Looking back on the anniversaries of May 17th through the years

Rev. Irene MonroeWhen you reside at the intersections of multiple identities, anniversaries of your civil rights struggles can be both bitter and sweet. And this May 17th was a reminder.

At 12:01 am on May 17, 2004, the city of Cambridge was the first to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At 9:15 am the first couple was married. Then Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury said to Tanya McCluskey, 52, and Marcia Kadish, 56, of Malden, Massachusetts, “I now pronounce you married under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

That day was also the 50th anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education, a ruling that upended this country’s “separate but equal” doctrine, adopted in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896. While joy washed over me that day knowing my partner and I could now follow McCluskey’s and Kadish’s footsteps and be legally married, we could not rejoice over the limited success, huge failures, and ongoing resistance of Brown that allowed a few of us entry into some of the top universities of this country, as it naggingly continues to be challenged as a form of reverse discrimination.

In a 1960 address to the National Urban League, Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his hopeful remarks about the landmark decision: “For all men of goodwill May 17, 1954, came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of enforced segregation… It served to transform the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope.”

On this year’s anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education African Americans and Latino Americans continue to attend not only segregated schools, but they also attend high-poverty urban ones with metal detectors. And sadly, policing while schooling has doubled since 2001 to present day.

Where it was once thought that access to a quality education would dismantle, for future generations, the pox of bigotry and ignorance their parents inherited, race and class, unfortunately, continue to be discriminating indices upholding not only “separate” school systems but also “unequal” treatment of students. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “High-poverty, majority-Black and Hispanic schools were less likely to offer a full range of math and science courses than other schools, for example, and more likely to use expulsion and suspension as disciplinary tools.”

This May 17th also marked the 12th anniversary of marriage equality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Looking back at advances such as hate crime laws, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the legalization of marriage equality, anti-homophobic bullying becoming a national concern, to name a few, the LGBTQ community has come a long way since the first Pride marches four-plus decades ago. And our backs appear not to be slammed as harshly up against a brick wall as they used to be.

I give thanks for these advances. I had the opportunity to write Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, who wrote the landmark decision in “Goodridge v. Department of Public Health,” a thank you note for this year in April. “A tsunami of thanks I send your way for authoring the Goodridge case, allowing me and so many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters across this beautiful Commonwealth of Massachusetts to marry the person we love,” I wrote.

This June will be the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges,” the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But, so, too, will be the anniversary of the Charleston, South Carolina Black church massacre at “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which left nine worshippers dead, including its senior pastor, the beloved Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney.

Over the years I’ve learned, as well as experienced, that joy can share its space with other emotions. This May 17th both joy and sadness washed over me.


Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.