July 17 Mail: Same-sex Marriage and Forrest High School

‘Civil Rights for Everyone’

Thank you for your well-written Editor’s Note “Liberty and Justice for All,” dated July 3. My partner and I have been together as a family unit for the past 34 years. In our lifetime, we have both experienced rejection from our family members and verbal and even physical abuse from coworkers and complete strangers. I personally have been denied housing and have been asked not to return to a church.

Despite our excellent work record/history, we both have been denied promotions and pay raises because we are gay. This is something that all gay people can relate to. I remember when a previous supervisor told me that I was well deserving and more qualified for a promotion, but because I was single and the other employee was married, he decided to give the promotion to the married woman. This has happened to me and to my partner on several occasions during our professional careers. My partner has endured extreme homophobia from both men and women at his workplaces. He could never end this harassment because there are no laws to protect him, and EEOC does not cover gay people.

We are both professionally trained and educated. We paid for our own university education and degrees. We have jointly owned 10 different houses during our years together and have never been late with a mortgage payment. We pay our utilities on time, pay our taxes, and have excellent credit scores. We have never been arrested, and we don’t steal from or try to harm other people. We have made major contributions to other people who are not gay and have both volunteered for many years to improve the lives of U.S. veterans. Our house is very clean, our yard manicured and we recycle.

Despite all the hate, rejection, denial and lack of legal protection, my partner and I have survived as a couple for 34 years. We are not going anywhere, and we’re not going to live our lives to accommodate other people’s belief systems. We will continue to treat others fairly, pay our taxes/bills on time, keep our belongings clean and serve the community. We all have just one “shot” at this time called “life”; we were born gay, and we will die gay.

I remember a time when gay people were killed and a time when I heard a judge comment, “He got what he deserved,” regarding the brutal beating death of a young gay man. Maybe the mayor and the City Council would like to return to those days. When I think about the hardship other gay people before me have endured, I feel sad, but feel anger more than anything else. They lived a more hellish life due to the public and institutional beliefs and actions. Yes, things are changing for gay men and women, but my lifetime will have ended before anything significant happens. I hope that all this foolishness will end soon. I hope the next generation of gay men and women are afforded a more fair life experience than my partner and I have had.

I smile every time I see the Jacksonville mayor’s face. I smile when I see the black faces on the City Council. People have either forgotten or maybe they never knew about the contributions made by gay men and women toward civil rights. Gay people have made significant contributions toward the women’s rights movement and toward the African-American civil rights movement. Many may not realize that Martin Luther King’s speechwriter was/is a gay man. I lived through these times; I have firsthand knowledge of the support and monetary donations made by gay supporters of civil rights.

Thank you for supporting civil rights for everyone.

Benjamin E. McConnell

Orange Park


Remove Forrest’s Name from School

This is a letter I wrote to Nickolai Vitti, superintendent of Duval County Schools, encouraging him to eliminate the name of the monster Nathan Bedford Forrest from a public school. You can write to him, too, at [email protected].

I understand from the Times-Union that you are interested in revisiting the name of the Duval County school named for a racist, slave owner, slave trader, war criminal and the first grand wizard of the KKK who instituted Jim Crow in the South, Nathan Bedford Forrest. I was involved in an effort to eliminate this honor of America’s Osama Bin Laden five years ago. We followed all the rules and submitted surveys in favor of the change by a 24 percent margin, and the School Board voted along racial lines to ignore our project.

My friend and Jacksonville area civil rights icon Rodney Hurst and I would be interested in assisting you in the effort to finally remove the name of this monster from a public school and replace it with a name honoring someone worthy of such an honor. As you know, Jacksonville ignored <> until 1970. This school was to be called Valhalla High School until the racist group Daughters of the Confederacy lobbied to have the name changed to N.B. Forrest immediately after the Supreme Court decision, as a direct insult to the African-American community. I for one think it is time to remove this insult and show some respect to African Americans long punished in this racist community. I would be pleased to help to remove the name of the monster Forrest from a Duval County school and hope that you would be, too.

Steven L. Stoll