America can look to its Founding Fathers for inspiration on LGBTQ+ rights – Professor Joe Goldblatt
The Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village was the site, on June 28, 1969, of the first major protest over equal rights within the LGBTQ+ community.
The New York City Police vice squad raided this popular gay bar and, when one of the female patrons (ironically named ‘Stormie’) shouted to the other customers “why don’t you do something?”, a riot suddenly ensued.
In 1970, the first ever Pride March was conducted in Greenwich Village and since that time these annual events, which generally occur in spring or early summer, have spread throughout the world.
The bar that launched these celebrations has gone through several evolutions since that first disruption, however, despite the proliferation of these celebrations of diversity and all of the courage, struggle and turmoil, there are troubling sounds of discord in the USA today and the challenges for equality and justice continue in my beloved home country.
In the state of Florida, the legislature recently passed a new law that forbids any discussion of gender – and this includes LGBTQ+ people and related issues – for children up to primary three. The majority of the legislators, showing a distinct lack of wisdom, believe that these children are too young to be introduced to this topic and that it may influence them in what the lawmakers believe may be a negative direction.
Therefore, as I stroll through the Village and see the social signs of tolerance, compassion and, yes, love upon every street corner, I am dismayed as to why elected officials feel as though they need create laws regarding individual feelings and freedom of choice.
The US Declaration of Independence historically states: “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.”
Thomas Jefferson, the author of this historic document, was supposedly inspired by Scotland’s Declaration of Arbroath. He also supposedly originally wrote that these truths were to be “sacred” rather than “self-evident”.
However, Dr Benjamin Franklin, an elder statesman of Jefferson, wrote to his younger colleague: “Please change sacred to self-evident. We now live in an age of enlightenment.”
Jefferson accepted the editorial suggestion, however, as evidenced in Florida and other Republican-controlled legislatures such as my home state of Texas, these truths are still not at all self-evident.
After speaking with dozens of older Americans in the Midwest, Deep South and New York City, I turned to the younger generation, the ‘Millennials’, for their views about how the USA compares today to Scotland.
One young woman who works at a posh restaurant in the middle of Central Park in NYC said to me with sad eyes: “I am so disappointed and depressed by America. For me the dream is over. I have a young daughter and I am not sure I want her to be brought up with these values. I am thinking of moving to the Dominican Republic.”
I was surprised to later learn that while the average life expectancy in the USA is now 80, by contrast it is only 72 in the Dominican Republic. Despite that, this young woman dreamed of what she believed to be a better life there.
When I told her that I was from Scotland, her eyes brightened and she quickly answered: “Could my husband and me and our baby move to Scotland?” I then explained that Scotland does not control its own immigration policies, but that I also knew that qualified staff in hospitality were badly needed. She handed me my bill and said: “I hope to see you in Scotland one day!” The lifespan for women in Scotland is actually 81 years of age so perhaps this might influence her future decision.
I later discussed my conversation with this young woman with American friends of my own age and they agreed with her assessment and recalled that 60 years ago, when we were young and full of hope, our dreams were focused upon being part of the American dream that included getting a good job, purchasing a home, and much more.
However, it now appears to many Americans in my senior age group, and to many American young people, that such dreams have not only faded but, for some, are becoming vivid nightmares as they struggle to merely pay their bills due to rapidly rising inflation.
As I returned to the Village and noticed the expensive designer fashions worn by many young people and also the rising number of homeless persons living on the street, I recognised in America, as in Scotland and the UK, the widening gap between those who are affluent and those who are destitute. I wondered, as do many other Americans, how our government policies can address this widening economic and social disparity while also protecting the pursuit of happiness of all of our citizens.
Then I remembered how Dr Franklin advised future President Jefferson to move from sacred to self-evident and embrace the age of enlightenment. Perhaps now is the time for leaders in the USA to once again become a beacon of light unto the world by demonstrating through wiser legislative action that they wish to, as recited in the Pledge of Allegiance, “preserve liberty and justice for all” by creating new revolutionary policies that show the same courage of the extraordinary American citizens who demonstrated at Stonewall in 1969.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is currently serving as visiting professor at New York University’s School of Professional Studies Jonathan M Tisch Center of Hospitality in New York City.
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