In Rhode Island, Students, Educators and Allies Standing Up for “Hope”

Guestblogger Kevin Gallagher is an attorney in Providence, Rhode Island and a former public school teacher who taught in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a member of Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).

It’s one thing to believe in the power of collective action, but it’s another to see it at work. As I stood in the room with nearly 50 other current and former teachers, policymakers, and allies, I soon came to realize that the fight for marriage equality wasn’t just my fight – it was our fight, a fight for something bigger than any one person in that room.

As a nation, we are in the midst of a struggle for marriage equality. This year, the movement had some big wins, including the expansion of marriage rights to same-sex couples to now 13 states and D.C., and the Supreme Court’s decision rejecting Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, as unconstitutional.

I’m proud to say that among these victories was the enactment of marriage equality legislation in Rhode Island. This could not have been accomplished without the hard work and dedication of committed citizens – gay and straight – who demanded that their voice be heard. In true democratic fashion, Rhode Islanders from a variety of backgrounds committed to seek this change together. In February, while the legislation was stuck in the State Senate, I had the opportunity to co-host a house meeting with other current and former teachers compelled to speak out and take part in the movement on behalf of their family, friends, and most importantly, their students.

Marriage says “We are a family” in a way no other word does. These other members of Leadership for Educational Equity, or LEE, knew that their students had a right to know their families are supported and cherished. As a former teacher, it was always my goal to teach my students to love, respect and to see beyond themselves. Sharing in this collective belief, LEE members worked tirelessly to make sure their students knew that they, and their families, were equal in the eyes of the law.

One of the most compelling moments of the fight for marriage equality in Rhode Island was the testimony of 6th grader Matthew Lannon. Testifying before Rhode Island’s legislators, Matthew sought clarification on one simple idea – he wanted to know why his family had to return to the State House, year after year, to ask permission just to be treated like everyone else. In the end, Matthew challenged his elected representatives to “choose love” – and they did.

Thanks in large part to teachers and students alike, Rhode Island lived up to its simple, but powerful motto – “Hope” – and expanded the right to marry to all Rhode Islanders. I cannot help but be moved by the thought of all of the children, like Matthew, whose families were made whole by that vote. And I cannot be more proud to have stood, side-by-side, with LEE members in the fight to ensure that all families receive every protection the law will allow.

2 Replies to “In Rhode Island, Students, Educators and Allies Standing Up for “Hope””

  1. This post really shows how powerful education and schooling are. Learning is not just about lectures, group projects, and homework. It can extend to the parameters outside of school to encompass social issues, civil rights, and other non-academic lessons. It is really interesting to see how powerful teachers really are and how some of them effectively use their classroom time to make students aware of what is going on around them. Equality is not just one group’s fight. No matter how young or old a student is, it is important for them to be aware of these issues and how it affects them.

  2. The ability to think critically is crucial but you need to also have the courage to defend those conventions. This is the hallmark of any great educator. Those teachers in Rhode Island are demonstrating that as well-informed citizens they have a duty to speak-out and help others secure equality. The motivation for most is not personal gain but simply because it is the right thing to do. These teachers in RI weren’t all homosexual; they were a coalition of people that realized that this issue is much bigger than they are. They needed to do it for some of their students that have two moms or two dads and deserve the benefits associated with equality. This is not only powerful but profound and they are civic-minded role models in the truest sense. In my opinion, education and the acquisition of knowledge helps individuals to dispel prejudices and misconceptions that were passed down from prior generations, we are seeing that in real time. Old social norms are being replaced by new; marriage is being redefined in terms of love, not gender. It sends the message to all youth that when you can articulate a well formulated opinion based on fact, you can inspire social change.

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