Giving Thanks For Times the United States Has Fought Back Against Discrimination


It’s that time of year again: turkeys get pardoned or, more frequently, eaten. Malls get raided. Football gets ignored. Meanwhile, life goes on. And while it is easy to be cynical and disheartened by global news in light of so much hostility and inhumanity, for those of us living in the United States, this is also a time for giving thanks.

It is in that spirit that I have gathered a list of some of my favorite pieces of U.S. news on overcoming discrimination over the past couple of months:

  • On April 9, 2012—Equal Pay Day—we could celebrate that the pay gap between Latina and black women and men had been reduced slightly compared to the year before. The over-all pay gap between men and women stayed more or less then same. (Of course, in June 2012, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have created better remedies for workplace discrimination through unequal pay by banning companies from retaliating against workers who ask about pay disparities, and by permitting punitive damages where discrimination is proven. But for now, let’s be thankful that the race/gender pay gap is diminishing).

  • August 1, 2012, marked the day the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires employers and insurers to cover preventive health care services, including contraception, in their policies without a co-pay took effect. This, in particular, is good news for women, because women often are stuck with the bulk of contraceptive responsibilities.

  • In September 2012, a national study (citing 2011 data) was published, showing that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth (LGBT) in U.S. school face less harassment than they used to. Granted, a whopping third of LGBT youth still say verbal harassment or bullying takes place often or frequently, which is outrageous (and probably reflects under-reporting). Still, given the fact that this number is down from almost 41% in 2009, it is certainly good news.

  • In early November 2012, U.S. voters in four states came out in support of marriage equality, passing same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state, and rejecting a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman in Minnesota. It should be obvious why this is good news, despite the fact that same sex couples still are denied equal rights at the federal level.

  • Also in November 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the national OB/GYN organization of the United States, recommended that oral contraception be made available over the counter. This is great news, if translated into reality, especially since it will mitigate some of the consequences when employers don’t want to offer comprehensive health insurance to their employees.

  • And last but not least, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit declared that Michigan’s ban on affirmative action policies is unconstitutional. Or put differently: there is nothing discriminatory about seeking a race (or gender) conscious way to overcome entrenched inequalities.

You may have noticed that none of this news is unpolluted. For every thanks we give, there is another mountain to move.

I am, however, an eternal optimist. Perhaps the best news of all is that when we look at gender and race discrimination in the United States over the past 4 or 5 decades, while it is still prominent and rife, it is gradually becoming less and less acceptable in law and in practice. This year, for Thanksgiving, I celebrate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: it’s been almost half a century since Congress codified the fact that we are all equal, at least on paper. I trust it won’t take us another 50 to really make it a reality.

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