By Christine Toy Johnson
What do Equity contracts and the House of Representatives have in common? No, its not a riddle. Both have passed language that aims to do something most of us dont personally need to have spelled out in the law, but have had raised in our collected consciousness since childhood. It seems incredible that it is necessary to make rules to make discrimination and hate crimes against the law, but this is the world we live in.
While attending a Town Hall Meeting sponsored by President Clintons Advisory Commission and White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in September of 2000, I had the opportunity to meet the AFL-CIOs Deputy Director from the Department of Civil and Human Rights, Matthew Finucane. I was excited to meet Mr. Finucane, a fellow labor leader, and the first personal contact I have ever had with someone from the AFL-CIO. AEA has been a member of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations since 1919 when the AFL-CIO granted a charter to Equity through the then newly formed Four As (Associated Actors and Artists of America, comprised also of SAG, AFTRA, AGMA and AGVA).
The meeting we participated in was part of the result of Executive Order 13125, intended to improve the quality of life for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through participation in Federal programs where they may be underserved, but what we ultimately discussed concerns all of us. In response to Mr. Finucanes testimony to the Commission urging them to support the Hate Crime Law recently passed by the House, I commented on how the laws new language included protecting groups of people that were also included in our contract rule books anti-discrimination language. Passed by the Senate three months earlier, the new Local Law Enforcement Act seeks to protect citizens against hate crimes being committed because of sexual orientation, disability and/or gender. The vote was 232 for and 192 against on September 13, 2000. In a previous incarnation, this law (then called the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act) had been voted down by House Republicans, citing objection to adding language protecting those of any sexual orientation.
The Discrimination language in our rule books calls for all parties to affirm their commitment to the policy that employment hereunder shall be without discrimination on the basis of gender, race, color, creed, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, or political persuasion or belief. Furthermore,we, as members of AEA, are not required to perform in any theatre where discrimination is practiced because of race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability against any Actor or against any patron as to admission to or seating in such theatre. It has always seemed amazing to me that it was necessary to have this as a rule, just as much as the Sex acts shall not be permitted at Interviews/Auditions rule. (Youre all anxious to get your hands on a rulebook now, arent you?) But having been on Council for the past eight years, I have learned to take nothing for granted. Rules are created to protect us from the re-occurrence of the one time (or many times) a Members rights have been violated.
Legislating a need for 100% cotton T-shirts is one thing, but how can we really legislate tolerance? It seems unfathomable to me that a hate crime would NOT be against the law, yet our lawmakers have found it necessary to put it in the books. Let it be known that killing someone because you dont like the way he chooses to worship a Higher Being is NOT okay. It is not acceptable to assault a person because you dont approve of their sexual partner. It is not considered within the letter of the law to put someone in the trunk of your car because you dont like the color of her skin. We, as a union, also find ourselves in the position to take the stance that we do not condone discrimination in the workplace and that (under a separate section of the books) we support Equal Employment Opportunity. The real question becomes: how can we, the law-abiding citizens, form an even greater barrier against evil than the law can; one that mandates a human beings birthright to not be discriminated against?
Dont get me wrong. I strongly believe in passing Hate Crime Laws into our Federal legal system and the presence of our rulebooks anti-discrimination language. I also believe that we, as a people, must have some sort of power to influence the Haters and Discriminators. Maybe its naïve to believe that kindness and respect at home and in the workplace is a good place to start. But in a time where kindness and respect for one another seems to be a commodity, and negotiations between employers and employees suggest that its all about the dollar, heres a suggestion that wont cost anyone any money but will be of immeasurable value: mandate kindness. Mandate respect for ourselves and each other. Perhaps in some small way, we can thereby participate in making the message clear that We may be mad as hell, but were not going to take it out on each other.