Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

Daniel Fishman | Staff Columnist

Like many Wash. U. students, I was disgusted by what I heard and read about the discrimination that occurred at Mothers bar. Students I know and respect were unjustly treated like second-class citizens because of their race. This bigotry is reminiscent of the treatment of blacks before the civil rights movement. This period not so long ago reeked with injustice as “separate but equal” ruled our nation. Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned only 55 years ago. Congress only banned racial segregation in housing, public facilities and employment in 1964.

This legal discrimination did not end because of some benevolent act of Congress. Blacks fought for their civil rights with protests, marches and boycotts all over America, many of which resulted in imprisonment, injury and, in some cases, death. They did not struggle for their rights alone: Many whites fought in the civil rights movement. Prominent white leaders fought the injustice side by side with blacks. In the march on Selma in 1965, John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr. and others joined arms with white leaders like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Maurice Davis to protest the injustices faced in the area at the time. White college students fueled the Freedom Summer of 1964, which aimed to register as many blacks as possible in Mississippi, a state that had only 6.7 percent of eligible blacks registered in 1964. This white dedication to civil rights went beyond marching and organizing.

During the Freedom Summer, the Klu Klux Klan murdered three people working to register blacks: James Chaney, a 21-year-old black civil rights worker; Michael Schwerner, a 24-year-old white social worker; and Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old white college student.

Even with the threat of violence, whites continued to fight for civil rights. These whites would not directly benefit from the successes of the civil rights movement. They had the right to vote and access to public facilities, yet they chose to protest, boycott and suffer with blacks because they believed what was occurring was wrong. They believed people should not be discriminated against because of who they are. They believed, as King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

King’s declaration rings true today just as much as when he wrote it in a Birmingham jail cell in 1963. Many of the same injustices the black civil rights movement fought still are applied to members of the gay community. In 32 states, landlords can legally evict tenants because of their sexual orientation, just as landlords could deny housing to blacks based on their race. In 29 states, it is legal for a company to fire an employee based on sexual orientation. This legal right to fire based on sexual orientation is exercised constantly by many employers, including the U.S. military, which has discharged more than 13,000 service members because of their sexual orientation. These brave and loyal American men and women want to defend their country. They were deemed fit to serve and did so, many in occupations the military defined as “critical,” until their sexual preference became known.

This injustice towards gay Americans affects more than just housing and employment. By forbidding committed homosexual couples the same rights as committed heterosexual couples, the government refuses homosexual couples more than 1,100 statutory provisions it grants to heterosexual couples. This includes denying partners the right to visit their loved one in the hospital, refusing American citizens in binational relationships the right to petition for their same-sex partner’s immigration, and forcing estate taxes on property inherited from a deceased partner. It is just to amend the definition of marriage to include homosexual couples just as it was just to amend the definition of marriage in 16 states in 1967, when anti-miscegenation laws forbidding interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional.

Heterosexuals must stand up with our homosexual peers to demand the righting of the wrongs the government allows, endorses and participates in. We must demand gay equality under the law by signing petitions like the one being circulated by the Right Side of History at therightsideofhistory.org. We must walk arm in arm with the gay community as we fight for the rights these individuals want, need and deserve. Heterosexuals must fight for homosexual rights because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

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