In January 1960, the undefeated Syracuse Orange football team beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl to win their only National Championship to date. This win was due in part to the performance of star running back Ernie Davis who would later be the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy and the first black man to be drafted #1 overall in the NFL draft. Syracuse University, however, did not attend the awards banquet later that night to celebrate their championship. Why? Davis and two of his black teammates were not invited to the dinner due to their race. In 1960, blatant racial discrimination like that was relatively commonplace. In 2016, it is completely unacceptable.
But has our country really moved on from discriminating against others for being different, or has the focus just changed?
Communities across the country have taken steps to prevent the placement of mosques or Muslim cemeteries in their cities and towns. Of course, fear and discrimination against Muslims is not unique to the United States. Islamophobia has led to numerous incidents of violence and slurs against Muslims. Muslims have even been kicked off of commercial airline flights due to other passengers’ fears.
This discrimination goes beyond religion. Members of the LGBTQ communities face discrimination every day. While the Supreme Court found that same sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, 28 states still have their own laws allowing employers to fire someone solely because they are gay. In Iowa, a high school that fired a teacher in 2015 for being openly gay this year refused to recognize a gay student who was honored with a Gold Matthew Shepard Scholarship at their awards banquet. The student claims the school changed the awards banquet rules in order to avoid recognizing him and the award at the ceremony.
Transgender discrimination has been the focus of many states. It’s also been the subject of national conversation in recent months. North Carolina passed HB 2 in March which, in part, restricts the rights of transgender people to use the restroom facilities to that of their sex at birth. It also overturns LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances any municipalities in the state may have passed.
However, there are signs that many find this discrimination just as unacceptable as racial discrimination. The backlash against North Carolina’s HB2 was swift. The economic repercussions North Carolina has faced by businesses leaving the state led Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to veto a similar bill in Georgia just a few weeks after North Carolina’s bill passed. In Massachusetts, the state senate passed a bill to protect transgender rights in early May. Finally, the U.S. Department of Justice took a firm stance on transgender rights and filed a lawsuit against North Carolina over HB2.
Discrimination still exists in this country and some forms are, unfortunately, still accepted and still legal. But there is progress. Ernie Davis, who died of leukemia in 1963, would be amazed to see how much change this country has been through over the last 60 years. That’s not to say that we don’t have a long way to go as a nation when it comes to protecting minorities, people of minority faiths, and those of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in their everyday lives.