Over this July 4th weekend, I watched the classic movie, 1776, with my 12 year old granddaughter and was reminded that racism was at our beginning as a nation.
The Declaration of Independence had to be signed by all of the thirteen colonies. South Carolin and North Carolina would sign only if a part of the Declaration of Independence, as originally written by Thomas Jefferson and citing slavery as a moral evil, was stricken from the document. Jefferson had written that slavery was “violating the most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither”. John Adams from Massachusetts vehemently objected to cutting the section, speaking eloquently against slavery. Edward Rutledge from South Carolina pointed out that those in the Northern colonies also profited from the slave trade because they owned the slave ships. After a lengthy debate, Jefferson cut the section in order to get the Declaration of Independence signed. Without eliminating that section condemning slavery, we would not have had a nation in 1776 and would not be celebrating its 241st birthday on this Fourth of July.
But that is not the end of the story of our country. Please listen to this valedictory speech, given recently at Hill House High School in New Haven. The valedictorian, Coral Ortiz, speaks to what we can yet become as a country. Coral, a graduate of a public high school in a city which struggles with poverty and racism, shows us a future worth celebrating.
May our country move forward and fulfill its promise, a promise that Coral Ortiz demonstrates so clearly.
What have we come to as a country when we no longer protect our children? What have we come to as a country when we are afraid of our own children?
The removal yesterday of Obama era protections for transgender children in our schools shames us as a country. The fact that our government sees those children as people to fear embarrasses us as a country.
Please read “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test”. It was written by Jason Courtmanche, who is Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut and conducts professional development for teachers across the state of Connecticut. Jason cites research that tells us that 30% of transgender youth have attempted suicide, 42% have self-injured, 63% have been bullied, and the suicide and self-injuring rates are four times the rates for straight or gender-conforming youth. Also, more than 50 percent of transgender youth avoid school on a regular basis, drop-out of school at staggering rates, and 75% of them report feeling unsafe in school.
Yet our government has decided to increase the risk to these children. Why? Because Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump have the power to do so. We, the voters, gave them that power. Shame on us.
The new federal ruling, because it preferences states’ rights, leaves in place Connecticut’s 2011 law that outlawed transgender discrimination, but we in Connecticut must not be complacent. Other states do not offer that protection. We must speak for those students. We must also show our Connecticut students that we are people of integrity and oppose injustice wherever we see it. We, as adults, must be the voice for all children. We, as educators, must stand up for students throughout our nation.
If you are a teacher or a school administrator, please post “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test” in your faculty room. If you are a parent of a school age child, please bring a copy of “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test” to your next parent meeting at your child’s school and share it with other parents and teachers. If you are the parent or grandparent of a transgender child, hug that child with a fierce tenderness in the name of all of us who oppose the shameful and fear-mongering ruling of the Trump administration.