May 17 was a double anniversary of civil rights battles

May 17 was a double anniversary of civil rights battles

When you reside at the intersections of multiple identities anniversaries of your civil rights struggles can be both bitter and sweet. And this May 17th was a reminder.

At 12:01 a.m. on May 17, 2004, the city of Cambridge was the first to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At 9:15 a.m. the first couple was married. Then-Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury said to Tanya McCluskey, 52, and Marcia Kadish, 56, of Malden, Massachusetts, “I now pronounce you married under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Also, on that day was the 50th anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education, a ruling that upended this country’s “separate but equal” doctrine, adopted in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896.  

While joy washed over me that day knowing my partner and I could now follow McCluskey’s and Kadish”s footsteps and be legally married, we could not rejoice over the limited success, huge failures, and ongoing resistance of Brown that allowed a few of us entry into some of the top universities of this country, as it naggingly continues to be challenged as a form of reverse discrimination.  

In a 1960 address to the National Urban League, Martin Luther King Jr. shared his hopeful remarks about the landmark decision:

For all men of good will May 17, 1954, came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of enforced segregation. . . . It served to transform the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope.”

On this year’s anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, African Americans and Latinos continue to attend not only segregated schools, but they also attend high-poverty urban ones with metal detectors. Sadly, policing while schooling have doubled since 2001 to present day. 

Where it was once thought that access to a quality education would dismantle, for future generations, the pox of bigotry and ignorance their parents inherited, race and class, unfortunately, continue to be discriminating indices upholding not only “separate” school systems and  but also “unequal” treatment of students.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “High-poverty, majority-black and Hispanic schools were less likely to offer a full range of math and science courses than other schools, for example, and more likely to use expulsion and suspension as disciplinary tools.”

This May 17th also marked the twelfth anniversary of marriage equality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Looking back at advances such as hate crime laws, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and  DOMA, the legalization of marriage equality, and anti-homophobic bullying becoming a national concern, the LGBTQ community have come a long way since the first Pride marches four plus decades ago. Our backs appear not to be slammed as harshly up against a brick wall like they used to be. 

I had the opportunity to write Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, who wrote the landmark decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health the following thank you note this year in April after attending an event she was at: 

When I left for NECN (New England Cable News) on Friday I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would meet you there.  And, of all things take a group photo with you and my buddies Sue O’Connell and Scott Kearnan. WOW! And, thank you!

The closest I came to meeting you was once many tables removed from the stage you spoke from as GLAD’s 2013 Spirit of Justice Awardee.

A tsunami of thanks I send your way for authoring the Goodridge case, allowing me and so many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters across this beautiful Commonwealth of Massachusetts to marry the person we love. 

As an African American lesbian there aren’t too many places in this country I feel protected by state laws.

The Goodridge decision bestowed upon me full citizen state rights that when same-sex marriage was legally recognized on May 17, 2004, I then began to proudly lift my voice and say, “I, too, am Massachusetts!”

This June will be the one year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But, so, too, will be the anniversary of the Charleston, South Carolina black church massacre at “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which left nine worshippers dead – including its senior pastor, the beloved Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney.

Over the years I’ve learned that joy can share its space with other emotions. This May 17th both joy and sadness washed over me. 

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