Sunday, August 28, 2011

In honor of Martin Luther King

Today was supposed to be the official unveiling of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C.  Hurricane Irene led to the unveiling being postponed, unfortunately.  Why today?  Because today, in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous, "I have a dream," speech.  Until today, I had never heard, nor read, the speech, in its entirety.  I knew the general premise, certainly;  in honor of today, I decided to read the text and it is inspiring.

So what does Martin Luther King have to do with transgender folks?  Dr. King opened the door for civil rights for everybody, not just African Americans.  When our fine forefathers wrote the Declaration, and the Constitution for that matter, they primarily had folks who resembled themselves in mind:  white, educated, usually landowning, presumably heterosexual, males.  Which is why the verbage in both fine documents reads as it does, "all men are created equal" and that "men have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  While many people will say, "You know they meant women too, or people of color too," really, they apparently didn't because black people and women didn't get the right to vote until constitutional amendments were written stating, basically, yeah, the constitution applies to you least when it comes to voting.

Dr. King recognized that this fine country was successfully skirting the spirit and letter of the Constitution in its treatment of people of color, namely African Americans because at that time in American history, they were the predominant people of color.  Now, nearly 50 years later, while much of the discrimination against African Americans has abated, or at least been somewhat repressed by proper observance of the law, there are still large groups of people who are being disenfranchised and being denied the rights that every other law abiding, adult citizen of this great country enjoys.

When schools, and employers, and local governments allow the hazing, abuse, bullying and terrorizing of people who do not fit the typical mold, then they are taking part in denying our citizens their right to liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and in some cases, life itself.  When our state government, or federal government try to decide which two law abiding, adult citizens may marry, they are denying these citizens their rights, as well.  And according to the greatest law of the land, the Constitution, we may not only infringe an American citizens rights, we may not infringe their privileges either.  Yup, you heard me.  The government is not allowed to abridge a citizen's rights or privileges.  Here it is, straight from the Constitution itself:  

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject
to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States..."

14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America

"But the Bible says....." does not justify the withholding of a citizen's rights or privileges because another amendment, namely the FIRST one, states that the government may not establish religion; thank goodness for that because if we ever had a majority of Muslims in the Congress and Judicial system who believed in a strict interpretation of the Koran, women could be forced to wear veils and be covered from head to toe, not be allowed to be educated, or even see a doctor.  Yet, we let the Judeo-Christian belief system abrade the very fabric of the Constitution, which is supposed to be the great equalizer for all people.

Those of us who are round pegs who fit in round holes may not see the necessity of a civil rights movement because our rights are unabridged, as are our privileges.  Dr. King reminded us in 1963 and his words remind us today that our work isn't finished.  Those of us "round" pegs must fight for the "square" pegs who can still be discriminated against as long as "gender" is not included in the list of reasons that protect employees from discrimination.  We've recently added "sexual orientation" to the list of no-nos that employers and schools and local governments must observe; this is a step forward without question.  But again, we still have work to do.  We must speak out to our legislators, all of us.  We must exercise our rights and speak for those whose rights are being denied them.  We must cling to Dr. King's vision where we will:

" live in a nation where (we) will not be judged by the color of (our) skin, (or our gender, or orientation)..... but by the content of (our) character."