essential. They are so important that Booker, himself a U.S. Senator, felt the need to assure Jackson, a sitting federal appellate judge with impeccable credentials, poised to join the U.S. Supreme Court: “You have earned this spot. You are worthy.” Undoubtedly, Booker intended his words for a broader audience, and we must provide that same assurance to queer youth and our entire community.

    In the face of the current onslaught, queer youth and their parents are finding their voices, organizing, and becoming involved as never before. Creating genuine community in and of itself advances our movement by strengthening ourselves and our connections to each other and providing the opportunity to experience joy, even as we struggle together against deeply deleterious laws.

    A sense of love and community also unleashes creativity that provides pathways to change that we cannot yet envision. It offers the possibility of winning new supporters and furthering equality and dignity under law and in society without furthering polarization.

    When Senator Booker told Judge Jackson that “you are here because of that kind of love, and nobody’s taking this away from me,” he was truly speaking to all of us.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

    Published on April 21, 2022