Dad and I saw the movie The Imitation Game about the brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing. He was responsible for helping to break the German secret code during World War II, most likely helping the war to end earlier. By doing so he probably saved millions of lives.
Yet, because he refused to lie about being homosexual, he was convicted of indecency, forced to go through chemical castration, and committed suicide at 41. What a loss to the world! What a loss to a man who deserved life, as all humans deserve life, an honest life.
The ending chilled us. Thousands of people were charged with the crime of homosexuality in those bad old days and either went to prison or endured chemical castration. We are glad things have changed, though we know more has to change. Young people should not have to go through what you did at your Catholic school. And sadly within your family—that means us. Unfortunately young people still do. Yes, still this goes on. And bullying too still goes on. Though 36 states have marriage equality, not all states recognize your marriage. Yet it is better than it was. But still not enough.
We also saw Selma, another thought-provoking movie. It took me back painfully to the civil rights movement, to the bombing that killed three little black girls in a church. It took me back the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to Dr. King’s ringing speeches, to Viola Liuzzo, to angry dogs and baton smashing police.
Where was I then? Finishing college, starting my teaching career, but changing my outlook on life in radical ways. The grainy black and white TV footage of all these events changed me and many others among my college friends. We came from families that barely made it out of poverty themselves. Thinking about others of different races or ethnicities made little or no impact on their lives. But the news coverage brought injustices to light.
When I got a job in a diverse city high school in 1964, that solidified my beliefs. I met teachers and students of color. I saw how racism impacted their lives. Later in the 60’s and 70’s when the universities were wild with protest, I was changing diapers in our small bungalow in a first ring suburb. We were close enough to the University of Buffalo to smell the tear gas lobbed at student demonstrators. I was totally in favor of their anti-war protests but I only watched from afar. The winds of change seemed to signal a great shift in society.
The civil right movement ignited many movements. It paved the way for the second wave of feminism, for Stonewall, for many attempts to right previous injustices. It provided a beginning for the journey to now, the journey to full citizenship and full participation for African-Americans, for women, for lesbians and gays. But like all movements it comes at great cost. And it needs to be fought again and again.
Despite fine films that show the changes in society, we all know that African-Americans and the LGBT community are far from being totally accepted, far from the full rights of citizens that they deserve. We have to keep working toward the vision of equality Dr. King so eloquently proposed fifty years ago. It’s time for the dreams of Alan Turing, of the civil rights marchers, of the Stonewall activists to be fully realized.