For 80 years the famed Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, has refused to allow women to be members. All of that changed this week when Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, made a historic announcement that former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore would become the club's first women members.
Since 1932 Augusta National's no-women policy hasn't gone over too well with a number of prominent people and organizations. In fact, just last year, the issue surfaced again when IBM's new female CEO, Virginia Rometty, wasn't invited to become a member of the club, despite the fact that IBM is a major sponsor of the tournament and the four previous male CEOs were invited to become members.
The announcement from Augusta National, a club that is so deeply rooted in its rich history and which has stood firm on its no-women policy, proves something else: No matter how long discrimination against a certain group has been in place, it's possible to overcome segregation, get with the times, and move beyond ancient beliefs, dogmas, rituals, and practices.
If such a radical change can take place at Augusta, it can most definitely take place in other parts of America. Looking specifically at LGBT rights, it's scary to think that same-sex marriage is only legally permitted in six states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire) and the District of Columbia. The latest Gallup poll on the topic found that 50 percent of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legally recognized, while 48 percent think it should not be legally recognized, and 2 percent are undecided.
A few weeks ago I boarded the first-class cabin of an Amtrak train headed from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. The only other people riding with me were the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his speech writer. I struck up a conversation with Rev. Jackson and asked him what he thought of the Boy Scouts' stance on gay scouts and scout leaders in the organization.
He said that it's clearly wrong, and that sadly, discrimination is still a part of our society. He said America has a long history of segregating a particular group of people, and that it almost seems ingrained in our culture. He noted that at times it was against women, then at another time against African Americans, and today against the LGBT population. Rev. Jackson has also made his support of gay marriage clear in the media.
I pushed him one step further and asked, "What would Dr. King say about the Boy Scouts' situation?" He recited one of the most famous of Dr. King's quotations: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"
The Boy Scouts of America claim to be "one of the nation's most prominent values-based organizations." My critical-thinking question is: What kind of values are they teaching our kids if they are discriminating against gay people?
If Augusta National can change its policy to allow women in the club, the Boy Scouts should follow suit and allow gay scouts and scout leaders to be a part of its organization. As America continues to become more diverse, we need to continue beating the drum of racial equality and desegregation through education in schools, public service platforms, and especially churches. The more we do, the stronger our country will become.