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July 2, 2014 0

Thoughts on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

 

by Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in The Huff­in­g­ton Post on July 2, 2014

Fifty years ago today, Pres­i­dent Lyn­don Baines John­son signed into law the land­mark Civil Rights Act of 1964. With the stroke of a pen, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment blot­ted out “sep­a­rate but equal,” put the power of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice behind deseg­re­ga­tion of pub­lic schools, and laid the foun­da­tion for racial, reli­gious and gen­der equal­ity in the workplace.

Despite the enor­mity of the change it ush­ered in, Rev. Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. hailed the leg­is­la­tion not as a vic­tory but as the “dawn of a new hope” and a “cool serene breeze in a long hot sum­mer” of racial oppres­sion. Dr. King rec­og­nized that the law did not mark the end of the strug­gle, but the begin­ning of fun­da­men­tal change.

A half-century later, the Civil Rights Act still stands as both a sig­nal achieve­ment and a reminder of the work that lies ahead for the attain­ment of true and last­ing equal­ity. The law dis­man­tled the edi­fice of “sep­a­rate but equal” in its most odi­ous form.

Today, the notion of a “Col­ored Only” drink­ing foun­tain seems alien and unthink­able. The Civil Rights Act changed more than the law; it changed atti­tudes. The recent down­fall of L.A. Clip­pers owner Don­ald Ster­ling demon­strates that the strongest enforcer of civil rights remains the court of pub­lic opinion.

In spite of the great progress that has already been achieved and the poten­tial for more, the promise of the Civil Rights Act has yet to be fully real­ized. The law autho­rized the Attor­ney Gen­eral to sue pub­lic schools for fail­ing to heed the charge of Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion to deseg­re­gate “with all delib­er­ate speed.” Today, an esti­mated 74 per­cent of African-American stu­dents and 79 per­cent of Latino stu­dents attend majority-minority schools.

Edu­ca­tion equity remains largely elu­sive. Less than one-third of schools serv­ing the most African Amer­i­can and Latino stu­dents offer cal­cu­lus. One-quarter of those schools do not even offer alge­bra II, 60 per­cent have no physics classes, and one-third do not offer chem­istry classes of any kind. Sixty years after Brown and fifty years after the Civil Rights Act, the work to close the edu­ca­tion equity gap continues.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act required employ­ers to pro­vide male and female work­ers equal pay for equal work. But a sub­stan­tial pay gap per­sists. The first piece of leg­is­la­tion signed into law by Pres­i­dent Obama–the Lilly Led­bet­ter Fair Pay Act–makes it eas­ier for women to secure back-pay when they suf­fer years of unequal com­pen­sa­tion. In April, how­ever, another bill would have banned com­pa­nies from retal­i­at­ing against women for seek­ing equal pay. It was blocked in the Sen­ate. And, in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court made it harder for female work­ers to band together to sue their employer for unequal pay, mak­ing it nearly impos­si­ble for women to wage costly lit­i­ga­tion bat­tles on their own.

For mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity, who are not explic­itly included in the Civil Rights Act, mon­u­men­tal change is afoot. Today, in most states, work­ers can still be fired or denied a job sim­ply for being gay. But in the com­ing days, we hope and expect Pres­i­dent Obama will amend an exist­ing exec­u­tive order bar­ring employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion by fed­eral con­trac­tors to add sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity to the list of pro­tected categories–a move that will extend work­place pro­tec­tions to approx­i­mately twenty per­cent of the nation’s work­force. The order could pave the way for leg­is­la­tion that would pro­hibit employ­ers from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against LGBT individuals.

Dr. King famously said, “The arc of the moral uni­verse is long, but it bends towards jus­tice.” The Civil Rights Act changed the face of the nation, bend­ing the arc sharply on July 2, 1964.

But much work remains. On the 50-year anniver­sary of its pas­sage, let us reded­i­cate our­selves to the task of build­ing a fairer, more just society.

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June 7, 2014 0

Why Pride?

“Stonewall was just the flip side of the black revolt when Rosa Parks took a stand.  Finally, the kids down there took a stand. But it was peace­ful.  I mean, they said it was a riot; it was more like a civil disobedience.”

– Storme DeLarverie (1920–2014), early leader in the Gay Rights Movement

June is LGBT Pride Month.  To under­stand the LGBT move­ment, it’s impor­tant to appre­ci­ate the mean­ing of pride.  Pride, accord­ing to Merriam-Webster, is “a feel­ing that you respect your­self and deserve to be respected by other peo­ple.”  How does this trans­late into LGBT pride or pride amongst any other group of peo­ple such as African Amer­i­cans, Jews, women or immi­grants? Espe­cially for groups of peo­ple who have been oppressed, mar­gin­al­ized, dis­crim­i­nated against and tar­geted for bul­ly­ing, harass­ment and vio­lence, pride is key.  Pride is a group of peo­ple stand­ing together and affirm­ing their self-worth, their his­tory and accom­plish­ments, their capa­bil­ity, dig­nity and their vis­i­bil­ity.  It is a vocal and pow­er­ful state­ment to them­selves and the world that they deserve to be treated with respect and equal­ity. Pride is a way out.

