Interview with James Robinson, founder and Executive Director of GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services, Inc. (Free2Be) in Huntsville, Alabama. He is a leader in the movement to secure Social Justice and Equality for the LGBTQ South.
ED: What were you thoughts over the weekend while waiting for Marriage Equality to hit Alabama?
JR: The timing of Judge Granada’s historic ruling caught most of us unprepared for what was about to happen in Alabama. We are so accustomed to being among the last places in our nation to embrace social progress that many of us did not expect for our civil right to be legally married as same-sex couples to be recognized in Alabama until after the U.S. Supreme Court makes their ruling later this year. The final weekend of the two week stay ordered by Judge Granada was a time of anticipation, preparation, and anxiety. While we anticipated that Probate Judges in Alabama would follow the law as clarified by Judge Granada we truly did not know what to expect on Monday morning February 9, 2015. Some Probate Judges like Madison County Probate Judge Tommy Ragland here in Huntsville had already confirmed they would obey the law once the stay was over. However, when Alabama’s Chief Justice of our Supreme Court, Roy Moore, issued his oppressive, illegal, and discriminatory mandate ordering Alabama’s Probate Judges to defy the Federal Court order we did not know what would happen across the state the next morning. At 10:00pm Sunday night I appeared on one of our local stations, WAFF-TV 48, and encouraged the LGBTQ people of Alabama to expect the best and to follow through with their plans to exercise their civil right to be legally married in Alabama. I told our community that many of us would be with them to support them regardless of what happened when they applied for their marriage licenses. I am proud and happy to say that Huntsville was among several places where the civil right of same-sex couples to be legally married was first respected in Alabama. We witnessed dozens of brave and loving couples come forward to be publicly married in Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville. An amazing event called Wedding Week was organized by local community members. Religious and secular ministers came forward Monday through Friday in Huntsville to provide free ceremonies for anyone wanting to be married. Local businesses, volunteers, and groups provided cakes, flowers, and other things to make this a time that will never be forgotten by our community.
ED: How did you feel standing at the Courthouse in Huntsville on Monday and seeing friends finally getting married?
JR: As I waited with others outside the doors of the Madison County Courthouse to greet some of the first same-sex couples in Alabama to be issued marriage licenses my heart was filled with joy and appreciation for our community. We hugged, applauded, and greeted loving couple after loving couple. This was a morning I will never forget because I was able to see people I know as well as strangers experiencing something they may have thought would never happen in Alabama. For the first time, I allowed myself the freedom and knowledge that I might be married to the man I love right here in my home state of Alabama if this is what we choose.
ED: What do you think of Roy Moore, his comments and actions against equality?
JR: Roy Moore is an embarrassment to Alabama and to the United States of America. We need people across the nation to know that the Alabama of 2015 is not truly represented by most of the elected officials in Montgomery. Our political process is somewhat broken here and the messages coming out of the mouths of people who promote prejudice and discrimination are not the messages that I hear from thousands of Alabamians from all sexual orientations and gender identities. Personally, I am shocked and dismayed that ideas and concepts that were settled following the Civil War and reaffirmed later with the ending of Jim Crow laws and when other discriminatory Alabama laws were declared illegal by our Federal government are still being used to deny the civil rights of the people of Alabama. The lack of respect for our Federal government exhibited by Roy Moore is not shared by many Alabamians, especially the underrepresented minorities that have been the victims of oppression and abuse perpetrated by the “Old Home Boy” white male network in Montgomery.
ED: What do you think about SCOTUS finally taking up Marriage Equality?
JR: I am excited that SCOTUS is taking up Marriage Equality in late April. I am one of many people who maintain tremendous hope that this will end one more process of institutionalized discrimination and abuse of U.S. citizens that lingers in our society. The 7-2 decision not to consider the appeal requested by the Alabama Attorney General reaffirms my belief that SCOTUS will do what is right for Americans. Many people do not seem to understand that our system of government is designed to protect minorities from abuse from a majority. I am thankful that this is true.
ED: What are your thoughts on Bobby Jindal the Governor of Louisiana?
JR: Bobby Jindal and others that perpetuate anti-American sentiments promoting discrimination and abuse of human beings are not worthy of respect of our people. I believe we need to expose them and their oppressive hate filled beliefs and practices as being contrary to the principals that the people of the United States treasure and work to uphold… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Rational Americans must come together and realize the real threat that these people represent for all of us.
ED: How do you think Marriage Equality might differ in the Bible belt as opposed to the Pacific Northwest?
JR: I suspect that conditions for LGBTQ people outside the major metropolitan areas of the Pacific Northwest are very similar to those we face here in the Deep South. While I believe that Marriage Equality will soon exist nationwide I do not believe this will be a magical solution that ends the prejudice, discrimination, and violence that are constant threats to the well-being of LGBTQ people across the United States. Those of us who can must continue to be visible. We must not only be visible but we must be visible in a positive way. I believe our greatest successes of the near future will be gained person by person as we allow those that irrationally fear LGBTQ people to know us on a personal level. I believe most prejudice is simply a product of fear of the unknown.
ED: Do you think there are a wide enough range of known gay friendly businesses to have big weddings or do you foresee a mine-field?
JR: Free2Be began to receive calls and messages from individuals and venues wanting to support Marriage Equality almost immediately following the initial ruling by Judge Granada. During Wedding Week in Huntsville we saw many individuals and businesses come forward for the first time to publicly support LGBTQ people. I do not currently see or foresee a problem with the availability of venues, other business, and individuals who are supporting the marriage of same-sex couples in our region of Alabama. It will certainly be true that couples may need to go outside their immediate communities for the time being but there are many resources already available across Alabama.