Torch Article: Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith

27 February 2019

…And now for a bit of optimism.

Discouragement comes easily when assessing societal change. Both attitudes and laws seem as rigidly fixed as ever. Extending human and civil rights to everyone moves at a snail’s pace. It usually feels like the snail is crawling backwards.

But lately, change has shaken its sluggish pace a bit. Change can happen with such unsuspecting subtlety that hardly anybody will notice. But if our antenna is up, a few progressive changes have indeed occurred that can give us heart, and hope.

About 15 years ago, an African American member of our young adult program came to see me about a case of discrimination. He was working up in the ski resorts and his job was threatened because of his dreadlocks. It was either cut your hair or you’re fired. He left the job because his hair was really important to him in terms of identity and style. I called the ACLU but was told that they do not take discrimination cases. I never knew that, but hiring a lawyer was financially unfeasible. It proved another instance of overt discrimination without any recourse.

Last week, The New York City Commission on human rights released new guidelines that targeting people based on their hair or hairstyle at work, school, or in public places will now be considered racial discrimination. This is now law, with penalties of up to $250,000. Although this takes place only in New York for now, it’s a huge breakthrough that people have the right to “maintain their natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as dreadlocks, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.” Change…

Last week in Salt Lake City, up on the Hill in our legislative session, lawmakers proposed a ban on conversion therapy among minors aimed at changing their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has given its blessing. It’s so nice to be on the same side of a social issue at least once in a while. I cry internally when I think of the anguish and pain and insult suffered by young people forced to endure such medieval treatment. Change…

We may think that nothing has changed in the state of Virginia since both the governor and attorney general were oblivious to the racism inherent in wearing blackface while they attended college. Both Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring discovered that attitudes about race have drastically changed. Their jobs are now on the line as they should be. The “long ago” argument doesn’t hold up anymore. And the host of the Today Show, Megyn Kelly was startled to learn that her comment about blackface being acceptable on Halloween was, in fact, unacceptable. She even apologized, but still lost her job. Change…

So lest we despair about the glacial speed of change, we’ve met some unexpected surprises of late that inspire hope. And the Me Too movement has propelled necessary change, and the Roman Catholic Church must reinvent itself entirely after 2000 years. And maybe, just maybe, we may be changing ourselves. Growing in deeper understanding about gender fluidity, the violation of rights to transgender people, and maybe even our own attitudes about hair. There’s enough perceptible change going on right now that I am hopeful, wondering what the world will look like following the 2020 election. TRG