As we approach Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the role of service and the state of the dream Dr. King fought so long and hard for has constantly been on my mind. It can be difficult to find space for and see the value of service in the midst of so many crises: a global pandemic, ongoing and systemic racial injustice, an insurrection at the Capitol, and the historic second impeachment of a sitting president.
In the face of these challenges, many may feel helpless, that their contributions cannot make a difference. Yet I believe those very challenges make it all the more important to mark MLK Day this year, to call attention to the devastating effects these crises have had on the most marginalized among us and do what we can to make a difference in our communities.
Racism and oppression are unfortunately nothing new for marginalized communities. The LGBTQ community has long faced discrimination, bigotry and violence, which is compounded further for our racially marginalized LGBTQ family. But we have also long used our voices to fight back at places like Stonewall, Compton’s Cafeteria and the Black Cat decades ago and, more recently, on the streets of cities across the country to loudly proclaim that Black Lives Matter; that Black Trans Lives Matter.
Over the last few years, we have seen attacks on our community grow, with increasing violence against Black trans women, attempts by the federal government to deny health care to LGBTQ people during a global pandemic, and attempts by the federal government to boldly sanction and legitimize discrimination and bias against LGBTQ people in practically all facets of life including employment, housing, and education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also made societal inequities even more clear, with the LGBTQ community disproportionately impacted economically. Our own data, released in 2020, found that LGBTQ people were 30 percent, and LGBTQ people of color were 70 percent, more likely than the general population to have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color, were also more likely to have taken a pay cut and to have had their work hours reduced. This data makes clear that people living at the intersection of marginalized identities are struggling the most.
The fact is that far too many LGBTQ Americans are struggling to get through this crisis, and service to our community is more important than ever. That’s why I am calling on the LGBTQ community and our allies to join the National Day of Service on January 18 as we look to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee is working with local, state, and national organizations to organize events, both virtual and safely in-person, which will focus on COVID-19 relief and the challenges that have been magnified by the pandemic, such as poverty, hunger, racial injustice, homelessness, mental health and educational disparities. Individuals can sign up for an existing event in your community, or host your own event, engaging the organizations in your network in service to others.
As I reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, I am reminded of the words of Bayard Rustin, one of the engineers of the March on Washington and early leader in LGBTQ rights who said, “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.” Even during these unprecedented times, LGBTQ people and our allies have continued to fight injustice in the streets as well as the ballot box; exerting more political power and altering the political landscape like never before. Our efforts have made a difference, with two compassionate and understanding leaders preparing to lead our nation forward, leaders who have prioritized inclusive policies and dedicated themselves to service and assisting those in need. Now, through our service to others, we can lift up these leaders, honor the legacy of the leaders who came before us and continue to fight for equal protections for all.
On this Day of Service, we must rededicate ourselves to the fight for equal justice and take action to move equality forward, for everyone. As Bayard said, "the real radical is that person who has a vision of equality and is willing to do those things that will bring reality closer to that vision." Please join me in doing just that by signing up to serve on January 18.
Those interested in joining the Presidential Inaugural Committee on the National Day of Service should sign up to volunteer at bideninaugural.org/day-of-service. Those that are local, state and national organizations that are interested in hosting a service event or supportive service efforts can email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how to get involved.
Alphonso David is the president of Human Rights Campaign.