When They Come For You: Equal Rights

Stan Goldberg, PhD

More than 15 years ago I was asked to sit on a contentious committee at San Francisco State University that was given the task of recommending curricular changes that would sensitize students to cultural differences.

Suggestions were brought to the committee at its first meeting by faculty members. Ethnic Studies faculty made proposals for including what they believed were fundamental concepts related to the cultures of African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics. Each speaker made an impassioned plea for why all students should be sensitized to these cultural values. And by the head nods and smiles it was clear that the audience believed in the importance of what was being said.

Are All Human Rights Equal?
But a strange thing happened when faculty teaching courses in Women’s and Gay studies (the names used at that time) presented what they believed were important for sensitizing students to the issues of the populations they represented. “Gall” would be an appropriate word to describe the tone and words used to describe the outrage of the ethnic studies faculty. They asked how it was possible that women and gay issues were comparable to ethnicity.

What began as a rational academic argument rapidly descended into a “me first” discussion, especially when it became clear that there could be only limited modifications made to the general curriculum. Critical comments about the value of Women Studies and Gay and Lesbian studies continued until the representative of the Disability Rights Office asked to speak.

Instead of arguing for the legitimacy of including Gay, Lesbian, Women issues, and Disability, she decided to take everyone through a typical day of a quadriplegic, beginning with the most basic of personal needs that few people cared to hear about, to understanding what she felt in a room of people all standing, physically looking down on her. When she finished, she asked if there was anyone whose own ethnic culture dictated their lives more than her disability determined everything about her existence. There was no response.

Unfortunately, the committee, as so many other university institutions, eventually descended into rhetoric and predicable quotes. But that was 15 years ago and we’ve come a long way in understanding that dividing human rights into those that are supportable and those that are not, is ludicrous. Right?

Hypocrisy From Those Who Should Know Better
Not really. I feel we are at the same point now we were 15 years ago. The only difference is that the actors have changed. We are now having a national discussion on what are “legitimate” human rights, and what are illegitimate ones.

Some African-American ministers who stood with Martin Luther King in fighting for the civil rights of African Americans are condemning President Obama’s support for LGBT rights as something that violates their fundamental religious values. These are some of the same people, who standing next to me condemned the governor of Alabama in the 1960’s for asserting that integration violated a deep sense of southern cultural and religious values.

Some Hispanic activists who I rallied with in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the fair treatment of farm workers in the 1970’s, are now vehemently opposing equal treatment for Gay and Lesbian couples, since, they maintain, equality for gender issues are somehow different than economic ones.

From the parents of disabled children whose equality of human rights I fought for against the callousness of some public school administrators in Illinois and California, I hear views that Gay and Lesbian marriage is something having nothing at all to do with what they and I have been trying to achieve for their children.

Where is the acceptance of Gay and Lesbian marriage by International Jewry, who pleaded with the world to affirm their right to exist and be treated with all of the human rights given to all other ethnic groups—and now vehemently oppose or remain silent about equal rights for Gays and Lesbians?

And what about the Conference of Catholic Bishops who for years quietly shuffled known pedophile priests from parish to parish until their complicity was exposed, and now condemn people who only want to openly love each other as Jesus asked his followers to do?

Are there exceptions? Of course, but I find the silence to be deafening of people I’ve respected in the past who championed civil rights. Who don’t I point the finger of hypocrisy at? Ironically, the evangelical right, who have never deviated from believing everyone should live as they do and don’t see the folly of selectively pulling sections from the bible to support their positions while ignoring others that contradict them. So to the far evangelical right, I offer my admiration for not being hypocritical, while historically holding onto unchristian, hurtful positions.

When They Come For You
As I try to understand the hypocrisy of the opponents for equal rights for my LGBT friends, I remember a poem that was traced back to a speech given on January 6, 1946 by Martin Niemöller, a protestant pastor and social activist in Frankfort, Germany. Since this original version, there have been many modifications, but they all point to problems that are created when we begin qualifying human rights.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

I wonder if my thirty-three Polish relatives would have been sent to Auschwitz and murdered if people had the courage to speak out. And even if they still would have died, think about the legacy these brave people would have left for their families, instead of one that currently looks at Poles as complicit with the Nazis genocide.

