The Dark Stain of Bloody Sunday in Alabama

Fifty-two years ago today civil rights activists, led by John Lewis, marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to demand the right to vote, only to be dragged to the ground and brutally beaten by white Alabama state troopers. The blood that flowed is how the day became known as Bloody Sunday.

The Selma to Montgomery marches of March 1965 were in part sparked by the tragic death of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson the month before. Jackson was fatally shot by a white Alabama state trooper after participating in a demonstration calling for the release of James Orange who had been arrested for enlisting minors to participate in voter registration drives in Alabama.

At the time of the Selma campaign, less than one percent of eligible black voters in Montgomery County were registered to vote. Black voters seeking to gain access to the ballot box were blocked by discriminatory literacy tests and poll taxes. Those who sought to organize were intimidated by white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Council.


What it’s like when your state doesn’t love you back

“Get your heart in Alabama, or get out,” demands Amanda Walker in a recent op-ed.

I gave my heart to Alabama, but she didn’t love me back, and so I left for the North.

Last summer after graduating from Faulkner State Community College, I moved to Washington, D.C. to transfer to Georgetown University. I hope to one day become a public interest lawyer and defend the poor and other communities marginalized by society.

Although D.C. is my home now, Alabama still crosses my mind. She’s like an old lover you never truly get over, one that you would be with if things had turned out differently.


Thanking a legal hero: Vanita Gupta

In November I had the opportunity to deliver the thank you remarks for Vanita Gupta at an event hosted by Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center. Ms. Gupta is the Assistant Attorney General of the United States and the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and she came to speak to Georgetown students about her work advancing the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

After I gave my remarks, Ms. Gupta gave me a hug and told me how moved she was by what I said. Ms. Gupta is one of my legal heroes so it was an honor to have a chance to meet her and thank her personally for how she’s inspired me to become a civil rights lawyer and work for the federal government. A special thanks to Julian Haas, the Assistant Director of Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center, for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Thank you, Ms. Gupta, for your hopeful remarks. As soon as I saw the OUTober flyer advertising your visit to campus, I quickly ran to the LGBTQ Center to tell Julian how much I admire your work and how excited I was to have the opportunity to hear you speak.

My dream is to become a constitutional and civil rights lawyer, and your work with the Department of Justice has been a source of inspiration to me. I look toward your public service as a model of how the government can be a force for social change.

I grew up in a small town in Mobile County, Alabama. I began questioning my sexual orientation as young as seven. My first crush was a boy in kindergarten, but I soon developed crushes on girls in my neighborhood. Before I even learned the words “bisexual” or “lesbian,” I had internalized the stigma associated with being LGBTQ. I didn’t know what I was experiencing, but I knew I was supposed to feel abnormal, inappropriate and morally wrong. My journey going from a confused, questioning young girl to a confident bisexual woman has been a long and difficult one, one I’m sure that many people here can relate to.

Our stories are not identical. You are a woman of color, born the daughter of Indian immigrants; I’m a white bisexual woman who grew up in rural Alabama. You have had to overcome obstacles that are far different than the ones I have had to overcome. But despite our differences, your strength and resilience to become the head of the Civil Rights Division has shown me that I have a path as a civil rights lawyer too.

Thank you for being here.

What Do Humanists Make of the Burkini Ban?

Last week French police cited a Muslim woman for wearing a hijab on a beach in Nice, France, and ordered her to remove her headscarf, marking the latest incident in a clash over religious freedom, women’s rights, and national security in France.

As reported by the French news agency Agence France-Presse, Siam (who only gave her first name) was confronted for failing to wear “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.” The thirty-four-year-old mother of two explained that she was merely sitting on the beach with her family. “I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming.”


Women’s Rights and Religious Liberty: What California and Illinois’s Laws against Crisis Pregnancy Centers Can Teach Humanists

Last week, two crisis pregnancy centers and a pro-life physician, represented by the conservative legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), sued the state of Illinois after Governor Bruce Rauner (R) signed off on new requirements for health care facilities.

Passed this year, Senate Bill 1564 amends the state’s Health Care Rights of Conscience Act (HRC) to require physicians and health care facilities, including crisis pregnancy centers, to inform patients when they are “unable to provide a health care service contrary to [their] conscience” and refer patients to places “they reasonably believe may offer the health care service.”


Democrats Should Know that Religion Is Not a Litmus Test for Public Office

Just days before the Democratic National Convention began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, WikiLeaks released over 20,000 confidential documents from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), including internal emails among key DNC staff members. The emails, dated between January 2015 to May 2016, allegedly show the DNC working to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign over her opponent Bernie Sanders, despite the DNC’s bylaws requiring neutrality in presidential campaigns.

Among the leaked documents was an email sent by Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall that appears to seek help gaining favor for Clinton over Sanders among religious voters in Kentucky and West Virginia. “It might may [sic] no difference, but for KY and WVA, can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God.” Marshall asked in the email.