Courageous Love: Donna RedWing
I met Donna in 1992, just after a horrific anti-gay ballot measure in Oregon was narrowly defeated. The initiative would have inserted into the constitution language that equated homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia, and went downhill from there. It almost became law.
Donna and I were in a meeting in Washington DC, she there from Oregon, where she had been one of the most visible and key activists fighting the ballot measure. At the meeting, most of the DC folks were content to say we had a victory in Oregon and move on to talk about Colorado, where a less overtly hateful amendment had passed. Donna first caught my attention because she said to the national leaders that it wasn’t about numbers, it was about people, and the people in Oregon were still in agony over the rhetoric of the campaign.
Though Donna wasn’t a faith-based activist—at that time in history, I was generally the only faith based activist in any room talking about gay rights—she was thinking about 100% of the people, not 51%, in a way that resonated with me and with people of faith. Her voice clearly resonated with other people of faith, too; she spent many years serving The Interfaith Alliance.
What Donna did not share when I first met her, or for a while, was how very personal the attacks on her and her partner became during that ballot initiative in Oregon. Donna and Sumitra received not only death threats, but phone calls taunting them about how they would be forced to watch each other (and even their dogs) suffer and die. Armed Nazis stood in vigil in their yard. Donna refused to back down and continued speaking, acting, and organizing.
It is her refusal to back down and her willingness to go to the mat for justice that have always made Donna so exceptional to me. While she remains committed to glbt equality, she now directs an organization called Grassroots Leadership that works to stop corporations from making enormous profits by running prisons and detention facilties. It was Grassroots Leadership that did the research so that media could report how Governor Jan Brewer would personally profit from Arizona’s 1070 law, for instance. The stories Donna tells me from this new post are horrific, and I am glad she has dedicated herself to this important struggle.
I am proud to call Donna a friend, and to celebrate her on Valentine’s Day as an embodiment of love and courage.
Lifted up by: Meg Riley