The Joy, The Rage, The Supreme Court

Waking up Tuesday morning, I was a trembling wreck of a person. Like many of us, I’d watched as the Supreme Court succeeded in budging open a door I’d never seen opened in my lifetime. Justice Roberts, along with Justices Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito, ruled in the case of Shelby County v. Holder that a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (!) was unconstitutional, thereby crippling the entire law.

Some have called the VRA the crown jewel of the Civil Rights Movement, the very cornerstone of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work. Congress has renewed it every time it’s come up. It protects the voting rights of people of color in states and regions with a history of flagrant and vicious racism by requiring those more local governments to petition the federal government any time they’d like to change their voting laws. For any reason.

So when the decision came down, I was furious! The court simultaneously produced a decision to permit a non-Native American couple to adopt a Native American child over giving custody to her own father, in pure spite of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which was invented to protect the sovereignty of Native American families. My anger abated only long enough for me to begin following the filibuster in the Texas Senate, spearheaded by Wendy Davis and Leticia Van De Putte, against a bill designed to render abortions all but illegal in the entire state of Texas.

When I went to bed Tuesday night, there’d been no resolution in the Texas senate and I was now far from optimistic about the following morning’s decisions about the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. The Gay Issues.

In bed that morning, I twirled my Twitter feed down as the moment of truth approached. There were tweets I’d missed while I slept, and the first jolt of feeling came when I found out the filibuster in Texas had worked! Women would not be subject to burdensome requirements in their decisions about their own bodies. For the time being.

Then DOMA came down in a flurry of fire. Then Prop 8 was dismissed.

And I wept. Because, what else can you do when your joy and your rage come close enough to kiss?

I watched as civil laws in the United States spun themselves into a frustrating inversion of history. For years I’ve listened to gay friends and columnists equate the Gay Rights Movement with the Civil Rights Movement as the push for marriage equality gained more and more ground. “Gay is the new Black,” was the sentiment.

And it always made me uncomfortable, because, well, Black is still Black. And the undermining of the Voting Rights Act—what Justice Ginsberg referred to in her dissent of Roberts’s opinion as “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet”—really drives that point home.

The Voting Rights Act is a Gay Issue—let me be clear on that! Consider the essay The Tempered Joy of Being Gay & Black on a Day Like Today, by Saeed Jones, editor of BuzzfeedLGBT. Or the post Calling In A Queer Debt, by Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous. We have a chance—no, duty—to rally our energy toward making sure Congress revises the provision Justice Roberts & Co. invalidated, to ensure that racial minorities (and sexual minorities!)—you know, people—cannot be discriminated against at the polls. (Pride Week seems like good media attention to utilize, don’t you?)

Because we don’t have to look far to see the white-washing, the male-washing, the cis-washing, the straight-washing of America when legislative bodies are left to their own prejudicial devices. Like when the Indian Child Welfare Act (another historic landmark law) is flouted for the benefits of Whites who want to adopt Native American babies. Or like when men decide they know what’s best for women’s bodies. Or when cisgender people show a complete disregard for the needs of trans* folks.

I cried that day when I discovered that the Federal government thought gays less discrimination-worthy. They’d closed that window. And I cried because the door had been opened to institutionalized discrimination yet again to voters from racial minorities (many of whom are also LGBTQ)! A song from the queer rock opera Hedwig & the Angry Inch keeps coming to mind. You know it, I’m sure: “Six inches forward and five inches back! I got a— I got a— I got an angry inch!”

So let’s be angry. Let’s not lose our steam because some of our Gay Issues were deemed viable by the Supreme Court. We are losing bulwarks against discrimination as fast as we can build them (or faster). Now is not the time to get comfortable.


Contact your Representatives here:

Contact your Senators here:


[box type=”bio”]
David WheelerDAVID K. WHEELER is the author of Contingency Plans: Poems, a finalist for the Melville House 2011 Booksellers Choice Awards. He has written for The Morning News, The Gay & Lesbian Review, Burnside Writers Collective, and has poems forthcoming in Emerge Literary Journal and The Citron Review. Follow him on Twitter @daviewheeler.




[box type=”info”]

Contingency Plans: Poems by David K. Wheeler Contingency Plans maps the body, the land, and the hollows therein, eager to determine their dimensions, carried along by possibility, to find that what once made us anxious is out of the question, and what has kept us awake now sings us back to sleep. Note to teachers: excellent for classroom use if you are teaching villanelles and sestinas.