On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled 5-4 in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that enabled all 50 states to recognize same-gender marriage. This was considered a ruling on par with two of the biggest cases in the last 75 years enabling social and legal change: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 for desegregating public educational institutions and Roe v. Wade in 1973 enabling a woman's right to an abortion.
The decision was one that went beyond just the fundamentals of recognizing the legal status of couples. It engaged all walks of life to the debate towards this decision by the Supreme Court. In today's socio-corporate climate, several companies added their names to the Amicus brief on the plaintiff's side of the case. Some companies were public about their views of this case, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. FCA, in conjunction with the LGBT community center in Ferndale, Michigan, Affirmations, invited couples that were married in the brief window of legality in Michigan to join them at Motor City Pride earlier in June.
Upon the announcement of the ruling, FCA released a statement of congratulations. It was joined by other manufacturers. According to GayWheels.com, BMW, General Motors, Honda, Infiniti, Nissan and Subaru issued similar statements.
As a gay man and a member of the automotive media corps, this issue goes directly to the heart of the trajectory of this work. It affects a number of my colleagues in the media and on the industry side. I was fortunate to witness from afar the amazing couplings my colleagues have undertaken across the country. In a sense, they embody what every American wants – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. To be a citizen equal to the law of this nation. To never experience a less-than-equal status in society under these same laws.
You might be of agreement of this statement. You might disagree. This is a democracy after all, as we have the right to divergent opinions. This is as long as these opinions are done in a peaceful manner.
Before I go on a political spiral, I must tell you how I found out about the ruling on the Obergefell case.
I was at FCA's Chelsea Proving Grounds for their annual "What's New" new model year preview event. I took a break from driving several vehicles and walked into the main tent on the grounds, when one of the communications people I worked with earlier this month came up to me and asked me if I heard "the news." I did not. She told me of the Obergefell case ruling. Hearing this was indeed a shock to me. I knew a ruling was coming, but I was not prepared for the ruling to happen while I was working in Michigan.
I became a bit emotional in response to "the news." No time to cry…that would be unprofessional. My mobile device confirmed what happened at the Supreme Court. My Facebook feed became a plethora of rainbows and glitter.
A quick Facebook post went up via a check-in. Since I was unable to filter the posting on my app, I had to leave it "friends only." After some wrangling, I had to post up a "disclaimer." My problem was that I gained a lot of you as new readers to V&R, I was afraid of the consequences in making a personal statement regarding this case.
Through the rest of my time at Chelsea, heading back to Metro Airport and on the flight home, I was overwhelmed with the impact Obergefell had on me, my friends and everyone around me. Though meeting some my local friends at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and at a meet afterwards did ease some of the euphoria, there were some lingering concerns I needed to address.
A good night's sleep helped. But, before I headed to Loring Park for the Twin Cities Pride Festival, I went back to Facebook to write the following:
"Many opinions came through [on Friday and overnight]. Many people cared, and were supportive. Celebratory, as I was. Some were spiteful in their response. Others said nothing.
"However, I felt compelled to be truthful. I'm gay, yes. I'm also a member of the automotive media corps. My professional life trumps my cultural identity, but it is who I am.
"This is why the quote from Steven Biko on my profile info remains apt: 'I'm going to be, as I am. And you can beat me, or jail me or even kill me. But, I am not going to be what you want me to be.'"
I said some more stuff that I found irrelevant in retrospect and pointed towards a wrong tangent. What I was hoping to say was that I was resilient to the opinions of those who consider people like me not worthy of full American citizenship – people like me should never get married, accorded basic rights and so forth because of homosexuality and bisexuality.
Violence and hate via social, electronic and print media could be argued as peaceful and within the rights accorded by the Constitution. Yet, I remember a time when being gay meant being a victim of physical violence. Growing up in Reseda – Los Angeles, in general – I was exposed to a lot of violence through the death of friends and to act of gang warfare. I feared that I would meet my maker sooner by an act at the hands of someone who hated me more. I lived my life so far rising above that fear. Yet, the violence continued – on- and offline. Biko's quote may have had a different meaning, but it provoked a different kind of response by me.
So, I continued…
"By getting this out there, I hope you understand why I have been hesitant to publicly state my identity and context as a professional. I had to compete with the loudest voices in the room on either side to accomplish this career and gain respect from my peers and the readership. I do not expect adulation and fanship from you. Respect is good enough."
If you are still reading this and intend to continue, congratulations! I am glad you support this site and its work, as intended. So do the other media outlets I write for! Your patronage is resonant. Moving right along…
"As happy as I am about the Obergefell decision, there is a lot of work to do. There needs to be a society that has to reverse the trend of 'get married on Saturday, party at pride on Sunday, get fired on Monday' in those states that were a part of the court case. There needs to be a foundation for a productive society that focuses on citizens contributing positively regardless of identity. That, to me, is America."
For example, there is a lot of work to be done in Michigan. A few weeks ago, I talked with the Interim Executive Director of Equality Michigan, William Greene. We both concluded that it will take the legislature in Lansing to see that with marriage equality must come essential rights covering all citizens in that state. Marriage equality could not have been possible here in Minnesota without the foundation of laws protecting all citizens at the workplace, at home and elsewhere.
These protections do not fully exist in Michigan. One could not be fired at Ford, FCA or GM for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender due to internal human resources policies. A nearby supplier without an HR policy of non-discrimination could fire someone for getting married on Saturday or Sunday. A change in the law to protect all citizens against workplace discrimination must be done in Michigan and in other states where it is absent. On the Federal level, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) must be a done deal in Congress, especially for companies operating in multiple states.
Finally, I got real personal…
"Lastly, I do not care what you think of me. I appreciate the readership, the support of my endeavors…your friendship and comradeship. If you wish to not let me be a part of what you do, I have no qualms of moving forward. If what I say here changes the way you view me, I am good with any closure you wish to go forward with. If you want me around to celebrate the car culture, participate, be a part of a community and so forth, I'm down. Nothing has changed except for a decision on the level of Brown and Roe. The nation has changed. I have not."
Part of the work I do is to interact with the car community. Yes, I was warned that some of the people involved in it were xenophobic – discriminatory towards other races, women and homosexuals/bisexuals. It did not stop me from participating.
After I posted this on Facebook, I observed several reactions. I received plenty of support, including members of the local carmmunity. I felt the support from two clubs I interact with regularly: Southwest Sunday Cruise (SWSC) and Minnesota Nissan Infiniti (MNNI). Their principals told me they "got my back." I also received support from friends, clients, fellow members of the automotive media and the industry itself.
This past weekend was an emotional one for me. It challenged my professionalism and my place in this society and community. There is a lot of work to do to build the foundation for a nation that celebrates all citizens as equal according to law. I also need to have the other foot on the throttle to fulfill the work for my outlets and clients at the same time.
Looking back at earlier this month when I was at Motor City Pride in Detroit, I knew something jarred my professional trajectory. It was not the story I was working on around FCA's involvement with the LGBT community through corporate citizenship and its employee resource group, GALA. It was seeing the end of an entire story arc centered of the intersection of the automotive industry and the LGBT community. The icing on the cake was the ruling of the Obergefell case in the U.S. Supreme Court.
With that said, it is time to get back to work.
Photo by Randy Stern