On 17 April 1986, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin testified before a meeting of a committee of the New York city council as the council deliberated about proposals to gut laws protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination. Rustin stated,
I have been arrested 24 times in the struggle for civil and human rights . . . . On the basis of such experiences, I categorically can state and history reveals that when laws are amended to provide "legal loopholes" that deny equal protection for any group of citizens, an immediate threat is created for everyone, including those who may think they are forever immune to the consequences of such discrimination. History demonstrates that no group is ultimately safe from prejudice, bigotry, and harassment so long as any group is subject to special negative treatment. The only final security for all is to provide now equal protection for every group under the law.
Rustin's testimony before the city committee has been published in full in Jerald Podair's Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009) (pp. 157-8). Michael Long makes it the centerpiece of a recent posting at the blog of the Human Rights Campaign, as he honors Bayard Rustin during Black History Month.
When any group of citizens is singled out and denied equal protection under the law, an immediate threat is created for everyone, including those who may think they are forever immune to the consequences of such discrimination. Let any group be subject to prejudice, bigotry, and harassment shielded by the law, and no group within society will ultimately be safe from the same treatment.
Allow business owners to refuse service to select segments of the population because, as they claim, their religious faith forbids them to treat those parts of the humanity community as they treat everyone else, and the fabric of civil society is ripped apart for everyone. There is no dimunition of your humanity of you that does not diminish my humanity, particularly if I stand aside and do nothing while you are degraded.
Laws permitting legal discrimination against anyone on faith-based grounds militate against the most central insights of most religious traditions about building humane societies in which everyone can thrive. The only final security for all is to provide . . . equal protection for every group under the law.
The graphic is from an online slideshow presentation by Joe Gerstandt on transforming organizational cultures.