Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Thinking TRANSitions

I had the good fortunate of excellent teaching throughout my years as a student. (This was in the days before the Testing Industrial Complex tried to put all teaching into little boxes, but that is a digression I will take up elsewhere.)

Several of those teachers were in my history and social-studies classes in late elementary and middle school, and I remember clearly a realization that they helped me to reach somewhere around seventh grade. The history of the United States could be seen as a series of episodic expansions of the ideals of liberty and justice to encompass new populations. The ideals originally applied to a very few, and each generation addressed its own project of widening the circle.

It was years later that I learned something about the context in which all of this learning took place. I was in a school that had only very recently been integrated -- we learned that Brown v. Board of Education had been decided in 1954. We did not learn that it has only reached our part of Virginia in around 1970. We also did not learn that the legality of mixed-race marriage had only been settled in 1967, based on the case of Mr. and Mrs. Loving, who had arrested in their bedroom just 90 miles from our school, simply for being married.

Attitudes change, thankfully, and what seems a perfectly defensible societal norm in one generation is recognized as harmful bigotry in the next.

We live in volatile times, in a political season characterized more by division than by reason. But in general, the arc of history continues to bend toward justice, as the Reverends Parker and King have said. In fact, today's fractious politics can be seen as the last gasps of outdated thinking, as people struggle with their loss of unearned privilege.

In any case, this week I heard two compelling conversations with people who have been surprised to find that they have become leading advocates on one of the current growing edges of liberty -- the rights of transgender Americans. Neither of these straight, white men expected to speaking out as they have been, which makes these conversations with Marc Benioff and Rev. Mark Winfield all the more interesting. Each is worth listening to carefully.

Mr. Benioff is the CEO of Salesforce, who speaks with David Greene about his company's support for GLBT civil rights in North Carolina. Rev. Winfield is a Baptist pastor who decided he should do some research about transgender people, resulting in a Dallas Morning News blog post that has received far more attention than he ever expected. His recent conversation with Rachel Martin warrants thoughtful listening.

Karen Wireman, a mother of a Southlake transgender child, stands outside a room where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick addressed the media regarding Fort Worth school Superintendent Kent Scribner's policy to allow transgender students comfortable access to bathrooms. Photo: Tom Fox, Dallas Morning News

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