Where Are Our Lunch Counters?

During the black civil rights movement, the African-American community was beset with legally sanctioned segregation and discrimination. Thumbnail Link: Exposing Segregation At Drug Store Lunch CountersOne visible place where African-Americans were visibly discriminated against was drug store lunch counters.

When African-American community sought show that segregation was the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality, the community used lunch counters as the focus of non-violent protest.

As a peaceful form of protest, black and white students and others sat at lunch counters that were segregated. They refused to leave until they were served. Often, they were not served, but arrested and taken away to jail. The first such protest took place in a Woolworth’s store in early 1960 in Greensboro, South Carolina. Four black students waited for an hour, but they were never served. Their protest was used as an example in nine other states across the U.S., and many lunch counters began to give-in.

Where does the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community have equivalents to lunch counters? Where are we, as a people belonging to a community, exposed to an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality?

With regards to US Code Title 10, Subtitle G, Section 654: Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces {the federal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) code}, the LGBT equivalents lunch counters are military recruiting offices. Just as lunch counters were visible locations that symbolized segregation and discrimination for African-American community members, so too are military recruiting offices visible locations that symbolize discrimination.

With regards to US Code Title 1, Section 7: Definition of “Marriage” and “Spouse” {the federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) code}, the LGBT equivalents to the Lunch Counter are the local Office of Register offices where LGBT community members are denied marriage licenses, and the state lines where the marriages of LGBT community members’ marriages are legally dissolved, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offices where LGBT community members’ marriages aren’t legally recognized.

With regards to employment nondiscrimination, the LGBT equivalents lunch counters are the businesses that deny us jobs, and/or deny us equal benefits. Just as lunch counters were visible locations that symbolized segregation and discrimination for African-American community members, so too are Human Resources offices visible locations that symbolize discrimination.

But, the LGBT community has yet to organize non-violent protests at the moral equivalents to the lunch counters of the recent American past — demanding freedom, equality, and justice from those that would choose to use the power of government to deny its citizens human rights. Even though we members of the LGBT community are often still found languishing in the dark corners of American society — finding that we are functionally exiles within our own broader society — we members of the LGBT community aren’t as a community at the moral equivalents to the lunch counters of the recent American past demanding freedom, equality, and justice.

Although we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed, Thumbnail Link: GetEQUAL Direct Action At The White House Over Repeal Of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Nov. 15, 2010)still we in the LGBT community aren’t standing up against inequality and discrimination at locations that are the present day moral equivalents to lunch counters of America’s recent past.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

~Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” (16 April 1963)

I don’t believe I’m alone in saying that we are at a point in LGBT civil rights history where we need to expose the illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality at today’s moral equivalents to the lunch counters of America’s recent past.
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