WASHINGTON - By the Human Rights Campaign's Julian High, Director of Diversity, and Donna Payne, Senior Constituency Organizer
Most of America's greatest heroes never make it out of the shadows. Martin Luther King Jr. certainly was not one of them. But as we celebrate one of our greatest American heroes this weekend, we should follow Dr. King's own vision by not looking toward the spotlight but toward the ordinary.
It's not the people making headlines who will have the greatest affect on our freedom, but the people in our own backyards who can shape the future.
Take Dr. King himself, a man who found peace in conflict through conversations with his friends and family. While many of us now know of gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin's vital role in organizing the March on Washington, it's less known that before he ever became a historical figure, Rustin helped shape Dr. King's commitment to pacifism.
Rustin didn't introduce a bill or organize a petition drive to let Dr. King know his feelings about non-violence. He talked to him.
We shouldn't ignore political acts, or the people who make headlines. But too often we ignore how our own voices can shape the discussion.
This Sunday would have been Dr. King's 77th birthday. Let's salute Dr. King by raising our voices.
The new year comes with a new set of goals. At the Human Rights Campaign, one of our goals is to use our voices to talk to our neighbors, our friends, our family, our co-workers and our fellow churchgoers. We're going to talk about our commitment to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. We're going to do this when the opportunity presents itself, but we're also going to create those opportunities ourselves.
We must raise our voices because by not doing so we are putting ourselves at great risk.
This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some startling new statistics. In five major U.S. cities, of African-American men who have sex with men, almost half are living with HIV. And two-thirds of them don't know it.
Our brothers and sisters are being decimated by this disease. But it's not the disease that's killing us. It's our silence. Yes, our government could do more, but we must be a part of the solution.
Dr. King spoke up. And the essence of his speaking wasn't about politics. It was humanity. When he made his most famous speech, he didn't dream of passing legislation. He dreamt of the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners sitting down together. He dreamt of people.
And he never lost hope. As we look ahead as at the coming year, we must never lose hope.
It's past time to break down the divisions that exist in America. We must look at each other's differences not as walls that keep us apart but as bricks that make our foundation stronger. And we must start in our own backyards.
Dr. King assured us that we all belonged to the struggle for equality and dignity. No matter the color of our skin, the gender we identify as, the faith we hold dear or the person we love, we are all each others' brothers and sisters.
We have a political fight coming up in 2006. But it's not going to be won by polls and message points. It's going to be won by us shaking the hand of the candidate and talking. Telling her what we care about. Finding out if we have a connection. And, if she does, then it will be won by us talking to our family about her, our friends and our neighbors.
It's time we stopped being frustrated when our enemies are in the spotlight and started to put the spotlight on the heroes we want to be seen. And it's up to us to find those people, to help them get there and to say to ourselves with great satisfaction, "Yes, I may be in the shadows, but I am doing my part."
The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that LGBT Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.
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