As we commemorate the Fourth of July with festivities across the nation, many of us will not be celebrating 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.
In a 5-to-4 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 queer students.
Because 53 years ago on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education overturned the â€œseparate but equalâ€? doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson. The Plessy decision set the precedent that â€œseparateâ€? facilities for African Americans and whites were constitutional as long as they were â€œequal.â€? However, the â€œseparate but equalâ€? 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 â€œseparate but equalâ€? 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 â€œseparate and unequalâ€? access to the full and equal privileges and protections of marriage.
But the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision brings us back to â€œseparate and unequal,â€? 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 LGBTQ 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?
Well, 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, â€œChildren were verbally instructed in how to engage in dangerous homosexual perversion like fisting.â€?
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 LGBTQ students, but all students.
I have learned, however, 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?
If left to Boston University Chancellor John Silber, who oversees BU Academy, a private high school, we will. In wanting to do away with a GSA, Silber told the Boston Globe in 2002, â€œPersonally, I don’t give a damn whether somebody is a homosexual, a heterosexual, or AC/DC. It’s none of my business. So don’t make it my business by insisting on rubbing my nose in whatever your preference is, because I don’t want to know.â€?
Silber is not alone in wanting to do away with GSAs. Applauding Silber’s decision was Brian Camenker, president of the anti-gay Parents Rights Coalition, based here in Newton, Mass.
â€œGay/straight alliance clubs are very destructive to kids, particularly those who are in any emotional distress,â€? Camenker told the Globe. â€œThey target kids who may have psychological or other crises in their lives and say to them, ‘Your problem is that you’re really gay and are not accepting it.’ This is a behavior that is medically and psychologically self-destructive, and they are telling kids they should feel good about it.â€?
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.
Will the court decide to do away with women colleges like the one I graduated from- Wellesley?
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 and forceful with ligations.
Case in point: The movement has succeeded at de-funding several gay and womenâ€™s organizations, stating that student fees should not be used to support groups with which students ideologically and theologically disagree.
So as we celebrate this Fourth of July, we 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 exits, 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.