Where were you while we were getting high?
By virtue of political plate tectonics and the mahogany-and-starched-shirt drudgery of a state legislative cycle in full swing during a presidential election year, you wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that the earth is actually moving under your feet right now. Nope, not vertigo. Nah, you aren’t drunk (maybe?). High? Hopefully!
Seriously, though, there’s something more going on beneath the surface – often on the surface – that is cause for concern. We like to furrow our brows a bit around here, as it is our job to make those wrinkles into words and images and has been for more than two decades, but its not all bad news at the moment, to be sure.
Just this week, the “Florida Competitive Workforce Act,” which would include sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s wide swath of protections in the workplace, earned its first hearing after seven years of attempts to gain any traction. Is it a sea change? Maybe. Here at Watermark, we celebrate any social movement that seeks to make LGBT lives – and the lives of everyone – teeter a little closer to actual fairness.
But also this week, two anti-abortion bills passed through their respective committees, the most onerous of them being an omnibus bill HB 865 (one that has also never really received a hearing until this year) that would outlaw abortion and punish providers (and, likewise, women) as felons. We watched in horror on Jan. 25 as the state’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee entertained the notion of punitive damages, U.S. Constitution be damned. Those who voted against the measure did so with calculated politeness – they “respectfully” and somewhat apologetically said that they just couldn’t sign on, but thanks anyway, champ. Let’s pray together sometime. Supporters grinned from ear to ear and just said “yes.”
It was a telling glimpse into our increasingly reactive divide, that which exists between what we can have and what we cannot. And it’s in that spirit that we present to you our second issue of 2016, one that has a coincidental overlap on another controversial issue. In 2014, medical marijuana gained the approval of 58 percent of the voting public in Florida. The legislature countered the proposed constitutional amendment, as it is wont to do, with watered down language about watered down cannabis, “Charlotte’s Web.” The argument, as it played out between activists and the bad actors of local television media, was that legalizing actual cannabis on any level was just a slippery slope into harder drugs and prison, which you would think the powers that be would love, seeing as we are so keen on privatizing our prisons. Reefer Madness is alive and well in the flyover counties and their requisite churches.
The trouble is, not everyone is alive and well, or at least well (because you’re reading this, you must be alive, right?). In this issue, we speak to rock star and LGBT hero Melissa Etheridge about her activism on the issue of medical marijuana. As a cancer survivor, we’re more inclined to take her word on the benefits of weed in treatment than we are those of a gaggle of gerrymandered emperors fighting for campaign dollars. She’s putting her money where her heart is and using her celebrity to remove the stigma attached to marijuana use. It helped her survive; it might have helped you, too – only you’re not allowed to talk about it.
To that point, we also caught up with attorney John Morgan (who is largely funding Florida’s campaign), United for Care and, not surprisingly, longtime activist Norm Kent, who publishes South Florida Gay News. Kent reminds us that it wasn’t that long ago that the gay community could have really used legal marijuana, if only to overcome the side effects of HIV drugs in order to eat. We’re in this fight, too.
I was speaking to a friend the other day about what we do when the pendulum shifts. Do we just say, “I got mine,” grab a marriage certificate and then walk away? Or do we fight for and with our brothers and sisters who have supported us through our challenges and their inevitable backlashes?
Anyone who has ever cared for a dying relative with cancer, anyone who has ever driven a friend to Planned Parenthood after a rape, anyone who has ever felt the pains of discrimination at work or in public owes it to the world to join the coalitions working to affect social change for the better.
It’s better to be high than low.