activism, Amendment One, Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Forsyth County, GLBTQ, Jury Duty, lesbian, Lori Hahn, no rights = no service, North Carolina, peaceful protest, Politics, social networking, The Bilerico Project
Growing up I was never interested in, nor did I understand, politics. I was more of a hellion and a rebel than an activist, and I never really took a strong stance on any particular issue (to be quite honest, the very first time I voted in a presidential election, I voted for *gasp* Ronald Reagan because that’s who my dad was voting for and because he had a PhD in Political Science I just assumed he knew what he was doing), but could be swayed easily one way and then another. Looking back, I can see glimpses of what was to come: yanking my girlfriend into the fray at our very first gay pride parade and walking along with some nameless volleyball team down Christopher Street proudly holding hands; making sure that my partner and I dedicated ourselves to every March of Dimes walk after our son was born 10 weeks premature; signing up to volunteer with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Committee the first time I attended a transgender conference with my transitioning boyfriend.
Somewhere along the way I found that I had my own beliefs and they are strong indeed. They are rooted in radical love and justice (and forgive me if I overuse those terms but they mean a lot to me) and every single day I find myself growing more passionate about how I and my family and friends (and yes, even total strangers) are affected when injustice is served.
Years ago, I adopted a quote by Emile Zola as my mantra: “You ask me what I came here to do and I will tell you. I came to live out loud.” For a long time I thought that meant to simply be outgoing, outrageous, devil-may-care. Now I know that it means that I do the next right thing without thinking about how it looks to everyone on the outside. I can’t worry about the fact that my picture might show up in the paper or on the news because I had chosen to participate in the WE DO Campaign and someone on the street is going to recognize me and call me out about it. It was the right thing to do. Just as what I did yesterday was, I feel, the next right thing to do.
Yesterday I had jury duty. The summons arrived long before the vote for Amendment One and I didn’t try to postpone it for a year, thinking I’ll just go ahead and get it out of the way and then I won’t have to think about it again. The night before, I was instructed to call and find out if I needed to report and of course my number was included in the pool of jurors that must show up by 8:00 the following morning. I posted a silly Facebook status update along the lines of “Crud. I didn’t get out of reporting for jury duty tomorrow. Can I object on the grounds that I’m considered a second-class citizen under the new constitutional amendment? You give me my civil rights and I’ll perform my civic duties. Fair swap, I’d say.” And that, of course, got me thinking about the fact that the state of North Carolina had just taken away a large number of my civil rights and yet still expected me to act like any other citizen of the state. Well, hell no.
Rather than not report at all and run the risk of, well whatever they do to you when you just don’t show up, I picked out a nice outfit, got everything in order, plugged the address into my navigator, and then sat down and wrote out a prepared statement for the first person I saw who had any authority whatsoever.
After running the gauntlet of finding parking and waiting in line and going through security, I finally got to the fourth floor juror’s room to check in with the clerk. I pulled out my summons and my prepared statement. Before the woman with the kind eyes and short, salt and pepper hair could stop me, I said “As a lesbian, I am no longer considered a full citizen of the state of North Carolina due to the recent passage of Amendment One and therefore I decline to fulfill my civic duties until my civil rights have been restored to me in full.” She laid one hand as close to mine as possible without touching me and looked straight at me. I knew, without a doubt, that she had voted against the amendment. “I understand, and I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything. You’ll need to tell this to the judge.” There was a line forming behind me and a room full of people in front of me and everyone was watching me. I felt very much alone and the natives were getting restless. “However,” I said, “the very act of sitting here in this jury room means that I am enacting my civic duty and I do so under duress. I am registering this as a peaceful protest.” The clerk told me she would check with someone in a position of greater authority and get back to me and so I moved away and sat in the front row on the aisle so that there was no chance of being ignored.
I refused to wear my juror’s badge and clipped it to the front of my book. We were given instructions regarding the day’s events and how they would proceed. I stared stoically ahead, looking at nothing but the door. She turned on the film and shut herself in her office. There was no more information forthcoming. After the film she asked if there were any questions. I read my statement again, “The movie states that only citizens may serve on a jury. I am no longer considered a full citizen of the state of North Carolina. I am not even qualified to be here under the law.” Again, I was told to speak to the judge. At that point everyone was asked to either be affirmed or sworn in. I refused to do either. I remained in my chair during both, once again looking straight ahead at the door.
Afterward, conversations picked up around the room as people settled in for a long day with three trials that needed to be seated. The clerk came out once and asked me to tell her my name again. I repeated it and spelled it. She thanked me and disappeared back into her office. No one spoke to me. No one looked at me. I started to check myself for visible lesions or signs that I might have suddenly contracted Typhoid. I watched people come and go and was certain that there were at least a few of “us” in that room and yet even they refused to associate with me. I was a pariah. A troublemaker. I read quietly as the woman next to me moved further and further away, as though my “affliction” might be catching, although I had more to worry about with all her sneezing, coughing, and general snottiness (and I mean that in every sense of the word).
The first pool of jurors was called to report to a courtroom and my name was not among them. I had no chance to read my statement to a judge. Regardless of my conviction to do what I felt was right, I still began to feel dejected. With no visible action on the horizon, I felt that whatever I had set out to do, it was all for naught. Eventually we were let out for a long lunch and rather than try to find some place to eat a lonely lunch downtown, I decided to head home for an hour or so and then come back.
Once home, I posted a quick update on Facebook on my seemingly fruitless jury duty antics and then set about making a bite to eat. By the time I logged back on, I had an overwhelmingly positive response from friends and they were reposting my status update and their friends were reposting and holy virus, Batman! I actually did something here! People I didn’t even know, all over the country, were talking about no rights = no service. The encouragement was incredible. Buoyed by so much support, I headed back to the courthouse with a spring in my step and my head held high. I resumed my seat and went back to my book. Not 30 minutes later, we were being excused for the day as the other two trials were being delayed and would not be seated until at least the next day.
My assumption is that when the clerk went to alert her supervisor that she had an activist who was registering a peaceful protest, declining to serve jury duty due to Amendment One that she was told to keep it quiet. I would never have been called into a courtroom and I would never have had a chance to read my statement to a judge. Courtrooms often have members of the press and I’m positive that this wasn’t something the folks at the Forsyth County Courthouse of Winston Salem, North Carolina wanted getting around. I mean you get one lesbian telling you that she’s not going to serve until she gets her civil rights restored and word gets out, well, dayum…every one of ‘em is gonna be in here telling us the same thing and that’s really gonna muck up the system. We’ll be tied up in here every day sorting this out. How are we ever going to seat a jury if we have to deal with a bunch of gays running around telling us to give them their stupid rights back before they’ll serve jury duty?
Aside from that, I never swore an oath to serve jury duty. Hence, I could be held in contempt of court. Wouldn’t that make for some great headlines? That brings us right back to the “We don’t want any undue publicity” issue. So they got what they wanted. They kept me quiet all day and they sent me home. No harm, no foul. Nobody found out.
Except they did. A lot of people did. Social networking is a beautiful thing, my friends. And this morning, my friend and former editor at the now defunct Our Big Gayborhood, Lori Hahn, published a wonderful article about the entire event on the equally wonderful website, The Bilerico Project. And then other people took that article and started linking to it on their Facebook pages. This tiny little ripple I made by making a simple statement about something I so firmly believe in has created a tsunami and I still haven’t seen how far its reach is.
Yesterday, a very dear friend posted this quote by Betty Reese on my Facebook page: “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” I guess, after all these years, I’ve become the mosquito in your bed.
And, evidently, I reproduce quite well.