A Bitch with a Ballot, by Vi Johnson

Vi Johnson's Speech from BV 17 :: 9.30.2007

Damn, it feels good to be back at Beyond Vanilla. Before I do anything else, I promised my spouse that I would send her regrets to all of you.  Jill loves Dallas and Oklahoma as much, if not more, than I do.  She truly regrets that she could not be with me this weekend.  Next, let me say thank you to all of the Beyond Vanilla committee for inviting me, and the van full of stuff I brought with me, back to this great state.  It's been a little too long since I've fellowshipped with the NLA Dallas Family.  As a matter of fact, the last time I was an attendee at Beyond Vanilla, I spent a little time standing on this stage talking to ya'll.

It's almost as if the committee members knew that I needed to come home. I don't know if it's fate, fortune or coincidence, but it seems that when things trouble me or I feel this tribe is threatened, I talk about it in Dallas.  When new ideas are created and need a incubator, Dallas seems to be the place where those ideas are nurtured. Damn near every time Jill or I got a wild hair up our …ahem, we have talked about it here in Dallas. Sometimes you all talk us out of mischief, sometimes ya don't.  Last time you didn't, she ran for International Ms Leather.

Dallas has a hell of a track record.  And it's that Texas influence (not leather history) that I want to talk to you about now.

A few years ago I was asked to do the keynote for the Master / slave conference in D.C.   Talking about the lifestyle that I love was an easy thing to do.  The speech just about wrote itself. Then … I got an email from past NLA-I president Spencer Bergstedt, talking about pending legislation in Texas that potentially threatened the lifestyle that we are all a part of.  Spence was asking that our community come together to fight Texas, House Joint Resolutions #6 and 19.  Now for those of you who don't know about House Joint Resolutions #6 and 19, they were basically anti gay legislation which could have allowed the state of Texas to nullify partnership agreements, civil unions, and contracts between legal strangers. (Remember that term. I'm coming back to it.) Spence was worried that these contracts could conceivably include wills, powers of attorney and health care proxies. 

I read both bills, got mad as hell and then rewrote the entire speech.  Resolution 6, died in committee.  However … House Joint Resolution 19, also called the Marriage Protection Amendment, penned by Warren Chisum and 74 of his colleagues, actually passed the 79th session of the legislature.

Chisum defended his love and marriage bill,  "calling it a biblical issue". Now, forgive me while I take a little detour here, but I've got a question.  Aren't we a nation founded on the *separation* of church and state?  Personally, I don't have a problem with "marriage" being a "biblical issue" as Mr. Chisum put it.  All he has to do is get the "state" out of the marriage. That Mr. Chisum means no more tax deductions, social security benefits, insurance, or government protections of any kind.  If on the other hand, marriage is a legal partnership between two people who love each other, then get the church out of the partnership.  Pick one Mr. Chisum, you can't have it both ways. Sorry about that little detour, I needed to vent.

Getting back to House Joint Resolution 19: Yes the bill was aimed specifically at the gay community.  But the spatter thrown up by that bill could have affected not just me as a gay woman, but me as a leather woman. Spence told me that "legal strangers" (I told you we would come back to that term.)  is defined by law as any two or more people not bound by blood ties or the ties of marriage.  And folks, that's most of us in *this* room.  Legal strangers is anyone who does not fall into the "One man, one woman for the purpose of procreation", category. In other words folks: *anyone* who chooses to love differently.  Our sexual orientation or gender identification has little if anything to do with it.

The speech that I telling you all about, was given before the referrundum came to a vote.  So a few months later, I did a little follow up research because I was curious about the outcome of House Joint Resolution 19.  In November of 2005, that bill lead to a referendum to amend the Texas state constitution to define marriage aasss a union between one man and one woman.  And that amendment was *passed* into law by 76% of the voting population of this great state. Notice I didn't say all of the eligible voting population.  *Now*, let me give you the *rest* of the facts according to the Houston Chronicle. In the 2005 election, 17% of the eligible population of the state of Texas voted. I want to make sure you heard me, I said 17%.  That's right, less than 17% of the population changed the constitution of the state of Texas.  To put it another way, 83% of the people of this state didn't think their right to love as they choose was important enough to get their asses to a voting booth and express their opinion. Texans … what the hell were you all thinking?

