A Remembrance for William Raspberry: Pioneering Journalist and Ally
July 18, 2012 by Deena Fidas, Director of the Workplace Equality Program
“What Are Gay-Bashers Afraid Of?” The headline in the Washington Post grabbed my attention. It was the fall of 1998, I was out, in high school and wondering the same thing.
The author of that and so many other newspaper columns died today, William Raspberry was 76.
Amidst jokes about LGBT people, hearing about my friends being harassed and bullied at area schools, I was a teenager wondering if any of the “adults” would stand up for us. Well that morning, it was William Raspberry’s frank assessment of violence and bullying that gave me hope. I’m sure I came across other articles and opinion pieces at the time, but this one stuck with me. I did not know the term “ally,” but I certainly got the concept – when someone who is not LGBT has a platform to promote fairness and justice for our community and interrupts the toxic flow of hate to say, “No, we should not stand for this.”
William Raspberry was one of the first African-American syndicated columnists and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists. Regarded as too right, too left and nearly everything in between depending on the issue, he always inspired discussion. Whether you agreed with him or not over his decades of columns on current events, you still could not help but hear the frank, compassionate voice of his words.
The piece he wrote came more than ten years before passage of the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. In addition to commentary on this horrific act of violence, he wrote the following about a young student named Alex McLendon who was “invited to withdraw” from the private Georgian Country Day School in Carrollton, Ga., for cross-dressing:
"Most members of [the] class -- including some of the boys -- wore bows in their hair as a token of protest, until the principal ordered them removed. Can it be that we are, in spite of ourselves, raising a generation of young people whose heads are on a little bit straighter than our own?”
It was that line that especially gave me hope. And the sense that, in addition to my generation, those closer in age to my parents could see change on the horizon. Courageous acts like the column he put forth when few of his peers spoke out in the same way certainly made a mark on me. Thank you, William Raspberry for asking that important question so many years ago.
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