This country has had a long history of fighting for freedom and liberty, the rights of the individual to be treaty equally. If you had asked me 25 or 30 years ago about equal rights, I would have been able to skim over a few details about suffrage at the turn of the 20th century. I knew more about the civil rights movement that was on the front page of nearly every newspaper in America in the 60’s. But if you were to tell me that I was going to be involved with the struggle for equal rights in the 21st century, I would have laughed.
The 19th Amendment, when passed by Congress in 1918 and then ratified in 1920, prohibited sex-based restrictions on voting at the state and federal level. The National Women’s Party, which had a strong hand in the women’s suffrage movement, was the first movement to actually picket the White House. These protests led to arrests and jail time for many women in the early 20th century. At the time, an estimated 20 million women were being denied the right to vote. Though the movement may have slowed during World War I, women stepping into the work place and taking on jobs normally held by men proved to be a winning strategy, showing America that women could be equal to men. On August 26th of 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment to eliminate discrimination based on gender, was first proposed though still has not been ratified.
Another step towards all people being treated equally occurred in 1954 when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. With that judgment, the fight for true legal equality for African Americans heated up. 1960 proved to be a landmark year for an estimated 50,000 young people in 12 states across the South with the sit in that originated in Greensboro, North Carolina. A staggering number of African Americans, 70 percent, voted in the November presidential election for John F. Kennedy after he and his brother, Robert, had a key part in the release of Martin Luther King, Sr. from jail. The March on Washington in 1963, attended by over 200,000 Americans of all races, was a key time in our nation showing our government leaders that people, regardless whether they were white or black, believed in freedom from discrimination. President Johnson, with his influence with Southern lawmakers, pushed through the Civil Rights Act after President Kennedy’s death in 1963 in a way to honor what Kennedy had done for civil rights. The Civil Rights Act was passed on July 2nd of 1964.
The fight for equality still continues to this day. Currently the House of Representatives is considering bill H.R. 1397 and the Senate has bill S. 811, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. These bills would grant the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community protections against work place discrimination. Both bills are before committee and are expected to reach the floor for a vote. But here is a staggering statistic. Only 4% of all bills are passed. This time around there are 41 Senators behind S. 811, so my hopes are high but it is not a time to be silent. Like those who have come before me, fighting for the right to be treated equal, I cannot sit back and let others speak when I have a voice.
I said that I would laugh if you told me I would be involved in the struggle for equality. But, in spite of what my younger self would have thought, that is exactly where I find myself. I recognize that to have freedom and equality, there comes responsibility. You won’t find me at some protest rally holding signs. I won’t be marching in any Pride parade. I find myself in this fight on a much smaller scale, being an example and a voice for my community. Where you will find me is in my church and in my community, doing my best at furthering the education of equality. Hopefully soon, you will find me in a courtroom standing up for what others take for granted. You will find me showing anyone that knows me that I am not looking for special rights when it comes the work place. I’m looking to be treated like every other woman in my company. My friends that are in a committed, same sex relationship are looking for the same benefits that couples of opposite sexes are given. It is time that all Americans can say they are equal. It is not that I am brave to take a stand, but it is what God has called all of us to do, to love one another just as HE loves us. Whether it was a prostitute, a tax collector, fisherman or child, he treated all with respect and love.
Whether you call me an activist, an educator or even advocate, I hope my words and works speak louder than any title ever could. I pray that what people see is a heart for service to loving one another and looking past what might separate us to the one undeniable truth. We are all children of one true God.