Equality and equity

  • by Susan Belinda Christian
  • Wednesday July 30, 2014
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This has been an incredible year of victories for the expansion of equality for LGBT Americans. President Barack Obama issued an executive order making it illegal for federal contractors to fire or harass employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Marriage equality was established once and for all in California by the invalidation of Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry).

These civil rights victories followed the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor that declared a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and the 2011 repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which had prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

And just a few days ago, the first out lesbian justice of the California Court of Appeal – San Francisco's own Therese Stewart, the former chief deputy city attorney who played a lead role in the legal fight against Prop 8 – was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown and confirmed.

The LGBT community has a long and fierce history of resistance to discrimination – from the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis in the 1950s to the 1966 Compton Cafeteria riot in San Francisco and the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York.

But the bedrock for the realization of the legal victories against discrimination that we celebrate today is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which just marked its 50th anniversary. And the impetus for the drafting of the Civil Rights Act by the administration of President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson's unprecedented effort to pass the legislation was the activism of African American people who risked their safety and often forfeited their lives in their struggle for human and civil rights. In this fight, they were joined by other people of color and young allies who left the safety and complacency of the privilege afforded them by the whiteness of their skin.

In its stark presentation of discrimination and clear violations of human rights, it is understandable that we share Vice President Joe Biden's sense that discrimination and violence against transgender people is in many respects the civil rights issue of our time.

And yet, we must not lose sight of the structural discrimination, hidden biases, and lack of equity – not only formal equality but also a justness of access, opportunity, treatment, and outcome – which continues to plague and circumscribe the lives of black Americans and other people of color in our cities. Whether we are focused on educational resources and opportunities for students or social outcomes for children and adults, San Francisco is not immune from this reality.

As we in the LGBT community continue to fight discrimination based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, as a community we should also seize and create opportunities to fight for equity for other disadvantaged individuals and communities.

Because all Americans owe a debt to the African American movement for human and civil rights, all of us should engage with the modern-day civil rights struggle for equity for those who continue to be disadvantaged despite the existence of formal equality. Celebration of the fact that "we are everywhere" should lead us to act on behalf of others suffering from an absence of equity. Creation of a truly just society depends upon this commitment.

Susan Belinda Christian is the chair of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of both the HRC, which was created in the wake of the civil rights protests by black San Franciscans and their allies, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Learn more about the work of the SF HRC and its citizen advisory committees at www.sf-hrc.org.