2016 is a year most people would like to forget. We lost a Supreme Court justice, “The Greatest,” Professor Snape, Princess Leia, and a score of icons of music, stage, and screen. On the world stage, terror wreaked havoc and the people of Syria suffered endlessly. In our own country, we slogged through what seemed like the longest election cycle in history, with an ending few predicted. In the area of diversity and equity, it was a year of both successes and disappointments. As we prepare to ring in the new year, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the central civil rights stories of 2016.
Target: Anyone who knows me will tell you of my deep and abiding love for Target. I love that this company has eliminated gendered categorization of toys. They really won my loyalty, however, when they established a bathroom policy allowing employees and guests to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. There was backlash, and Target has been hurt financially by a boycott spearheaded by the American Family Association. CEO Brian Cornell has defended Target’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, although he also announced plans to expand family bathrooms (this does not change the policy).
Our Progressive Military: As a military spouse, the progress the armed forces have made toward LGBT equality this year make me especially proud. On May 17th, Eric Fanning became the first openly gay secretary of a branch of the U.S. military when he was confirmed as Secretary of the Army. The following month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced an end to the ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military. Transgender individuals can now serve openly, may not be discharged on the basis of their transgender status, and will receive any medical care their doctor deems necessary (including hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery).
Monuments and Museums: In June, President Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument in honor of the 1969 Stonewall uprising. It is the first national monument to LGBT rights. In September, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in Washington, D.C. Founding Director Lonnie G. Burch III says, “This Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture. This is America’s Story and this museum is for all Americans.”
Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill: The abolitionist, freedom fighter, and American hero will replace Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 note. She will become the first Black woman to grace the front of U.S. paper currency.
Historic Nominations: When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, he became the first Jewish politician to win a presidential nomination contest. Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate was also unprecedented, as she was the first woman to head a major party’s presidential ticket.
#NODAPL: After months of peaceful protest (and shameful police brutality) against a pipeline that would have bulldozed sacred sites and threatened the water supply, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe (and other First Nations who joined them in support) celebrated the Army Corps of Engineers’ denial of an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is most certainly a win for Native American rights, but the fight is far from over.
HB2: Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina passed a hateful bill that prevents cities from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. It also undermines discrimination protections for all marginalized groups. Recording artists, film studios, and corporations have refused to do business in the state in order to put pressure on the legislature to repeal HB2. The NBA pulled its All-Star Game from Charlotte, and the NCAA moved all 2016-17 playoff games out of the state. The hope is that the economic impact will force the state to do the right thing. The Human Rights Campaign found that 62% of North Carolinians oppose the bill, and Governor McCrory was the only incumbent governor to lose in 2016. Unfortunately, the General Assembly recently failed to repeal HB2, even though it was part of a deal negotiated by the Governor-elect.
Pulse Nightclub Shooting: On June 23, Omar Mateen opened fire at a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 and injuring more than 50, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. It was a both a tragic loss of life and a terrifying reminder of the vulnerability of the LGBT community to hate crimes.
Police Brutality: Stories of Black men gunned down by police officers seemed to run on endless loop this year. We say their names, and we remember: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott. Shortly after the shootings of Sterling and Castile, five police officers were killed in Dallas. We know that racism is endemic in our system of justice. Chicago and Baltimore were studied this year and found to be plagued by systemic racism. Moving forward, we must find a way to undo this, as well as to respect those in the line of duty while still holding them accountable for their actions.
The Election of Donald Trump: It’s no secret I was a Hillary Clinton supporter. I understand there are people who dislike her, but I found her to be a compelling candidate who stood for what I stand for and would be a champion of the disenfranchised. Trump made multiple sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic remarks during his campaign, and I find his policies abhorrent. True, perhaps I don’t know for sure what kind of president he will be. But the nominations of “enemies of equality” to his cabinet as we close out the year haven’t made me feel any better.
As always, in the battle for equal rights, we seem to take one step forward and two steps back. While I am pleased by our successes, they seem to be mostly symbolic. It’s not that symbolism isn’t important; it’s that we need to be fighting to make change in the daily lives of people who have historically been persecuted. In 2017, I’m committing to being part of George Takei’s Resistance, lobbying my lawmakers to fight Trump and his ilk from sending us back in time, working with educators to make schools welcoming for all, and spreading the gospel of inclusion through my writing. We have made some strides, yes, but we have so very far to go.