To mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, our Quote of the Week makes a clear and decisive statement about protecting the legal rights and personal freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community. With this extraordinary statement, made while he was running for President, Sargent Shriver reminds us that our commitment to equal justice must be steadfast and all-inclusive.
This week’s quote is from a position statement on sexual preference that was part of Sargent Shriver's 1976 Presidential campaign platform. The statement is a timely finding from our archives. For one thing, it has surfaced in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a series of spontaneous and at times violent retaliations against police brutality on the part of LGBTQ+ patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a popular New York City gay bar of the era. The actions of the LGBTQ+ community at Stonewall, which took place between June 28 and July 1 of 1969, were a rebellion against discriminatory police violence. At their core, these actions were part of the larger battle for civil rights of that era. They were motivated by the same demand for justice that prompted sweeping changes for African Americans and women in the 1960s and early 70s. This discovery from the archives also reminds us of the progressive legacy of the Democratic Party. It is a legacy that the party is embracing once again, and that many of the 2020 candidates are building on in a Presidential race that includes the first openly gay candidate, South Bend, Indiana mayor, Pete Buttigieg.
When Sargent Shriver announced his Presidential candidacy in 1975, it had been just over a year since the first legislation protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was introduced to the House of Representatives. The bill, known as the Equality Act, stagnated in the House Committee on Judiciary, and 45 years later, is still making its way through Congress. (The current version of the bill was recently passed with a bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives.) Considering the political climate of 1975, persistent opposition to LGBTQ+ rights, and Sarge’s own background as a devout Roman Catholic, it’s notable that he would have chosen to include this issue as part of his platform. In making this official statement, Sargent Shriver reaffirmed his commitment to equal rights and opportunity for all people. He could see that “agreeing” with a particular person’s sexual orientation or gender expression was immaterial when it came to their legal rights and personal freedoms. All people deserve justice and to be treated equitably under the law.
When we think of the challenges overcome and the achievements made in the area of LGBTQ+ rights since the time Sargent Shriver was running for office, there is much to celebrate—the victory of marriage equality and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are just a couple of notable milestones. There are, however, still many battles still to be won. Members of the queer community, particularly transgender people, still suffer violence at disproportionate rates, are at times denied essential health services on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression, and have their livelihoods threatened by exclusion and discrimination in the workplace.
As our nation continues to grapple with issues of justice, let us remember Sargent Shriver’s stance, and let it be a guide. We must do all we can to “maximize the opportunities for all Americans fully to develop their talents,” no matter who they are. It’s the only way to move together toward a country that works for everyone.