By Ari Mills
When a prominent figure passes, society tends to highlight their life’s accomplishments, and with John McCain, it is no different. One’s eulogy often comes from loved-one but also from those who had tenuous or even contentious relationships with the deceased. This response is expected, and some may say, it is respectful. John McCain is no different in that he had many points in his career that immensely influenced this country—albeit it is debatable if it is mostly positive or negative.
For his bravery with fighting in the Vietnam War and not finding ways to avoid service, he should be recognized. For withstanding the horrors a prisoner of war must endure to survive, he should be recognized. For standing up against a president from his own party when he felt the country’s morality was at stake, he should be recognized. For continuing to hold his office and work during cancer treatment, he should be recognized. However, one’s accomplishments and successes do not dissolve their faults or prejudices.
John McCain had well-established personal relations and a voting record situating him against or in contention with LGBT rights and racial issues. First, he voted against designating Martin Luther King Jr. a federal holiday stating, “it was not necessary.” Further, not only was his top advisor to a pro-confederacy advocate but also contributed support for the conceptualization of the Confederate flag as heritage symbol. He did reverse these remarks not long after making them; however, this is a pattern, not a coincidence.
LGBT individuals should not mourn his passing. Why should we? Why should “respect the dead” have merit with someone who clearly had no intention of not protecting LGBT individuals and treating them as second-class citizens? John McCain may have fought for this country, but as an elected official, he apparently did not represent or aim to serve all Americans. He voted against basic protections for the victims of hate crimes that were motivated by sexual orientation. He voted against protecting individuals from job discrimination based on sexual orientation. Additionally, he supported CA’s Prop. 8 to define marriage between one-man-one-woman. John McCain was an elected official of the U.S. who gave service to protect this country, but as an elected official, he did not serve all U.S citizens. He should be remembered for his service, but it does not negate his prejudice.
The passing of a prominent individual is a time to reflect on their accomplishments; however, death does not dissolve their mistakes and prejudice nor elevate them beyond the realm of having the weight on their legacy. Now Democrats want to rename the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain; perhaps all Donald Trump has to do is quit being so loud about his prejudices and the Democrats will just roll over and praise him too. The current person whose name the building bears represents dissent against the Civil Rights Act, one of the foundational pieces of legislation toward a more authentic democracy. Given McCain’s history with minorities, the building’s name may change but the type of career of the person it is named after would not.
McCain does not deserve the honor of having a building with civil rights history, albeit negative, named after him. Why not Martin Luther King Jr.? Why not Rosa Parks? Why not Malcolm X? Why not Fannie Lou Hamer? Why not Bayard Rustin? Why not Marsha P. Johnson? Why not Harvey Milk? Why must we have yet another building named after a warmonger? Why must we have yet another structure named after a bigot? After someone who represents the most privileged demographic in the world. After someone who knows nothing of the arduous hurdles people of color must jump. Who knows nothing about the fear LGBT folks contend with every-single-day. Who knows nothing about how women must strive harder and further than men to be successful and still have their brilliance questioned. Why must we keep honoring straight, white, cisgender, men who do not know what struggle is? Who does not know what it is like to be followed around in every store because of your skin tone. Who does not understand how women methodically plan out their lives to avoid sexual assault. Who does not know how many LGBT folks do not show public affection for fear of death.
It is time for LGBT people to rise. It is time for women to rise. It is time for people of color to rise. It is time for us to be among these elected offices. There are only 7 openly LGBT persons in Congress out of the 435 seats. Also, 80% of the House and Senate are male, and 79% of the House and 94% of the Senate are white. These characteristics not only do not reflect the U.S., they do not reflect the groups suffering the most. It is time for us to bring these experiences of oppression to the forefront of politics. It is time for us to show that we do not all come from the same background, and that is OK. It is time for us to bring stories forward that are not white or cisgender or male. It is time for us to run for office. It is time for us to be that role model that our younger selves did not have. It is time to put down our keyboards and pick up the protest signs. It is time to reject cynicism and apathy at all fronts and in all social groups and, instead, wake up ready to meet the rising sun. Ready to organize. Ready to fight. Ready to vote.