Pride Month and the Equality Act, by Marc H. Morial
6/10/2021, 6 p.m.
“Rather than divide and discriminate, let us come together and create one nation. We are all one people. We all live in the American house. We are all the American family. Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles and dreams. It’s time we treated them as equals, as family.” — The late Congressman John Lewis
June is Pride Month, which commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, a turning point in the movement for LGBTQ rights.
It’s a time for those of us in the racial justice movement to affirm our solidarity and acknowledge, as the late Congressman John Lewis said, that “You cannot have equality for some in America and not equality for all.”
For those of us who are African-American, whose forefathers and foremothers endured the oppression of slavery, segregation and discrimination, we are morally bound to stand on the front lines with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. More than 40 percent of LBGTQ Americans identify as people of color. Their rights are our rights.
The movement for gay liberation is inextricably bound to the movement for racial equality, and has been led by LGBTQ people of color such as civil rights icon Bayard Rustin, “the mayor of Christopher Street” Marsha P. Johnson, writer and activist James Baldwin and #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza.
Years before Stonewall, teenagers inspired by the lunch counter protests in Greensboro, N.C., staged a sit-in at Dewey’s, a Philadelphia restaurant, in response to Dewey’s discriminatory policy claiming it would not serve “homosexuals,” “masculine women,” “feminine men,” nor “persons wearing non-conformist clothing.”
Early activists who attended the 1963 March on Washington took heart from Mr. Rustin’s leadership. Segregationists had tried to discredit the march by exposing Mr. Rustin’s sexual orientation. A few weeks before the march, U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond from South Carolina famously attacked Mr. Rustin as a “Communist, draft-dodger and homosexual” and had the file from Mr. Rustin’s 1953 arrest on sex charges entered in the Congressional Record.
But the segregationists’ efforts failed, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom galvanized support for the federal Civil Rights Act.
More than two decades after he helped organized the march, Mr. Rustin declared that gay people were the new barometer for social change. It wasn’t that racism had been eliminated by 1986. But the Civil Rights Act gave Black Americans legal recourse against discrimination. In 1986 when Mr. Rustin was testifying in support of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill, Americans had almost no recourse against discrimination.
Today, in half the states, they still have little recourse. In 25 states, there are no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.
The federal Equality Act would change that.
The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education and other key areas of life.
The Equality Act has been introduced four times in consecutive sessions of Congress and has passed the U.S. House of Representatives twice — in 2019 and again this past February. The National Urban League is proud to support the bill and we join our advocacy partners in urging the U.S. Senate to pass it.
In a 1986 speech to students at the University of Pennsyl- vania, Mr. Rustin compared Stonewall to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
“... Something began to happen,” he said. “People began to protest. They began to fight for the right to live in dignity, the right to resist arbitrary behavior on the part of authorities, the right essentially to be one’s self in every respect, and the right to be protected under law. In other words, people began to fight for their human rights.”
The writer is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.