My Father's Story – Len Shaffer
Len Shaffer is musical artist and actor in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I am neither gay or married but I care passionately about the issue from a civil rights standpoint. I wrote the song It's Time to Stand-Up as a result of my anger at the ruling of New York's highest court against gay marriage, in which the court stressed that gay marriage would be bad for the children.
I'd like to tell you a little bit about my father, who instilled in me my passion for civil rights: Harry Shaffer was a Jewish immigrant who left Vienna in 1938, shortly after Hitler had come in. As my dad used to put it, "Austria wasn't big enough for the both of us, and Hitler wasn't going to leave so I did!" After working his way through school (completing his bachelor's degree in under three years and his master's degree in one, then spending 10 years to earn his doctorate in economics while being married and raising my oldest brother), he eventually became a professor at the University of Alabama in the early '50s.
During this time they admitted their first black student, Autherine Lucy. After there was rioting over her admittance to the university, Ms. Lucy complained that the university was not doing enough to protect her, at which point she was expelled for "slandering the university." In protest, 28 professors resigned, with my dad being one of them. (Another 20 resigned the following year.)
From there, my dad ended up at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he became the president of the Lawrence League for the Practice of Democracy, which led picket lines around the city swimming pools for integration, among other things. He also spoke out strongly against the Vietnam War. As a result of his activism, he received six death threats. According to him, he managed to talk five of them out of it on the phone, and the one time he was not able to charm the person making the threat, students from KU stayed with him 24 hours a day for two weeks to make sure he was safe.
My favorite joke that my dad used to tell is that when he was at the University of Alabama he would often bring up civil rights, at which point one of his students would invariably ask him, "Would you marry one of them?" His answer would always be, "Of course not!" The student would then usually say something like, "See! Why not?," and my dad would answer, "Because my wife would never stand for it!"
My dad died November 3, 2009 at a way-too-young 90 years of age, and I was immensely proud of the fact that he was rare for his generation in that he supported marriage equality and gay rights as fully as he supported the civil rights of any other minority.
My father believed that there was nothing more important than to treat each person as an individual, and he lived his live accordingly. That is the legacy behind my belief in marriage equality and my choice to produce and direct One Voice, a benefit concert for marriage equality produced in 2010.