I’m I saying that Nazi collaboration is the same as remaining silent on issues of gender rights? Not necessarily. But I believe we have entered into a political and ethical milieu where acquiescing to the belief that human rights are divisible, may be the first step in “picking off” the most vulnerable in our society by those who want everyone to live and believe as they do.

And as Niemöller so elegantly stated, if we wait until it’s our human rights that are being threatened, there may be nobody left to speak out.

Preventing Senior Moments, by Stan Goldberg

Offers practical and achievable prevention strategies for senior moments.


  1. Jack Zibluk

    While I agree on principle, we must be careful to avoid proclaiming moral superiority. We must seek to understand those with whom we disagree. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with them, but by understanding the dynamics that lead people to a given belief, we can better respond to them with the mutual respect we all seek, and we all deserve.

    People in conservative movements, and that includes a lot of the church-affiliated folks in the civil rights movement, have been brought up in a tradition that rejects homosexuality. It’s part of a culture, and culture doesn’t change overnight.

    I hope that by treating those with whom we disagree with respect, and at the same time being firm in our own beliefs, and our own presentation thereof, we can all move forward.

    A great deal of change has occurred in the last decade. More will come. Steadfastness, patience and tolerance have succeeded before. And they will again.


    • Stan Goldberg

      Well said Jack. I compare my mother’s attitude on many things when I was a child to what it was when before she died. A vast difference. Her attitude towards accepting those who held different views from her only changed when she saw that they were just as caring as she was.

  2. carol ann creagh

    i strongly applaud your article & second Luke in that change must come from within each of us.
    we share the same air we share the same ground… we share the same minutes in each daytime.
    how people find their special moments in time is up to them and none have the right to judge.
    love is special ; parent child. child parent. man woman. woman woman. man man. black white.
    to feel such love for another human being is a beautiful gift.
    usually those that protest the loudest lack this love & maybe should be more pited than blamed as it is their loss.
    i am glad that a man of power can approve of equality for all! sadly i have followed a catholic faith which has for too long said “do as we say not do as we do” hypocrisy at its highest.
    to lack love is to lack life
    carol ann x

    • Stan Goldberg

      Wonderful thoughts Carol Ann. I would only add that often there also is fear, a sense of “righteous indignation”, and a delusional belief that the way a person leads his life, must be accepted as the true way for everyone. Unfortunately, we can look back at the history of human catastrophes and see these often are the genesis on actions we recognize as inhumane.

  3. Steve

    Totally right on!!!

    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks Steve,

      I’m not sure I knew you and Betty in Pittsburgh then. But we allowed some of the organizers from the farm workers to use one of the rooms in our apartment. This is before Wendy.

      Take care,

  4. Luke Vorstermans

    Thanks for this Stan.

    Regardless of one’s personal feelings about the LGBT culture — and it is unfortunately a very charged issue — what I find fascinating is that Obama is articulating for a nation the inevitable expansion of human consciousness. Pressure forces expansion. Most often we’ll do anything we can to avoid letting the pressure build… and our culture provides a myriad of valves to release the build-up: drugs, alcohol, entertainment, sex, etc.

    But apply enough pressure and something has to give. So Obama — a man of stature and vision — allowed the pressure to build and then took appropriate action. That’s what a man or woman of substance has to do.

    So how does the nation respond? Some will rail against the expansion (inclusiveness) and lobby their beliefs against it. Inevitably this resistance will create more pressure. You cannot diminish the expansion of Life with a belief system entrenched in human thought… As much as some individuals vying for positions of leadership try to take us back to what they believe is a ‘better state of consciousness’, it can’t be done.

    Others will let the expansion fill their own consciousness and be accepting. I suspect that those in this group were already in the same attitude that Obama articulated. Expanding consciousness may be articulated through one person but it happens through a group of people open to the expansion.

    Consciousness has no option but to expand. The awakening process at play in this day is a testimony to that law. Good leaders quietly park themselves on that crest. Bold leaders articulate the vision of where that expansion is going.

