|Honorable Mention: Best Speech
"What Can the America of Yesterday
Teach the America of Tomorrow"
By Michael Barahura - CA
2012 KarMel Scholarship Submission
Description of Submission:
"A speech delivered for the Lions Club's student speaker contest in February 2012 which compares discrimination
faced by the contemporary GLBT community to that faced by African Americans in the 1950s and 60s." - Michael
Why Karen and Melody Liked It:
We liked the comparison of LGBT struggles for gay rights is compared to the African American struggles in the
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On November 14th, 1960, a young black girl by the name of Ruby Bridges was escorted by United States
Marshals to her first grade classroom at William Frantz Elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana. At
that time in history, black people faced severe intolerance in white society, to the point of public
segregation, discrimination by the government, and even open acts of violence. In today’s society, that
would be considered completely outrageous and unthinkable. African Americans today are just as equal
as any other race in America. Segregation is something we haven’t heard of in nearly 40 years. We’ve
come a long way in the last five decades, fostering tolerance among our many ethnic and cultural groups.
It is something you don’t see everywhere in the world; something we as Americans are proud of. We
overcame prejudices and now can all live peacefully without even thinking about it.
Fast forward to September, 2010. In a period of less than three weeks, five gay teenagers across the
country commit suicide. Each was subjected to relentless bullying from their schools and communities,
and all felt help was nowhere to be found. Their deaths highlight an epidemic of gay teen suicides that
has been growing since 1987. And even then, teen suicides are just a part of a major social issue
undermining American society today. The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community has seen
fierce discrimination in the way of civil rights in the last 20 years, a trend that has seen little reversal.
While GLBT discrimination of today is less severe than that against African Americans in the 1950s and
60s, the problem still exists and is taking a monumental toll against certain populations, especially youths.
Today in America, it is completely unacceptable to discriminate or pass judgment on someone based on
their race or ethnicity, yet we continue to deny the rights of citizens because of their sexual orientation.
This is a norm of society, is it not? This is the world we live in, is it not? It appears as though the America
of yesterday has something to teach the America of tomorrow.
America has never been a perfect nation, in fact, far from it at times. Since the day we set foot on
Plymouth Rock to the Civil War, white men were the dominant figures in society. Indians were invaded
and stripped of their land. Blacks were imported like cargo and forced into slavery. It seemed as though
the only hope of advancement in post-colonial American society was being a European male. But with the
dawn of the Civil War, societal change was underway on a historic scale. Years of battle and strife
officially ended slavery in the United States. While it hardly removed the prejudices against blacks, it was
progress towards a more equal population. It would be another century before African Americans were
fully welcomed in American society and treated as equals to their white contemporaries. Over time,
society grew to drop its wrongful discrimination and accept people of all races. It certainly wasn’t an
overnight revolution, but with the help of patient leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., who believed that men
should be judged based on “the content of the character, rather than the color of their skin”, the United
States has grown into a land of tolerance and unity, strengths that have propelled this nation to a position
of a super power among international relations.
It is clear that our past perceptions of other people have proved wrong, and that when we reverse these
perceptions, peace and unity are able to flourish and thrive. So why then, I ask, do we still continue to
support the ban against civil rights of gay individuals? Why, if we don’t discriminate against skin color, do
we discriminate against who someone loves?
The way some people carry on, you’d think being gay was a crime, like people are doing something
wrong. Homosexuality, in fact, stems from one’s genes – it is not a choice, it is not something someone
learns – it is something people are born with. And yet, people still claim it’s wrong. Since when are
genetics wrong? Are people saying those who are born gay are wrong? Are those who are born with
physical deformities wrong? Are those who were born mentally retarded wrong? Homosexuality is not a
choice; it is simply the way one is, and we, as a society, are fostering intolerance towards it.
Contemporary American society supports the fueling of hate towards a group of people based on an
illegitimate prejudice. But isn’t that what we did with African Americans? Why is acceptable to treat gays
the same way?
Granted, the Bible does state that marriage – the biggest subject of contention within gay rights – is
between a man and a woman. Now, as a religious text, the Bible has every right to command that of its
followers and Catholicism may certainly teach that. But the United States Government is strictly forbidden
from promoting any religion. It is the fundamental idea of the separation between church and state. Why
then does the Constitution not support civil unions between two men or two women? A constitutional
amendment would certainly do no harm to anyone, and yet, the status quo is preventing a fair percentage
of the population from attaining the rights granted by marriage. Critics often claim that gays threaten the
sanctity of marriage, but I find this claim completely hypocritical. Nearly half of all heterosexual marriages
end in divorce – what do they know about sanctity? Numerous “celebrity” marriages have ended far too
early to even be considered legitimate – what do they know about sanctity? Opponents of same-sex
marriage have yet to prove one claim that finds fault with the institution of gay marriage. Even lawmakers
pushing to pass Proposition 8 in Superior Court couldn’t identify one grievance against gay marriage if it
While the lesson of misguided discrimination against African Americans in 20th century America teaches
us intolerance is not acceptable, it also bears this truth: society does not change overnight. The fight for
civil rights for blacks was a long and hard one that took many voices many years to win. Unfortunately, the
fight for civil rights for GLTB citizens is no different. The road ahead is still long and tumultuous. But if
those who are ignorant towards the apparent plague of intolerance this county is gripped by would only
look at our past mistakes and realize that the wrongs we committed then are the wrongs we are
committing now, if they would listen to the lessons the America of yesterday is trying to teach us today,
there is no reason tomorrow won’t be a better day. It is time for this country to listen to its past and make
the America of tomorrow a better place for all. Of course, with the recent repeal of California’s
Proposition 8, it looks like we are headed in the right direction. Tomorrow looks like a better day already.