Your neighbor to the north, the other state Jill and I love with all our hearts, Oklahoma, not only will NOT protect the rights of two same sex people who love each other, but had the nerve to pass an Adoption Invalidation Law.  This brilliant piece of legislation basically made any child in, or passing through, the state of Oklahoma parented by a same sex couple, an orphan for as long as they remain in the state. Now we are criminals if we love each other AND our children become orphans if we love them and they us. The good news is: the law was eventually struck down.  The bad news is: many of the idiots who voted this into law are still in office. Who elected these yahoos anyway?

In 1996, the United States Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act.  This is the piece of law that Barbara Nitke and the NCSF fought all the way to the Supreme Court.  They argued that basically, because of the internet, community is impossible to define in order to apply the standards of decency that the law mandates.  While I understand the arguments posed by Barbara Nitke and the NCSF, I want to take a step back here. I have a problem with the implications of the word decency.  Who decides what is decent and what is not.  Not just for the greater community but for me as an individual?  I would think that *I* am the best judge of what I consider decent.  And I have the right to enforce that decision by turning off the channel, not going to a website, bypassing a piece of art *I* deem obscene.  Note the word I here.  The decision is MINE as is the responsibility for that decision.

Obviously, I'm wrong in my thinking.  Who decides what is obscene for me and the community of which I am a part?  The same "ijiots" who declared that the breasts of Lady Justice were indecent … my elected officials. 

I could stand here for a lot longer than this citing case, after case, after case, of infringements to our "pursuit of happiness.  The Defense of Marriage Act, The Clean Airwaves Act, The Broadcast Decency Act, hell, the Patriot Act.  I could talk to you all until you all were as tired of listening to me as I would be of talking.  So let's get to the common denominator in all of this.  All these laws are written, and then voted onto the books, by the people WE choose to represent US. These men and women are elected into office to represent their constituents, not discriminate against them: to represent the group who elected them, not their individual conscience.  We all have a conscience, it helps us to live with honor, and love with truth and dignity.  But, if you want to follow your conscience and not the will of the majority, be a priest, not a politician.

And that brings me to the next point, the majority.  Webster defines majority as, "the greater share."  That is a lot more than just the vocal few.  I remind you Texans, your constitution was changed by 76% of the 17% who voted.  George Bush was elected to the office of the presidency by just 38% of the people of this country.  Are we to allow ourselves to be legislated out of history because of our own complacency, because we believe our one voice, our one vote doesn't count?  That's exactly what that 17% wants you to believe.  WE are the majority and WE had better remember that. 

In 1936, Winston Churchill said that "The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to a close.  In its place we are entering a period of consequences."  That was 71 years ago.  Yes it's about living the lifestyle but it's also about protecting the lifestyle we live.  If we don't, raise our voices, be heard by our ballots, we just may not like the consequence of our inaction. 

In these last few minutes I hope that I've caught your attention.  Hell, I hope I've pissed you off.  The right to the artistic expression of our lifestyle, the right to privacy within the groups that we form to support each other, the basic right to love who and how we choose, is being attacked all over the country, either directly or indirectly. What are ya gonna do folks?

It's 2007 and we've got one year. One year to stop being ruled motivated and manipulated by a small but *very* vocal minority. One year to undo a whole lot of wrongs. One year to straighten a whole lot of mess. One year before we have a new deal or old bullshit. The choice is ours. Nitke vs. Ashcroft proved that one voice can make a difference. Barbara and the NCSF may have lost the battle, but they won the war, they got our attention.

One voice may cry alone in the wilderness. "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."   I'm adding my one voice to that cry. My one voice makes that cry just a little louder. If we all add our voices, it's not a cry any more, it's a battle chant.  Let's scream loud enough to shake the walls of government, tell them that they had better listen of be voted OUT of office. I'm a voice WITH a vote: a leather woman with a voter's registration card… and I'm going to use it.

How many people in here are registered to vote and exercised that right in past elections? How many NLA-I members in here can say that all their leather brothers and sisters are voting? How many people in here can say that Texas Council of Clubs is registered to vote? How many Mistresses and Masters in here are registered to vote? How many Masters know if their slaves are registered to vote? First we make sure we can vote.  Then we DO!

Can you see the the back of my t-shirt?  It says KINKY VOTER. Maybe we need a whole pile of tee shirts to say "lesbian voter," "gay voter,"  "D/s voter,"  "M/s voter". Make a bumper sticker. Put it on the back of your car. Make a sign, embroider a jacket, put it on a tee shirt.  It's time -- as a matter of fact, it's past time -- we stop cowering in fear of exposure and unite with one voice, one ballot to say "I have had enough of this."

I am a dangerous person in politics.  I'm a bitch with a ballot, and I plan to use it!

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