Civil rights need a modern-day MLK

Each year at this time, Eastern Michigan University and this publication pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. Today you’ll likely hear about his contribution to his fellow man, what it means for your life today and a host of other good messages we like to drape over Dr. King forty-four years after his death.

Iconic speeches, brave messages and noble causes, most of those are great things to celebrate about Dr. King. You don’t get a national holiday for nothing. But I like to think about Dr. King in the context of history.

We like to debate about what the true drivers of events are. Some say economics, class struggle, God, chance or great men.
Dr. King certainly falls into the last category, but there’s an argument to be made for some of the others.

Dr. King stood with many people, but he stood alone as well. Being the face of a struggle makes you a target. It also requires a certain level of courage in addition to the skills of persuasion, determination and grace.

I don’t think there would be as much equality in the United States today if Dr. King hadn’t stood up. He was a great man whose presence on the stage of history altered our trajectory forever. That’s a rare, but noble feat.

I’m not going to suggest that race relations are perfect in this country. But they are significantly better than they were when Dr. King walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The LGBT community needs that kind of leader today.

They’re a population under fire. In most states, gay marriage and gay adoption are illegal. In some cases, hospital visitation and other basic measures are restricted. We’ve come so far since the days of Dr. King in terms of equality, but in some cases, we’ve fallen embarrassingly short.

Attitudes about gay rights are improving with time. Therefore, change might be around the corner, but it’s still down the road a ways. One of the primary reasons the LGBT movement for equality hasn’t caught steam, aside from bigotry, is the community doesn’t have a great man or woman to lead them onto the National Mall.

They need a voice.

While we’ve seen some excellent messages coming from places like the It Gets Better campaign, the message is fractured and disjointed. Some people talk about bullying, some talk about marriage. There needs to be one message.

Sexual orientation should be no different from religion, gender or race in the eyes of the law. In fact, the fourteenth Amendment guarantees this protection — we’re just too scared to say so.

We need someone to say so. It won’t work if it’s just an empty gesture from a politician or an obvious validation from a
popular artist; it has to be someone like Dr. King. The LGBT movement needs a leader who isn’t afraid to lose friends and fans, or maybe even his or her life.

One leader. Someone with real courage who is willing to make equality their life’s work and who has the skill to debate the world’s Westboro Baptist Churches, and even the less evil people who think being gay is a choice or that it is something shameful.

I think the ideal candidate would be a well-educated professional athlete. Someone who can help repeal the stigma of being gay. The sports world is less comfortable with sexual orientation than the music or film industry and politicians aren’t the most trusted people in the world today.

A popular athlete, who happens to be gay, should come out of the closet and speak for those who are trying to be heard.
Great men drive history in many cases, and the LGBT community needs its great man in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. When the person comes who can unify the message and stare back into the eyes of hate without blinking, progress will truly be made.

So as we celebrate Dr. King today, let’s shift our focus to the next struggle for equality and call on someone to take the lead.

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