As we commemorated the Fourth of July with festivities across the nation, many of us did not celebrate because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that has turned back the hands of time, driving us back to this country’s horrific era of legalized segregation.
Turning back the hands of time on equality: the U.S Supreme Court.
In a five to four vote, a slim majority of justices ruled to limit the use of race in order to maintain or achieve school diversity. While most Americans are fatigued by how race has been used to either pummel a society for not using it enough or picketing against a society for its overuse, this recent decision will have repercussions that will affect not only students of color, but also female as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queers students.
Because 53 years ago on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson. The Plessy decision set the precedent that “separate” facilities for African-Americans and whites were constitutional as long as they were “equal.” However, the “separate but equal” doctrine metastasized to not only invade our nation’s public schools, but also our restrooms, water fountains, theaters and restaurants. Brown v. Board of Education struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine because it violated not only the 14th Amendment, but also this country’s hope of being a united people operating in the context of a multicultural democracy.
On May 17, 2004, the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as a result of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling in the Goodridge case. The state understood that granting us civil unions upheld “separate but equal” access to the full and equal privileges and protections of marriage.
But the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision brings us back to “separate but equal” and will have deleterious effects on all the hard gains won by educators and activists to make public schools safe for all our children.
For example, will the court in the future rule against the existence of the Harvey Milk High School in New York City? A high school designed to afford a safe and supportive educational environment for our LGBT children that has a 95 percent graduation rate, Harvey Milk High School is a sound solution to the virulently homophobic environments pervasive in New York City’s public high schools.
Will the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) “a national organization that works indefatigably to put an end to discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on a student’s sexual orientation and gender identity” be considered a discriminatory organization?
According to the right-wing “Culture and Family Institute,” an affiliate of Concerned Women of America, it is. In fact, the group published in its newsletter that at the 2000 GLSEN conference, “Children were verbally instructed in how to engage in dangerous homosexual perversion like fisting.”
Will our Supreme Court justices with this new decision understand that homophobia and heterosexism thwart a healthy school environment for learning, developing a positive sense of self, and a tolerance for others “not only for LGBT students, but all students.”
I have learned as an educator that not all parents and educators want to be part of creating a safe and welcoming world for our children. Outside of the home environment, schools must be the next place. And gay/straight alliances create such a place for our kids by reducing isolation, invisibility and homophobic violence and harassment. But will we begin to see the disbanding of GSAs in both public and private school settings?
The court’s decision will also be felt on university and college campuses. For some time now, right-wing conservatives have been advancing their agenda in higher education to reshape the academic landscape of colleges and universities from a democratizing force in our society to a conservative movement.
And with the college conservative movement’s belief that the crisis is due to the erosion of a traditional education and to giving unmerited advantage to underrepresented groups, their presence has become more visible. Case in point: The movement has succeeded at de-funding several gay organizations, stating that student fees should not be used to support groups with which students ideologically and theologically disagree.
As some of us celebrated this Fourth of July, all of us as American citizens should realize what our schools and colleges would be like if every student were valued and respected, if every student were allowed to achieve his or her dignity as a human person.
When such a school atmosphere exists, we educators will have developed a safe environment and multicultural curriculum that includes the history, culture and experiences of all people.
And in so doing, we make all of our children, “black and white, straight and queer,” better doctors, better lawyers, better teachers and better neighbors. We will have created better people, a greater nation and a finer world.