Fifty-three years ago on July 4, 1965, I marched with Barbara Giddings and Frank Kameny in the first Reminder Day demonstration at Independence Hall to remind the country of freedom and rights for all people, including gay people. We were nervous because we didn’t know what would happen. No problems occurred, likely because troublemakers, employers and landlords had no way to learn we were actually there. Only a minority was prejudiced even in 1965, but almost everyone else was silent.
Since then, the progress in public acceptance of LGBT people in the U.S. has been amazing, more than I ever imagined.
Still, we are in danger. The Supreme Court wedding-cake decision is important not for a cake, but for everything else.
A storm can be ominous even if it hasn’t rained much yet. This decision is the narrow edge of a wedge, establishing that discrimination can be constitutionally protected along with freedom of speech and religion. If the wedge goes in all the way, discrimination will be a constitutional right, laws against it will be gone and hate will become a standard part of American public life, not just an accident or personal failure.
The real problem is that a coalition that used to be called conservative has five of the nine votes on the Supreme Court. Hate groups are a minority of this coalition, but an important minority. They almost certainly provided a margin of victory for Trump, and likely for control of Congress as well. Now they want the spoils of the victories they made possible.
Don’t be confused by the fake issue of forced speech. A baker can refuse to make any cake, for any reason, including a cake with a pro-gay or anti-gay message, or any other message the baker doesn’t like. Most wedding cakes have no messages on them.
But does a business open to the public have a constitutional right to refuse the same business to LGBT people that it offers to everyone else? If so, what about racial, ethnic and religious minorities? Will equality in job, housing and public accommodations go out the window for them too? Will anti-Semitic discrimination be constitutionally protected if it is religious?
Suppose the Supreme Court decides to pick and choose and recognize a constitutional right to discriminate against some groups but not others? That will institutionalize a new second-class citizenship, a 21st-century Jim Crow.
What can you do? Most importantly, vote. The first and best protection for a community is to vote. If you are legally eligible, make sure you are registered in time for the very important November elections, and get your friends out to vote too. Never miss an election.
Aside from politics, we must repair what is wrong with today’s world, not just for LGBT Americans, but for everyone. Unhappy people blame scapegoats. We need nonpartisan social movements that work in daily life and help people and communities succeed and live better. Human relationships are universal, from casual business and personal friendships all the way to national and international affairs (and some would say even within ourselves, getting our own act together).
John S. James, a grand marshal in the 2018 LGBT Pride Day Parade and Festival, published AIDS Treatment News from 1986 to 2007. He was in the first Reminder Day demonstration in Philadelphia in 1965, and is still committed to building a better world. He recently launched the website www.affinity99.org.