Rights and Wrongs
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Once we accept these words as foundational to our Declaration of Independence and our country at large, everything else seems to be up for grabs. On November 1, the ACLU of Delaware presented an intriguing evening of panel discussion about the rights of LGBTQ students in the state of Delaware. They also shared a new brochure directed to those students, Know Your Rights.
Building on the principles of the First Amendment of the Constitution, the brochure turns to the language of LGBTQ concerns that we use today. “Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think that somebody is doing or saying things based on incorrect information or assumptions. You always have the right to explain, educate, and inform others about the things you understand.”
Specific rights of LGBTQ students are more broadly explained. They include: the right to start a group or club at school, the right to date who you want, the right to go to school dances with whom you want, the right to privacy, the right to report harassment, the right to not be discriminated against, and the right to be yourself. All of these are rights that should be acknowledged and implemented in all school districts across the First State. Alas, such is not always the case. There are pockets of discrimination and lip service often paid to these marginalized, at-risk students.
The focus of the evening moved beyond the rights of students to the rights of those who teach them. This second part brought two educators to share the insights from the book they co-authored. Margaret Nash and Karen Graves wrote Mad River, Marjorie Rowland, and the Quest for LGBTQ Teachers’ Rights. The Mad River in this instance was the name of the school district in Ohio where Marjorie Rowland was a guidance counselor. She was fired in 1974 from her position because she was open about being bisexual.
Rowland filed a lawsuit and her legal battle ended when the case went to the Supreme Court, but the Court declined to hear it. Despite the outcome there, the dissent written by Justice William Brennan became the cornerstone of the future legal defense of LGBTQ litigants. Quoting from the book, “Brennan wrote that Rowland’s case raised a substantial First Amendment claim. It was settled law that a state cannot condition public employment on a basis that infringes on free speech.... Brennan’s affirmation that Rowland’s speech addressed a matter of public concern advanced public rhetoric in support of gay rights. Brennan suggested a parallel with racial discrimination.” Brennan, in his dissent, then referenced the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Nash and Graves were eloquent and passionate in their recounting of the trial and tribulations of Marjorie Rowland.
In contrasting this to the current situation in Delaware education, the moderator of this panel strongly encouraged the audience to attend school board meetings and speak directly about the concerns they have on behalf of LGBTQ students. It is no secret that across the country there are organized efforts to dismantle protections of these students. Too often those speaking misuse language and impose labels that are inflammatory. Those who work on behalf of and believe in the core value of LGBTQ students must take up the challenge of defining their own language and labels.
Outrageous remarks are made by a variety of political candidates. Running for reelection, Governor Reynolds of Iowa stated, “Iowans still know boys from girls.” Governor Ron DeSantis sent a campaign mailer that claimed, “Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is ‘forcing hard working Floridians to pay back student loans for degrees like Gender Studies and French Poetry.’” Certainly, both of these degrees are worthy of higher education. But the way in which they were presented in his campaign flyer demeans not only the degrees but is a much broader affront on those who are LGBTQ.
One woman in Tennessee has responded to the call of speaking righteously amid an unrighteous setting. Jessee Graham delivered heart-felt comments to the Maury County Board of Trustees recently. The county’s public library director had resigned after backlash from people over the library’s recognition of June Pride Month. Graham criticized the “vile and disgusting” homophobic comments taking place in her region. She exclaimed, “I am so sick of listening to this weird, fake pious crap about Christianity being the reason behind, ‘We have to protect the kids.’”
Rights and Wrongs. Know your rights. Fix the wrongs and speak out against them. Those who advocate for LGBTQ equality and acceptance are on constant alert. This is an ugly time in which we live. Only we can make it more beautiful. ▼
David Garrett, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult trans daughter. Email David Garrett at firstname.lastname@example.org.