Opinion » Viewpoint

A Wake-Up Call

Shelby County Democrats should distance themselves from “Judge” Joe Brown’s sexist, homophobic, anti-party slander.

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It was one year ago that the Memphis City Council passed the non-discrimination ordinance, which would protect city workers from discriminatory action based on sexual identity and orientation.

The Tennessee Equality Project was at the forefront of grass-roots lobbying and organizing to get the public involved with holding their city council members accountable along with several other organizations — including the Shelby County Democratic Party. 

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The night that the ordinance passed, there was an amazing feeling in the air. Memphis had demonstrated the gumption to stand up and fight for equality, and there was a realization of progress being made.

That same evening, the Shelby County Democratic Party was hosting a presidential-debate watch party where several of the folks who worked to pass the ordinance joined in celebration. The feeling was electric. The SCDP had finally joined with advocates for equality and won.

What a difference a year makes. I was in attendance at the recent roast of former Mayor Willie Herenton, an event hosted by the SCDP. While overall it was a very successful event, toward the end of the evening the emcee, TV's Judge Joe Brown, went off on a rant that sounded as if he had gotten confused and thought he was addressing a Tea Party rally.

Brown's homophobic and sexist comments were simply too much to take, and I, along with several others, decided to leave. I was stunned that this person thought it was okay to tell young women to "keep their legs shut" at the knees and for the LGBT community to stay in the closet. He even insulted President Obama, accusing him of not having created a single job.

I did not understand. After all, the money raised that evening went to the Democratic Party, the same organization that had come out in support of marriage equality and hosted several women's events the previous year. What was going on?!

The SCDP per se did not issue Brown's comments, and I believe most people who are involved with that organization do want to make Memphis a better place. However, allowing for such vitriol at an event honoring our former mayor and raising funds for the party's 2014 cycle should be addressed.

There are many people out there looking to get involved, and the progressive organization the SCDP has traditionally been in the past is inclusive. To bring more people into the party, we need to be tearing down the walls of discrimination, not adding cement to the wall of bigotry and hate.

In honor of the one-year anniversary of the passage of the nondiscrimination ordinance, I ask that the SCDP come out and stand up for those who have been discriminated against because of their gender, sexual identity, and orientation.

I say, come out and help fight for true equality and tell our great city that Brown's remarks do not represent the views of the organization. The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion, and it is time that it stops being just a statement and becomes reality.

Election year 2014 is shaping up to be a difficult cycle in Shelby County for Democrats. It is true that there are more registered voters that identify themselves as Democrats, but the truth is that getting people out to vote on a local level takes a strategic field plan, good fund-raising, and the ability to build a strong organization of volunteers.

Building a coalition of people who are committed to fighting for issues and dedicated to political action is important — and necessary in order to win elections.

Capturing the excitement from winning such an important issue and working together in order to accomplish a victory should have catapulted progressives to feel more welcome in local Democratic politics, but, the truth is, it has not.

If the Shelby County Democratic Party continues to remain silent about the remarks made by a man whose politics are seemingly more aligned with Michele Bachmann than with Michelle Obama, then maybe it is time for progressives to start recruiting their own candidates and saying "good-bye" to the old-school patriarchal system that has left out young people, women, LGBT, and those who support their causes.

Liz Rincon is an activist and consultant, whose agency, Liz Rincon and Associates, focuses on accomplishing progressive goals.

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