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The Appalling Silence

by Amanda Pagliarini

July 9,2010

Blacks in the back. Women shut their mouths. The White Man rules.

It’s natural to look back in our history and feel disbelief and shame at how minority groups at one time faced lawful discrimination. A time when only whites held office, women were not allowed in the military, interracial couples were denied the right to marry, and an African American could be turned away from worship by a white church that didn’t want him.

We shake our heads at these appalling ideas that we are quick to regard as antiquated. Unfortunately, these are practices of modern day America. This is modern day America for homosexuals.

We have much progress to be proud of in our country. We have an African American President. Of some of the most powerful and lucrative companies in the U.S., twenty-eight are run by female CEOs. More than half of the Cabinet is made up of minorities. One of the richest individuals in this country is a self-made African American woman. While many societal disparities still exist, when children of today become adults, they will not consider a female CEO or a Hispanic Supreme Court Justice to be particularly newsworthy – to them it will be the norm.

But how can we settle with the current state of civil rights while there is still a group of Americans denied theirs? Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As a pioneer in the civil rights movement, he knew that we couldn’t claim to care about the human and civil rights of one group while disregarding those of another. To accept the mistreatment, persecution, or denial of rights for any group is to live not only in vain of our own rights, but to threaten their continuation.

While how we feel or what we believe about a group of people can make for interesting conversational fodder, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words tell us that our feelings and beliefs are irrelevant. Personal sentiments are not what constitute whether something is lawful, constitutional, and rooted in equality.

As a woman who has been granted the opportunity to live with equal rights because of the fight waged by those who came before me, it seems almost an act of dishonor or entitlement to sit back and take what’s mine while others are left behind. I can’t help but feel a twinge of self-indulgence and blind dismissal when we celebrate women or minorities being elected into office while many parts of society force homosexuals in politics to stay in the closet, only to later chase them out of the closet in a public lynching. We might have to consider that the celebration of rights for some groups in the face of their absence for another group is nothing more than a segregated celebration – and therefore, a contradictory one.

Today we have the same three groups of reaction as we did back in the civil rights movement – those who fight for the cause, those who fight against the cause, and those who fight to stay out of it. Whether or not one champions gay rights, all must care about the implications of their absence. Regardless of our personal affiliation with the cause, we must always fight for the rights promised to all Americans in the Constitution. Otherwise, we as a country have no foundation. Americans are either all created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, or none are. If not, where would we draw the line? Homosexuals were covered under the rights promised to all Americans. It wasn’t until homosexuality faced more public acknowledgement that laws were created to restrict homosexual rights. As other minority populations become more visible, they too risk being restricted by those who disagree with them.

In order to honor and preserve our progress thus far, we as Americans have to rally for human rights for all of our citizens. While it may not be the easiest or most natural inclination, we have to acknowledge that in order to protect the me, we must first work to protect the we.

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