Monday, November 23, 2009

Boy takes principled stand for equality

Last week I heard about a young boy from Arkansas who had decided that he would not stand to recite the pledge of allegiance while homosexuals in this country are treated like second-class citizens. I thought it was very touching that someone would take such a principled stand, but the fact that it was by someone so young made this truly extraordinary.

The boy, Will Phillips, a ten-year-old in fifth-grade, has said during a CNN interview, “I looked at the end and it said "with liberty and justice for all." And there really isn't liberty and justice for all. There's -- gays and lesbians can't marry. There's still a lot of racism and sexism in the world, yes.” 

How right he is. Our nation was founded on principles of "liberty and justice for all". Though, as slavery, segregation, persecution of Native Americans, and the denial of equal rights for women can attest, our country has often failed to uphold this most noble of principles. And, though so much inequality has been reversed, much still exists today. In particular, government discrimination against homosexuals is probably the most glaring example of all in our time.

Young Will also said on CNN, “I've grown up with a lot of people, and good friends, that are gay.... I think they should have the rights all people should.” From the mouths of babes. It's amazing how obvious fairness and treating others as equals can be to someone who hasn't been conditioned to let prejudices warp his sense of right and wrong. A lot of adults in this country could learn some very important lessons from this young man. Perhaps if they had spent time around some of us, as this young man apparently has, he'd see us for the human beings we are and judge each of us for the content of our character.

As one might imagine, Will has been subjected to a great deal of ridicule from his peers for bothering to make a principled stand for a cause he believes in. But in response to this, he is showing a maturity and intelligence that is far beyond what so many adults in this country are capable of on their best day. (As can be evidenced by checking the asinine comments over at the right-wing "NewsBusters" blog)

Here's a glimpse of his ability to articulate himself on the bullying:
[JOHN ROBERTS:] So what's the reaction been from your fellow students at school to you not standing up for the pledge and the views that you hold about this issue?
[WILL PHILLIPS:] Not very good. They've taken from what I said an assumption that I'm gay
and the halls and the cafeteria, I've been repeatedly called a gay wad.
[JOHN ROBERTS:] A gay wad. What's a gay wad?
[WILL PHILLIPS:] I really don't know. It's a discriminatory name for homosexuals. The Huffington Post has an article about the story, as well as footage of the interview on CNN.
I found it especially poignant that the boy is from Arkansas. This hit home for me because Arkansas is not only a conservative state, but it's just South of mine. And like ours, Arkansas voted overwhelmingly a few years back to ban same-sex marriage in their state's constitution. For me, I felt it was a supreme insult that 71% of voters in my state approved of permanently writing discrimination into our constitution. This showed that it was not merely conservative Republicans that favored such a travesty of justice, but that a lot of Democrats must have turned out as well to vote away the civil rights of their neighbors.

At the time of the vote I thought to myself, How could it be that even among people who called themselves progressives, prejudice ran this high...? Obviously, we've got a long way to go. Of course, polling data has significantly improved on issues involving equality for homosexuals since many states voted to prohibit same-sex marriage. But then we've faced some serious losses since then, too.

I know that a lot of us have felt pretty damn cynical after seeing state after state pass anti-gay discriminatory amendments in their constitutions. And watching as legalized same-sex marriage has become re-banned again by a majority vote of the public, this only reinforces the notion that we are largely a nation of closed-minded bigots who don't give a damn about their neighbors but rather only think of themselves, putting their own personal hangups above the civil rights of their fellow countrymen.

Still, the stand that young Will Phillips is making here definitely gives many of us a reason to hope. And a reminder of why it is important to continue to fight — it is not in vain.

Actually, I've long believed that it is inevitable that homosexuals will win equality with heterosexuals in the eyes of the law; that same-sex couples will be given parity with opposite-sex couples. And, just as discrimination and segregation involving racial minorities and women was halted with previous generations, homosexuals will win equality via a generation of progressive-minded people with a desire for egalitarianism.

Will Phillips here is showing an example of just what such a member of that generation would be like. He deserves much credit for taking his stand. Unfortunately, he will have to bear a great deal of scorn for it, too.

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