At the time critics called the president’s executive order “revolutionary and politically reckless.” National polls showed that his “civil rights” program was wildly unpopular. State leaders in southern states railed against his executive overreach. They insisted that following the executive order would make Americans fundamentally unsafe.
The year was 1948. The president was Harry S. Truman. His order began the slow and painful process of systematically desegregating the nation’s military and is credited with helping to break down racial segregation in all facets of American life.
In the months prior to issuing his famous orders, known as Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, Truman made a special address to Congress:
“…We must protect our civil rights so that by providing all our people with the maximum enjoyment of personal freedom and personal opportunity we shall be a stronger nation — stronger in our leadership, stronger in our moral position, stronger in the deeper satisfactions of a united citizenry.”
Last Friday’s temper-tantrum by Texas state leaders over President Obama’s instructions to schools about accommodating transgender students is strikingly reminiscent to the outcry generated in response to the federal government’s march to equality during the Civil Rights Era.
Friday’s federal directive specified that under the Title IX federal civil rights law, schools must treat a student — using proper pronouns and names, for example — consistent with the student’s gender identity. Schools cannot require transgender students to produce a medical diagnosis or a birth certificate or other identification document, nor force them to use bathrooms inconsistent with that identity.
Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he is interested in introducing a law similar to the one in North Carolina that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. He told thousands at the GOP convention last week:
“Obama is turning bathrooms into courtroom issues,” Abbott told thousands of delegates at Dallas’ convention center. “I want you to know, I am working with the governor of North Carolina, and we are going to fight back.”
Cries of “blackmail” and labeling the President a “bully” is the best the likes of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton could muster. They say they would rather do without federal funding — which pays for books, lunches for the state’s poorest children, early childhood education, special education services, tuition-assistance and educational programming for at-risk groups.
Never mind that it is Patrick who chose to meddle in the decisions of the Fort Worth School District, whose superintendent acted to clarify rules that have been part of the district’s policy since 2012.
Never mind that Patrick’s concern about the “vivid vigor that every 15-year-old boy has” is tantamount to the “boys will be boys” defense for sexual assault of all kinds.
And never mind that sexual assault is not about sexual attraction, it is about power over the victim regardless of gender.
Conservatives would like to draw an imaginary line between the guiding principals of the Civil Rights Era and the extension of rights to the LBGT community. It cannot be done. This country does not discriminate based on inherent traits. And the fact that the country is now agitating for rules that have been in place for years is proof that this is about political gamesmanship, not protecting or education our children.
Truman was not the last president to leverage what authority he had outside of Congress to urge the states to clean up their record on civil rights. Much has been comparing Obama’s performance to Truman’s legacy. This latest chapter on civil rights, will only add to the case.