The heroes who move us forward, one step at a time

The U.S. Supreme Court this week caught up with public opinion and common sense when it ruled that it is illegal to fire a person for being gay or transgender.

 

The ruling was ground shaking and a major expansion of civil rights protections for LGBTQ people living in states without non-discrimination protections in state law.

 

The 6-3 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia comes at a time when our country desperately needs good news.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage communities, even as states continue to loosen restrictions. The big conversation seems to be whether our country will see a second wave of destruction from the virus when the truth is we haven’t finished the first wave yet.

 

Looking at the numbers from places such as Florida, Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina are worrying. We are far from the end of this struggle, even as it appears we are losing our focus and attention on the mounting death toll.

 

The Supreme Court ruling also comes during a time when the country is confronting the structural racism and police brutality that has targeted the black community since our nation’s founding.

 

There’s an important inflection point happening, where public opinion is being moved by protests built on a simple idea: Black Lives Matter.

 

Taking a step back from the moment, it’s remarkable that a major — and controversial — decision by the Supreme Court on Monday boils down to the simple question: Should an employer be allowed to fire someone because they are gay or transgender?

 

Of course not.

 

And the protests that are bringing millions to the street — and which have been met with a conservative backlash — is about whether black lives matter.

 

Of course they do.

 

LGBTQ people should not be fired for being who they are, and black people and people of color should not fear for their lives from the police.

 

Yet, both of these ideas — so straight-forward — are the current flashpoints of a cultural war and politicians, such as President Donald Trump, who would create enemies out of fellow Americans to bolster his own ego and in a desperate attempt to hold on to his waning political power.

 

Monday was an important day, one for the history books, one that future generations will study and wonder why it took so long and was so hard for the country to find its way to the right answer.

 

But the work is not finished.

 

For LGBTQ people, and particularly transgender people of color, the Supreme Court decision is a long way from their lived lives.

 

The real dangers that live at the intersection of racism, sexism and transphobia cannot undone by a court in Washington, D.C., alone.

 

We need to pass comprehensive legal protections for LGBTQ people to ensure that they can live their lives openly and in public, without fear.

 

We need to dismantle systemic racism and re-think the way we police communities, including the transgender community, which is often targeted for abuse by police. We are not at war with ourselves, and we can’t act like we are.

 

At all levels, we need to undo the racism that supports discrimination and violence against black people — including LGBTQ people of color.

 

Revolutionary change sometimes comes in big chunks. But more often it’s the culmination of lots of incremental steps — sometimes punctuated by stutter steps backwards – that change the world for the better.

 

Even as we celebrate the progress that came on Monday, we must also acknowledge that there is more work to do.

 

And we must remember the people who helped get us this far.

 

Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was fired for living as herself, was one of the plaintiffs in Monday’s case. She died on May 12, never knowing the history that she would help to write or being able to enjoy the end of a long struggle for equality.

 

Stephens, Don Zarda, who also died before his case was resolved, and Gerald Bostock, the other plaintiffs in the case, deserve to be remembered for the courage they had to fight for themselves and for others and celebrated as heroes.

 

In a sea of ugly, we can all be grateful for the bravery of individuals who are still willing to stand up for what is just and right, even when the prospects for victory seem unlikely and far away.

 

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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