    Welcome pressure. It allows expansion to occur. It’s the holding steady as the pressure builds that’s the trick.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Luke,

      Wonderful thoughts and I agree with everything–except the need for pressure. I’ve always focused on strategies that could bring along people to change rather than forcing them into it. I admit, that if I know how to do it with equality in marriage I would have remained in political science. Eventually, force may be needed, but I think it’s a later strategy rather than an earlier one to be used. For example, there’s isn’t anything (hardly anything) I disagree with in the health care reforms. The disaster was that it required people who were entrenched with certain values (many of the unfounded) to change what they believed too quickly. I think those who opposed any reforms (health care industry, drugs, Republications, etc.) understood this and as a result were able to capitalize on it by instilling fear among those who were destined to benefit the most.

      There seems to be predictability in how easily change is accepted. I found it with my clients as a speech language pathologist, as a hospice beside volunteer, in my work with elders, and yes, even with my own family. I hope your wonderful magazine for seniors, MainStreet is doing well.

      Take Care,

      • Luke Vorstermans


        By ‘pressure’ I don’t mean force which is in fact an attempt to create a false expansion. History is littered with that outplaying.

        But true pressure is how the laws of nature find expression. Water becomes steam. Buds become flowers. Volcanoes change the landscape. Birth happens. Our bodies continual change because of pressure.

        It is the ego of man that tries to emulate this force for self serving needs/wants. Then it is ‘force’ driven by a desired outcome.

        Obama is not forcing anything in this LGDT issue but allowing his consciousness to expand. Laws will try to force the issue one way or another but the expansion has already taken place.

        The greatest example of leadership is to change oneself — to be more inclusive, to draw a larger circle — and invite others in. A leader can’t force that (nor can laws).

        But the example puts a lot of pressure on the audience to follow suit.

      • Stan Goldberg

        High Luke.

        We’re on the same page.


  5. Barry Willdorf

    Discrimination on the basis of who you are is always wrong. Period. The state should not enable it. And no vote of the majority is justification for doing it. If the vote of the majority counted, there’d still be slavery in parts of the South.

    Marriage is a contract between adult human beings capable of giving free consent. The state recognizes it and gives the contracting parties some benefits. There are also some legal detriments. No one is telling any religious denomination to recognize any marriages or not to do so. But once we, as a state, afford married parties rights and privileges, then we must do so for all people who are capable of contracting.

    Yesterday, I heard a Baptist minister ask why doesn’t this mean we can now marry turtles, or an ice cream cone. When he finds an ice cream cone capable if giving free consent to a union with him, I’d tell him to go for it. I don’t think he’ll find a willing turtle though.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Barry,

      I’ve always thought that there should only be civil unions regardless of one wants to abide by religious formalities or not.Two separate documents, two separate formalities. One based on law, the other on preference. When Wendy and I were married more than 40 years ago, we received a very elegant document from the Rabbi who performed the service in which it stated what we should be doing as Jews. If we ever would have wanted to divorce, I doubt a judge would do anything but laugh if my attorney would bring it to him as a legal basis for anything. I’m finally getting clear headed enough to begin reading your novel, A Shot In the Arm. A terrific read!

      Take Care,

  6. Katharine Dupre

    It may be interesting to note that the Catholic church has several saints who were purported to be a committed gay couple. One has to wonder what has changed since they were made saints that the church no longer support these people. It seems rather hypocritical to say the least.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Amen Katharine! We often bend the world to meet our expectations of it rather than just LOOK. By the way, my novel is almost done.

      Take Care,

  7. Carol Cable

    BRAVO! I absolutely agree with your article and am so grateful you stood up and had the courage to write it. I wish you all the best and hope this opens up eyes of others.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Thank you Carol,

      As my mother would say, “from your lips to his ears.”

  8. Carmen A. Lee

    Stan, thank you for this thought-provoking article. You always give your articles a presence and a current-related importance. With President Obama supporting same-sex marriage there will lots of controversy on this “human right.”

    I applaud you on reaching into the real essence of who we should be in this life.

    Thank you!

  9. Jan Bergmans

    L’histoire se repete ? I hope not ;-)

    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks Carmen,

      I’ve found certain concepts become more meaningful if it includes actual experiences rather than “should statements,” as well meaning as they might be.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Jan,

      I hope this isn’t an example of it, but we have a tendency in this country for conveniently forgetting the past.

  10. Ronee Henson

    Thank you for this powerful, and very necessary article!

    • Stan Goldberg

      Thank you Ronee,

      I think often our blinders doesn’t allow us to see how our current actions will affect our future.

      Take Care,


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