For Pride: Sargent Shriver’s Statement on LGBTQ+ Rights

“Rather than interfering in private lives of citizens, the government ought to do what it can to maximize the opportunities for all Americans fully to develop their talents. And that means, at a minimum, and end to all forms...discrimination [against gay Americans].”
Sargent Shriver | Washington, DC| September 23, 1975

Our Quote of the Week makes a decisive statement about protecting the legal rights and personal freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community. As Pride celebrations continue throughout June, Sargent Shriver reminds us that our commitment to equal justice must be steadfast and all-inclusive.

This week’s quote is from Sargent Shriver’s “Position Statement on Sexual Preference”, which was part of his 1976 Presidential campaign platform. Although the term “sexual preference” is outdated, the statement itself continues to be relevant and important, particularly as violence and discrimination are on the rise against our LGBTQ+ siblings, and their rights and freedoms are under attack across the country.

Shriver’s statement is brief but intentional and unequivocal. He begins by stating:

I oppose legal discrimination based on personal life styles or sexual preference, just as I am opposed to legal discrimination based on other arbitrary criteria.

His reference to “arbitrary criteria” reminds us that traits or characteristics of a human being’s identity have no bearing on their character or skills and have no place in the determination of that person’s worth or role in our society.

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 and gender identity was introduced to the House of Representatives. The bill, known as the Equality Act, stagnated in the House Committee on Judiciary, and almost 50 years later, is still making its way through Congress in a new version. Considering the political climate of 1975, persistent opposition to LGBTQ+ rights, and Shriver’s own background as a devout Roman Catholic, it’s notable that he would have chosen to include this issue as part of his campaign platform. In making this official statement, Sargent Shriver reaffirmed his commitment to equal rights and opportunity for all people.

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 to be fought. Members of the queer community, particularly transgender people, continue to suffer violence at disproportionate rates, are at times denied essential health services, have their livelihoods threatened by exclusion and discrimination in the workplace, and have their stories censored or suppressed by legislative bodies, school boards, and other institutions.

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 , in his words, “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.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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