The LGBT Pride Move­ment began at Stonewall in the sum­mer of 1969.  On June 28, a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in NYC, turned vio­lent when cus­tomers and local sym­pa­thiz­ers rioted against the police.  The riot embod­ied the mount­ing of anger and weari­ness the gay com­mu­nity felt about the police depart­ment tar­get­ing gay clubs and engag­ing in dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices, which occurred reg­u­larly dur­ing that time. And yes, it also rep­re­sented their pride. The Stonewall riot was fol­lowed by days of demon­stra­tions in NYC and was the impe­tus for the cre­ation of sev­eral gay, les­bian and bisex­ual civil rights orga­ni­za­tions.  One year later, the first Gay Pride marches took place in New York, Los Ange­les and Chicago, com­mem­o­rat­ing the Stonewall riots. The Pride move­ment was born.

Forty-five years later, there have been major strides in the rights and treat­ment of LGBT peo­ple: in nine­teen states plus D.C. same-sex cou­ples have the free­dom to marry ; we have openly gay pro­fes­sional sports’ play­ers — Michael Sam (NFL) and Jason Collins (NBA); and this month Lav­erne Cox became the first trans­gen­der woman to grace the cover of Time mag­a­zine.  At the same time, there remains much work to be done.  Just as LGBT Pride rep­re­sents a wide diver­sity of peo­ple and issues, there are a wide vari­ety of oppor­tu­ni­ties for edu­ca­tors to cel­e­brate, teach and demon­strate their pride for LGBT people:

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June 28, 2013 5

One Giant Step Forward Towards Full Equality for the LGBT Community — What’s Next?

There is much to cel­e­brate in the Supreme Court mar­riage equal­ity deci­sions. The Anti-Defamation League filed ami­cus briefs in both U.S. v. Wind­sor and Hollingsworth v. Perry on behalf of a broad, diverse group of reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions, empha­siz­ing that there are many dif­fer­ent reli­gious views on mar­riage and that no one reli­gious under­stand­ing should be used to define mar­riage recog­ni­tion and rights under civil law.

Your rights should not depend on your ZIP code.

Your rights should not depend on your ZIP code.

ADL’s brief in the Wind­sor case began with the asser­tion that reli­gious def­i­n­i­tions of mar­riage vary, includ­ing per­spec­tives over whether or not gay and les­bian cou­ples may marry. Our brief then set out two argu­ments: (1) the Defense of Mar­riage Act (DOMA) vio­lated the estab­lish­ment clause because it was enacted with a reli­gious pur­pose, based on a par­tic­u­lar reli­gious under­stand­ing of mar­riage; and (2) DOMA vio­lated equal pro­tec­tion under the Fifth Amend­ment because it was moti­vated by moral dis­ap­proval of gay and les­bian peo­ple with­out any legit­i­mate gov­ern­ment purpose.

Our Perry brief urged the Court to reject the reli­gious and moral jus­ti­fi­ca­tions expressed by Propo­si­tion 8 pro­po­nents.  It demon­strated how, over the past quar­ter cen­tury, the Supreme Court has rejected laws dis­fa­vor­ing minor­ity groups based on moral or reli­gious dis­ap­proval alone – with one, now dis­cred­ited, excep­tion, Bow­ers v. Hard­wick. The brief looked back over time and showed how laws like slav­ery, seg­re­ga­tion, pro­hi­bi­tions on inter­ra­cial mar­riage, and laws dis­crim­i­nat­ing against women – laws that were jus­ti­fied on moral and reli­gious grounds – had ulti­mately been rejected by the Court.

ADL hailed the Court’s two deci­sions, while rec­og­niz­ing that much work remains to be done to pro­mote LGBT equal­ity.  Now that DOMA has been ruled uncon­sti­tu­tional, legal ana­lysts – and gov­ern­ment offi­cials – will be sort­ing out the range of fed­eral ben­e­fits that can now be accorded to legally-married same-sex cou­ples.  Same-sex cou­ples in Cal­i­for­nia can pre­pare for full recog­ni­tion and rights in their state. It is clear, how­ever, that, for now, the full range of ben­e­fits, priv­i­leges, and respon­si­bil­i­ties of mar­riage will con­tinue to be denied cou­ples in 37 other states.

More­over, at a time when it is still legal to fire employ­ees solely because they are les­bian, gay, or bisex­ual in 29 states – and in 33 states it is legal to fire some­one solely for being trans­gen­der — it is nec­es­sary to com­ple­ment this week’s for­ward progress with work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions, ini­tia­tives to pre­vent bias-motivated vio­lence, and pro­grams to pro­mote safe learn­ing envi­ron­ments for LGBT students.

To these ends, ADL sup­ports the Employ­ment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would expand exist­ing fed­eral employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion cov­er­age to include pro­tec­tion for those who are dis­crim­i­nated against based on their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and/or gen­der iden­tity.  ADL is a national leader in con­fronting hate vio­lence, hav­ing played a lead role in coali­tion work to enact and imple­ment the Matthew Shep­ard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Pre­ven­tion Act (HCPA). And the League has also been in the fore­front of efforts to ensure safe school envi­ron­ments for all stu­dents, regard­less of their reli­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, or gen­der iden­tity, through the devel­op­ment of edu­ca­tion and train­ing pro­grams  and bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion initiatives.

While we cel­e­brate the great step for­ward in mar­riage equal­ity, we must not lose sight of the fact that   our nation has suf­fered a major set­back to civil rights when the Supreme Court struck down a crit­i­cal part of the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act, In this, ADL’s  100th anniver­sary year, we reded­i­cate our­selves to secur­ing, in the words of our found­ing Char­ter, “jus­tice and fair treat­ment for all.”

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