It has become an annual tradition on Martin Luther King Day to speculate what Rev. King might do if he was alive today. This year as we celebrate his 83rd birthday we can reflect on how far we've come since we first heard his dream. Today, women and people of color enjoy the same legal protections and rights as white men. Today, we even have an African American family living in the White House.
As far as speculation goes, I imagine the reverend would be proud of how far we've come; but, as a man who believed in equality for all people, he would probably -- and rightly -- recognize that there is still more work for us to do. For example, he may have encouraged us to travel to Alabama or Arizona to help overturn discriminatory laws created to intimidate immigrant laborers. He would probably use his pulpit to draw national attention to the increase in unemployment for African Americans. Even though overall unemployment is finally decreasing, unemployment for African Americans continues to rise, recently hitting an astonishing 15.8 percent.
As someone who gave his life preaching freedom and equality for all, I believe Rev. King would be first to join the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community today as we fight to win our equal rights under the law.
True, Rev. King never spoke specifically about LGBT rights. But the company he kept (including Bayard Rustin, the openly gay organizer of the March on Washington) and the words he spoke give us clues as to where he would stand today. His words provide clear evidence to the growing belief that, were his life not cut short, Rev. King would stand proudly with his LGBT brothers and sisters.
Though his work has impacted mine, I did not have the opportunity to know Rev. King. So, I'll defer to the person who probably knew him best, his wife Coretta Scott King, who was a staunch and lifelong advocate for LGBT rights -- including employment non-discrimination and marriage equality. She spoke tirelessly of the right that all people have to live their lives free from discrimination.
In 1994, Mrs. King delivered a landmark speech addressing the question of her husband's beliefs in LGBT equality:
For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law... I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' On another occasion he said, 'I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.' Like Martin, I don't believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.
Today and every day, we must follow in the footsteps of both Rev. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King. You cannot stand for freedom and at the same time deny it to others. So let us join together in the fight for equality for LGBT individuals and all people. Then perhaps we will be free.