First and foremost, I hope this message finds everyone in our TIPS family healthy and safe.
As I sit here in my home office and “pen” this column, much has changed in our world since we last gathered in Austin while we deal with the effects of the novel coronavirus global pandemic. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer became hot and increasingly scarce commodities. Most offices and businesses were, or are, closed—some temporarily, some for good. Workers are getting furloughed. Schools have been canceled as students (and parents alike) struggle to learn from home. New and interesting terms such as “shelter in place” and “social distancing” have become part of our everyday vernacular. Zoom conferences and happy hours are all the rage. And sadly, we are inundated with news headlines that include new and scary details of the number of infections across this great nation and the ever-increasing death toll caused by the COVID-19 virus while we struggle to “open up” and return to some sense of normalcy, whatever that is.
Closer to our TIPS home, the TIPS Section Conference along with numerous other regional and national conferences and CLEs have been canceled or moved to “virtual” platforms. I do not think anyone could have predicted a few short months ago the massive effect COVID-19 has had, and will continue to have, on our lives. Indeed, few have been spared from the effects of this terrible virus. Yes, we are all in this together.
Though I was very young at the time, I am reminded of a passage from Robert F. Kennedy’s famous “Ripple of Hope” speech in 1966 at the University of Cape Town in South Africa:
[C]omfort . . . is not the road history has marked out for us. There is a Chinese curse which says “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. [E]veryone here will ultimately be judged—will ultimately judge himself—on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.1
Throughout his address, Kennedy talked about individual liberty and inclusiveness. While apartheid was certainly one of the main focuses of Kennedy’s remarks at the time, he very well could have been discussing America, which was in the midst of its own tumultuous civil rights movement. Kennedy went on to say:
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage such as these that the belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.2
I believe Kennedy’s words ring true today. This virus and its effects do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or even socioeconomic status, though one could certainly make the argument that the people hit the hardest are those who can least afford it, whether they struggle economically or with access to quality health care or even basic shelter. We are reminded that if we each do just one small act of kindness, or strive to assist others, we can create a ripple that together can turn into a tsunami of change.
While considering topics for this column, I was reminded of Kennedy’s message of inclusiveness by our very own Jim Holmes, who recently accepted the Stonewall Award at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Austin. The award, which is sponsored by the ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, recognizes those lawyers, judges, or legal academics who have effected real change to remove barriers on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression in the legal profession, or those who have championed diversity for the LGBT community.
In his brief remarks, Jim indicated that being the recipient of the Stonewall Award “is probably one of the greatest achievements of my life.” Jim then quickly pivoted into a passionate reminder of how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go. With Jim’s permission, I have reproduced portions of his speech below with some editorial licensure:
“Remember about eight or 10 years ago, we were rather frustrated as a community by what we perceived as a lack of progress on advancing the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement. We had the temerity to criticize the president of the United States because he was not going far enough, or fast enough, in protecting our rights. I miss those days.
“I think we could agree that the last three years have been challenging. But I submit to you that we are up for that challenge. We are up for the challenge of protecting those huddled masses yearning to breathe free—regardless of their ethnicity, their nationality, their religion, their sexual orientation, or their gender identity. We are up for the challenge of protecting our transgender brothers and sisters, including if they want to serve with dignity and honor in protecting us in the military.
“We are up to the challenge of protecting the next and future generations. To tell them that they are loved and respected for who they are and what they are going to be. Because I cannot bear another news story of yet another frightened, bullied child killing themselves. We can’t have that.
“All these things I’ve been talking about, things we need to do, the ABA has already taken a position on, and that’s how I know this is a room full of allies and I am a member of an association that cares.
“We must stop the divisive politics of ‘us versus them.’ Because the ‘them,’ the ‘others,’ they are coincidentally the oppressed, marginalized, or disenfranchised. In fact, it is never ‘us versus them’—it is always ‘us,’ and this is the challenge I put to our community. It is our obligation that we must reach out. We must reach across. We must listen, and we must treat all others with the respect and dignity that we insist for ourselves. Because in proving that it is always ‘us’ is how we achieve that equality that we desperately want.”
Similarly, like this pandemic and the health and economic crises this random virus has created, it is about “us” and how we create those ripples of hope rather than divisiveness and noninclusiveness. Because in the end, we are all in this together.
Thank you, Jim, for the reminder. I am proud to be a member of an organization that cares and that stands for something, even if I do not always agree with that stance.
Thank you also to our first responders, health-care professionals, and others on the frontlines of this awful fight. Please be safe out there, and I look forward to when we can all gather together again.
1. Robert F. Kennedy, Day of Affirmation Address at the University of Cape Town (June 6, 1966), https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/the-kennedy-family/robert-f-kennedy/robert-f-kennedy-speeches/day-of-affirmation-address-university-of-capetown-capetown-south-africa-june-6-1966.