Amazing things have been happening in the last four days. Last week, the Department of Justice delivered a five-day ultimatum to the Governor and State of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina, and others, which fell due Monday. Instead of giving in and promising they would not enforce HB2, on Monday the Governor and the state filed a suit against the feds. Later that morning, Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General of the US, filed a suit against the Governor and the State of North Carolina and the others, charging that North Carolina is discriminating against transgender people, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965, and of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act). These events are explained or discussed here and here and here and here. It is not merely the steps which Loretta Lynch has announced, but it is the words which she has used that move us into a new world.
So, first, we can be thankful that we have had Barack Obama in the Presidency for the last seven years. He gave us Eric Holder as Attorney General, the man who announced in February 2011 that the US would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, beginning a process that ended in June 2015 with the SCOTUS grounding LGBTQ rights in the Constitution in Obergefell v. Hodges. Holder was succeeded by the current Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, who, yesterday, did even more for transgender people than Holder did for LGBTQ people. Holder and Lynch are great Americans, and a major achievement of Barack Obama is that he made it possible for their legal skill and wisdom to be used on the national stage. President Obama has given us a high bar with which to measure his successors, and we’re going to miss him.
Second, what is happening right now is comparable to Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, when Martin Luther King, Jr., led 600 civil rights marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. They were attacked and beaten by state and local police. As a consequence of Americans seeing on all three networks the armed cops beating unarmed and nonviolent Americans, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. Today large majorities of us are recognizing discrimination against transgender people, and the federal government has come into the discussion on our side, just as President Johnson did in 1964.
Third, we are lucky to be alive right now. This is happening to our country right now. King Henry, the protagonist of Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, says,
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (HV, 4.3.64-67)
The meaning of the Constitutional promise to apply the laws equally to all citizens is now expanding, and we’re watching it happening. Astonishingly, it is happening during our lives. We don’t have to say—or hear—Someday, when you’re old, we will have all our rights.
I can say, I was seventy-five when we got marriage equality from SCOTUS, and I was seventy-six when the Attorney General announced,
We see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side.
This does not mean that the fight is over or that we’ve gotten all that is ours. But it does mean that the forces at war here have changed dramatically, and that the very meaning of heroism is changing. The likelihood that we will win in the end is, now, strong. I am a lucky man to have lived this long. Decades from now, Americans will look back on this day and marvel.