The long road ahead

Fifty years after Brown v. the Board of Education, people forget that most victories in the fight for racial equality came after that court decision outlawing segregation. For gays and lesbians, it’s time to steel ourselves for the decades of work we still have to do to achieve equality.



The following is excerpted from a speech Wolfson delivered on September 30 at the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association’s Lavender Law Conference, an annual gathering of attorneys, legal academics, and law students. Find the full speech on the Freedom to Marry Web site.One of the good things about my job [as executive director of the Freedom to Marry coalition] is, I have plenty of time on planes and trains in which to read.Right now I’m reading the Library of America’s anthology Reporting Civil Rights. In two volumes, they’ve collected the journalism of the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s describing the blow-by-blow, the day-to-day, of what the struggles of those years felt and looked like—before those living through that moment knew how it was going to turn out.Exhilarating, empowering, appalling, and scary.That’s what a civil rights moment feels like when you are living through it—when it is uncertain and not yet wrapped in mythology or triumphant inevitablism.This year our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education [the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the policy of “separate but equal” public schools].But what followed Brown was not the sincere and insincere embrace it gets today, but—in the words of the time:

  • legislators in a swath of states declaring
    “massive resistance,”
  • billboards saying IMPEACH EARL WARREN, the
    then–chief justice who wrote the
  • members of Congress signing resolutions
    denouncing “activist judges”
    (sound familiar?),
  • and, of course, the marches, Freedom Rides,
    organizing summers, engagement, hard work,
    violence, legislation,
    transformations—pretty much everything we, today,
    think of as the civil rights movement—all
    after Brown.

America is again in a civil rights moment—as same-sex couples, their loved ones, and nongay allies struggle to end discrimination in marriage. A robust debate and numberless conversations are helping our nation (in Lincoln’s words) “think anew” about how we are treating a group of families and fellow citizens among us. Today, it is gay people, same-sex couples, LGBT individuals and their loved ones, and nongay allies—we—who are contesting second-class citizenship, fighting for our loved ones and our country, seeking inclusion and equality...and it is scary as well as thrilling to see the changes and feel the movement.How can we get through this moment of peril and secure the promise?

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