Fifty years ago, in 1966, I was 13 years old. Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive. The Civil Rights Movement was fully on, but mostly ignored by my 13 year old self. My family had escaped Nazis 28 years before, but even that meant little to me. We, my brother and sister and I, lived with my mother. My mother met a man that year with seven kids and, after four weeks, they decided to marry. I learned a lot in the next four years, before they thankfully divorced. While I had heard the 'n' word, I heard it spoken in our household by this man as never before. He drank a lot of beer, cursed a lot of words, and landed a lot of punches on my mother's body. It was quite a learning experience for a young adolescent girl. I did not know the meaning of the word "whore" until I heard it vomited from this man's mouth. He was vile, vulgar and violent. Outside of the obvious negative impact on the four of us, I had never known a more racist, sexist or hateful human being. He has long since passed. Drinking, smoking and raging does not promote longevity. Back then, I knew no one who admitted to being gay, or "queer" as it was called then. Any gay person with any sense stayed in the closet so as not to be "rolled" or beaten by a group of teenagers. Life was considerably different in 1966 than it is today.
I became a lawyer in 1983. In 1991, Congress amended the Civil Rights Act, first passed in 1964, to include damages for pain and suffering, punitive damages, and jury trials. I was immediately drawn to Civil Rights cases, not really understanding why. Back then, women came to me with stories of their bosses fondling them, demanding sex, and firing the women when the boss' sexual needs were unmet. I figured I had about ten years handling sexual harassment cases, and by then after the years of jury verdicts decrying sexual harassment, I would have to go back to handling personal injury cases because sexual harassment would be eliminated. It's been 25 years, and, unfortunately, I still have plenty of discrimination cases. Yet, my prediction was partly true. Employers recognized the economic toll on their businesses when hound dog bosses were allowed to prey on young female employees. Sexual harassment has not been completely eradicated, but it is surely diminished.
My old partner used to say, "People do the right thing if you make them." A financial incentive worked to curtail sexual harassment, the economic incentive to eradicate a company's harassment was compelling to businesses. Racial harassment has become unpopular, although racial bias still exists, but in much more subtle forms. Age discrimination is still rampant, but may be on the decline, at least overtly.
LGBT discrimination, however, is still legal in Missouri and Kansas. I had a cousin who I represented in a car accident case in the 1980's. He was hit by a drunk driver. I produced my cousin for a deposition. My cousin admitted to me something he could never tell his parents, that he was gay. In the deposition, the opposing counsel questioned him if my cousin had ever had sex with men, something totally irrelevant to his case. I went ballistic, called the lawyer out as despicable. After the deposition, my cousin thanked me profusely. In retrospect, I realize that he was thanking me for protecting him and merely treating him as a human being. My poor cousin settled his case, but never officially came out. He died a very sad man.
While in 2016, we still are not at a point where the law protects the LGBT community from employment and housing discrimination, but I see it coming. I see it coming soon. My cousin will not be around to see it. But people coming after him will. I see it in the attitudes of young people, in the way gays and Blacks and women are regarded by my children and those even younger. People do the right thing if you make them. And their children are more likely to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing.
I see a different world fifty years hence. Martin Luther King was right. "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." While each person cannot expect justice, justice is coming. It's too bad I will not be alive in 50 years to see it. But, knowing it's coming is at least somewhat satisfying.