Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, marking a watershed moment in our country’s commitment to freedom and justice for all.
“This is a proud triumph,” President Johnson said before signing the bill. “Yet those who founded our country knew that freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.”
The law changed the everyday lives of people across the country. It secured the right to vote for millions who had been deprived of it unjustly. It desegregated schools. It banned racial discrimination in workplaces and in public accommodations.
The Civil Rights Act laid the groundwork for many other later changes our country needed in order to provide equality for the LGBT and other minority communities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 amended the employment non-discrimination title of the law to make sure that physical ability would not be a factor in hiring decisions. That same title has been used by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to rule that employment discrimination based on gender identity and trans* status is prohibited.
“We believe that all men are created equal,” President Johnson reminded us that day in 1964. “Yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights. We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings—not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin.”
President Johnson’s words ring as true today as they did 50 years ago and we must take up the work that previous generations have handed us. We must work to ensure that all students are safe in the hallways of their schools, regardless of their sexual orientation. We must work to ensure that everyone can share his or her true gender expression without fearing violence. And we must work to ensure that housing, secure employment and civil rights are safeguarded for every American.