Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Black History Month lgbts of color - Barbara Jordan

As many of you know, February is Black History Month, where we remember and celebrate the contributions that African-Americans have made to this country.

In recent years, it has always bugged me that there doesn't seem to be appropriate attention to the contributions of lgbts of color during this month - that is to say there needs to be attention directed to the fact that some of the people whose lives we celebrate during Black History Month were and are lgbts.

Therefore from time to time during this month (preferably the weekend but today is an exception), I am going to spotlight the lives and contributions of lgbts of color.

And I want to start with Barbara Jordan:


Barbara Jordan gained national attention for her intelligence, acumen, and oratorical skill as a member of the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee during hearings on the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal. In her career as a legislator and educator she was a vigorous proponent of equal rights, especially for African Americans and women. A deeply closeted lesbian, she did not, however, speak out for the cause of glbtq rights.

Jordan attended Houston public schools, where she excelled academically. During her senior year her speaking skills were recognized when she won a national oratory contest sponsored by the Baptist church.

Following her graduation in 1952 Jordan enrolled at Houston's all-black Texas Southern University, where she became a stand-out on the extremely successful debate team.

After graduating magna cum laude from Texas Southern in 1956 with a degree in political science and history, Jordan entered law school at Boston University. Throughout her youth Jordan had had first-hand experience of racism, but at Boston she encountered sexism. She recalled that the law school professors "just tolerated" the "ladies." Jordan persevered, however, earning her degree in 1959, after which she returned to Houston to practice law.

As the 1960 presidential election approached, Jordan became a volunteer with John F. Kennedy's campaign. She quickly became engrossed in the effort and moved from doing routine clerical tasks to working on a drive to turn out the city's African-American voters.

Buoyed by the success of the undertaking, Jordan decided to run for office herself. Her campaigns for the state House of Representatives in 1962 and 1964 ended in defeat, but they helped her establish a solid following. She was elected to the state Senate in her third run for office in 1966.

As a senator, Jordan championed the causes of fair housing and employment, minimum wage laws, and protection of the voting rights of minorities. Her political astuteness and effectiveness led her fellow Texan President Lyndon B. Johnson to seek her advice on fair housing legislation. Because of her record of accomplishment Jordan was chosen as the outstanding freshman senator in her first year in the legislature.

After six years of service in the state Senate, Jordan mounted a campaign for the United States House of Representatives in 1972. She won in a landslide. At the recommendation of former President Johnson, she was appointed to the Judiciary Committee.

It was as a member of this committee that Jordan came to nationwide attention during the hearings on the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974. Her intelligence and eloquence during the long and difficult proceedings brought her widespread respect and made her a rising political star.

Chosen to deliver a keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Jordan gave a typically stirring speech. During the campaign she worked diligently to bring out the vote for Jimmy Carter, who had considered her as a possible running mate. After his election Carter offered Jordan the post of ambassador to the United Nations, which she declined.

Jordan stunned her constituents and colleagues by announcing in late 1977 that she would not run for a fourth term in the House of Representatives. The reason for her decision, which she did not reveal publicly, was that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Among the few privy to Jordan's medical condition was Nancy Earl. Jordan and Earl had met on a camping trip in the late 1960s and had quickly become close. In 1976 they bought property near Austin together and built a house.

Shortly after Jordan's announcement that she would not seek reelection, Earl joined her in Washington as a "special assistant" during her final year in office.

Once back in Austin in 1979, Jordan was appointed to the Lyndon Johnson Chair in National Policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Earl, an educational psychologist, also worked at the university in its testing and evaluation center.

Jordan remained largely out of the public eye for several years, but in 1987 she appeared before Congress to oppose the nomination of conservative homophobe Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court. She addressed the Democratic National Convention the following year, seconding the vice-presidential nomination of fellow Texan Lloyd Bentsen.

In July 1988 Jordan suffered a heart attack while exercising in her swimming pool. Earl--described in the press as Jordan's "housemate"--saved her by calling for emergency medical assistance and working to revive her. After the incident doctors, describing Jordan's medical condition, revealed that she had multiple sclerosis.

Jordan quickly recovered from the heart attack and resumed a vigorous schedule, determined to overcome her physical challenges. Even after being diagnosed with leukemia in 1994, she continued to teach and travel to speaking engagements. At last, however, she contracted pneumonia as a complication of the leukemia and died on January 17, 1996 in Austin.

Now some people may think that Jordan should not be considered as an lgbt hero because she was closeted and did not speak on behalf on lgbt rights.

I submit that her reluctance to speak out was merely a result of her having to deal with the era in which she lived - just as Bayard Rustin's (another hero who will be celebrated at a later date) arrest on a "morals charge" was the result of how he had to deal with homophobia back then.

Let's not get so high and mighty in our empowerment that we turn our backs on those who made choices based on the options they had in front of them.

For those who are interested, the following is a clip of  the first part of her speech during the Watergate hearings:

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AT&T does the right thing and other Wednesday midday news briefs

Because we've done our own 'Family Research' - The Family Research Council digs that anti-gay pit a little deeper.

Press Release: GLAD Wins Case vs. IRS on Sex Reassignment Deductions - Good news for our transgendered brothers and sisters.

AT&T changes stance allowing gay employee leave of absence to care for partner - More good news.

Sciortino introduces bill to support transgender rights - Mass Resistance set to plotz

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Maddow interviews another servicemember in danger of losing job because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

That great silence you hear right now is the fallout from the Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg's comments on Hardball yesterday. You will remember he said he supports criminalizing "gay behavior."

It amazes me that the media can focus on a ridiculous story about President Obama bowing to foreign leaders or another phony narrative about school children being supposedly indoctrinated to pay tribute to him during Black History Month, but can't muster up enough outrage over Sprigg's comments.

Oh well.

Anyway, last night, Rachel Maddow interviewed Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach. He is another member of the Armed Forces whose position is in danger because of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

The next time you hear the lie that gays will endanger heterosexuals if we are allowed to serve openly in the military, remember Fehrenbach:

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