Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Guest Post: I Know What To Do Now, A Voice Out Of Arizona by Joe Copeland

I've posted a lot about Arizona over the years, on topics as wide-ranging as immigration and Show Me Your Papers, to Jan Brewer's asshattery as Governor of the state; recently I ranted and raged about the impending Don't Serve The Gays Bill and then it's defeat by veto of Brewer.

But I don't live in Arizona, and I've only been through there a couple of times on my way somehwere else, so I was happy that ISBL Follower Joe Copeland had asked to do a piece for ISBL on what it meant, and how it felt, to be gay in Arizona, especially in these last few weeks, and going forward.


In 1987, when I was 29, I left Arizona believing I would never come back except to visit.  There were many reasons, but foremost was the desire to create a new life for myself that I couldn’t in my home town.  As the plane took off from Phoenix, I felt a small pang, but no regrets.  The ensuing quarter century brought great change in my life, ups and downs, small and large.  In December of 2012, my partner and I came back to Arizona, a place we both said we’d never return to.  He for his job; me, for family.

Growing up in a small town, it’s impossible to not know what people believe.  I’m not going to go into the huge coming out story because I did it years after I left, and from the comfortable distance of the other side of the country from my family.  I should have given them more credit.  I should have done it sooner.  I should have been more certain of myself.  But one thing I did know was that my corner of the world was against what I was and I had to go somewhere else to grow into what I was supposed to be.  When we came back, not very much had changed in people’s attitudes.

So I thought.

The first half year we were here was spent in re-establishing relationships that had grown stale from no use.  I didn’t pay a large amount of attention to state politics except to familiarize myself with who was running what.  I noticed that religion still played a large part in politics at the state level as it always has, and I noted which religions were most vocal and/or powerful.

We coasted along.  I don’t read newspapers, but I get my news from the internet.  I read many blogs each, about half dealing with gay issues.  I used my social platform, admittedly small, to raise awareness, spout my views, and contribute to the national discussion.  I don’t know how SB1062 [the Don’t Serve The Gays Bill] flew under my radar, except that it was fast tracked, and flew under a lot of people’s radar.

SB 1062 cleared the Arizona state senate quickly, with little discussion.  When it was announced that it had passed, people on a regional level sat up and took notice, which is where I first heard about it.  Then people on a national level started talking about it.  It was passed on Tuesday, February 18.  It was heard in the state house two days later.  By that time, I was already aware of what it was, what it meant to me and my family, and ready to fight.  My partner and I have always lived in states where our relationship is illegal, but since being in Arizona, it seemed like the tide was turning.  There were several states where same-sex marriage bans were overturned; several states where same-sex marriage was made legal; and even in our state several cities had enacted laws at the municipal level granting benefits to same-sex partners.  So these bills took us by surprise.

I was surprised and disappointed when HB1062 passed.  In every state where similar bills had been proposed, there had been a voice of reason somewhere within the system that had stopped those bills from reaching fruition.  In Arizona, that didn’t happen.  The bill now sat on the Governor’s desk.

Governor Jan Brewer [left] is not a gay ally.  She is not supportive of her constituents, and from what I’ve observed, she is disrespectful of anyone who disagrees with her viewpoint.  She does what is expedient for her personal agenda, so it’s nearly impossible to predict what she is going to do in any particular situation.  So I was more than worried about this bill.

The trouble with the bill, apart from the obvious, was the language was so broad that it allowed anyone in either a private or public forum to not provide goods or services based wholly on that person’s privately held religious beliefs.  While it targeted the LGBT community, it could also impact anyone.  So, as an example, if a Muslim did not want to provide goods or services to a person of color (of any kind), they could legally do so and not be held accountable.  The bill from its inception was meant to be legal discrimination against gays, but it could become so much more than that.

So on Thursday, February 20, I took to my social media platform, small as it is, and started letting everyone know what was happening and what it meant.  Every return post I got that advanced the conversation, I commented and posted and forwarded.  I sent emails to friends, and people I hoped were friends.  I decided to become the “face” of the bill in my small circle.  I wanted people to know that when the GOP said it was okay to determine that some people were less equal, it was me they were talking about.  It was my life, my partner, my family being impacted by this. 

Then something strange started happening.  Local businesses were refusing to allow themselves to be defined by this bill.  Signs were up all over the city saying “We Don’t Discriminate” and “All Are Equal” and “VETO”.  A pizza parlor right around the corner gained national fame by placing a sign reserving the right refuse service to Arizona legislators.  Slowly, that feeling spread and by the end of the weekend, state Senators, national congressmen and women, CEOs of businesses, even some of the state congressman and women were advising Gov. Brewer to veto the bill.  There were a few voices raised in defense of the bill, but very few and very quiet.

Arizona law states when a bill reaches the Governor’s office, they have five days to sign or veto it.  If the governor takes no action, the bill “slides” into law through inaction.  Even allowing for the vagueness of “days” versus “business days” which I was willing to stipulate, Governor Brewer would have to take action on the bill by the end of the day on Thursday.  But she said she was going to take her time and decide on Friday.  I’m cynical enough to believe that she was going to let the bill slide into law through inaction and claim later that it wasn’t her fault.  Some people were saying that since she was in Washington on Friday, that day didn’t count, but the law doesn’t address that.

Most people already know what happened.  On Wednesday, the 26th, Governor Brewer vetoed the bill with the argument that it did not expressly address an existing issue.  We watched the proceeding and I felt a huge sense of relief.  I felt like I was going to be allowed to be a full citizen.  But it also showed me that I have to take a part in the decisions that go on in my home state and my home town.  I learned a lot about who wrote and sponsored the bill and what their agenda is.  I learned even more about what our politicians think of me, my partner, and my family, at both the state level and national level.  I learned a ton about what my city thinks of me.  

The Democratic candidate for Governor, Fred DuVal [right], put it best.  He said in a statement praising the Governor’s veto:
“We never should have had to endure this ‘dog and pony show’ in the first place.  The Governor should have shown leadership early on and made it clear to the Legislature that proposals like this are a complete waste of time.”  
He’s right.  A law legalizing discrimination of any kind should never see the light of day.  I’m already aware of another motion trying to become a bill with similar intent although not as encompassing.  I know what to do now.

I also notice who’s doing most of the whining and crying now it’s over.

1 comment:

the dogs' mother said...

Very interesting and informative. We've visited Arizona three times with retired snowbirds spending some time there. We also have an aunt and aunt-in-law living there and were worried for them.