In high schools on Tuesday educators may discuss Memorial Day. Who knows why we didn’t have school yesterday? And some students will know that on Memorial Day we honor the people who have died protecting the freedom of the United States. If teachers invite students to do a little digging, they will learn that in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. Why always a Monday? In order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees.
A three-day weekend for federal employees sounds like a great idea.
Yet last week, the House of Representatives voted against a routine spending bill—which they sponsored—because of an amendment that would protect LGBT employees from discrimination by federal contractors. “In turning against a far-reaching funding bill simply because it affirms protections for LGBT Americans, Republicans have once again lain bare the depths of their bigotry,” said Nancy Pelosi.
Two weeks ago this same congress confirmed the appointment of Eric Fanning, the first openly gay man to become secretary of the Army. Just five years ago, openly gay people were barred from serving in the armed forces. According to those covering the story, during Mr. Fanning’s lengthy confirmation process, “his sexual orientation was simply not an issue.” Politicians appointed a leader of the Army based on skills and merit, not based on whom he loves. On this Memorial Day, that milestone is worth celebrating.
The adolescent brain is increasingly able to hold and examine paradox. How should we help our students think about this fundamental contradiction: soldiers in the Army, led by a gay man, fight to protect the rights of all Americans. At the same time, Congress refuses to pass a bill that includes protection from employment discrimination for gay people. On the day after Memorial Day, that’s a paradox worth contemplating.