Sitting in section 101 at the Oracle Arena on Saturday night, I was struck by something rock star Tom Petty said during his song “Mystic Eyes.” He came to the microphone and said “wouldn’t it be great if, for one moment, everything was all right.” I shouted in agreement then.
Twelve hours later, however, I found myself wondering what that statement would really mean to most baby-boomers filling that sold-out concert. I am certain we would not get unanimity on any issue, but the subject of this column might have the most agreement.
Our American plate is pretty full. We have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, oil fouling the gulf, a painfully slow economic recovery from the sub-prime crisis, gridlock in the government between the two-party system, global food and water shortages — not to mention, cities and states without the necessary revenue to keep basic services whole. Then there is one of the most important things to make all things right: ensuring civil rights for all Americans.
During his January 2010 state of the union address to Congress, President Barack Obama said “we find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it…We must continually renew this promise.” American public schools and their teachers, in tandem with the federal government, have done more to keep this promise alive than any other institution.
Let me explain. Today we are cleaning up the policy left over by President Bill Clinton about gays in the military and “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That policy was an unmitigated disaster for so many American soldiers. More than 13,000 patriotic men and women were discharged since 1993’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” executive order.
Public schools have been at the center of educating the American public conscience about the inherent issues of sexual orientation. In the last two decades, gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in public schools have proliferated. GSAs are student-organized clubs that support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual students to attain equal treatment and rights.
Even if school boards and principals disagree with their creation, the school can lose all federal funding under the Equal Access Act. In this weekly blog I have advocated for GSAs to begin in middle school, with bold and courageous principal and school board leadership. I do so again. It is the right thing to do.
Admiral Mike Mullen testifying to Congress in 2009 said repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is “the right thing to do…no matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are.”
Too bad Mullen was not on the school board in Mississippi to argue for Constance McMillen’s right to attend her high school prom last May with her girlfriend. McMillen, who has been openly gay since eighth grade, was told that she would have to attend the prom alone or with a male date. They also told her she could not wear a tuxedo, but had to wear a dress. Forcing Constance McMillen to be someone she is not is wrong.
A federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan ruled that her First Amendment constitutional rights were violated under the right of self-expression. Schools have been at the center of the storm over civil rights going back to schools and racial integration over a half century ago.
How far we have come in a short amount of time. School leaders, teachers, and students must continue to fight for civil rights for all. It will help make things all right — not just for a moment, but forever.
The late Senator Barry Goldwater said it best, “You don’t have to be straight in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.” Today a friend of mine asked me if I thought the Women’s French Open champion Francesca Schiavone was gay. I told him I could care less, for I thought her tennis was a thing of beauty to watch.