Editorial: In honor of Chuck Williams’ legacy, we must fight for LGBTQ+ rights
April 23, 2023 8:45 p.m.
Editor’s note: Editorials do not represent the views of the Daily Bruin as a whole. The board encourages readers to respond to our editorials at dailybruin.com/submit.
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law announced that its namesake and founder, Chuck Williams, died April 12 at the age of 88.
After earning two degrees from UCLA, Williams made his wealth as an executive at the aerospace and defense firm Sperry Corporation and through his consulting practice. He was particularly noted for his philanthropy, donating over $20 million to the Williams Institute since its inception.
The institute, known for its in-depth research on LGBTQ+ legal and political issues, was originally founded as the Williams Project in 2001 with a donation of $2.5 million from Williams and merged with the Institute of Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies in 2006.
It has had a particularly influential role in the major legal victories that have enshrined LGBTQ+ rights nationally. Its work has included filing briefs in landmark cases such as Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state “sodomy laws” that criminalized homosexual sexual activity between consenting adults. The institute has also sent experts to testify in front of Congress on controversial federal policies such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which banned LGBTQ+ people from serving in the armed services.
In the majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Anthony Kennedy specifically highlighted Williams Institute reports as a deciding factor in the decision, which established marriage equality nationwide.
While legal institutions have frequently been behind when it comes to addressing the grassroots cultural and political shifts of the past 20 years that have made the advances of the LGBTQ+ community possible, the Williams Institute has represented a critical exception, helping to shape a more progressive future within a system designed to allow only gradual change.
Alongside the UCLA community, the editorial board honors Williams’ work and legacy, which have taken on new significance in light of the unprecedented right-wing campaign to erode hard-earned rights for LGBTQ+ people across the country.
In recent months, many prominent right-wing figures have embraced violent and openly genocidal rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community, especially against transgender people.
This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, for instance, saw political commentator Michael Knowles call for transgenderism to be eliminated from public life. Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has said he would totally ban gender-affirming care nationally should he be reelected in 2024.
These threats, made openly by some of the most influential voices of the American conservative movement, are not empty and have been accompanied by a right-wing legal crusade against the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, over 460 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, far exceeding previous years.
While some of these bills have died in committee or failed to pass in assembly votes, many others have either become law or remain in the legislative process but have strong chances of passing in Republican-controlled state governments.
Gender-affirming care, allowing transgender people to use bathrooms and other gendered spaces that conform with their gender identities, and even the discussion of non-cis and non-straight identities in classrooms have been banned by states across the country.
Even in the nominally more progressive spaces of higher education, it is clear that systemic anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination remains prevalent.
A recent report from the Williams Institute highlighted the clear disparities that LGBTQ+ students of color face nationally.
According to the report, almost 15% of LGBTQ+ students of color attending U.S. universities reported that they faced barriers to academic or professional success because of their gender or sexuality, and over a quarter reported that they experienced bullying, harassment or assault – nearly twice as much as non-LGBTQ+ respondents of color.
About 34% of LGBTQ+ people of all races reported negative mental health outcomes while attending four-year colleges, over triple the percentage of non-LGBTQ+ respondents.
It’s an undeniable fact: LGBTQ+ individuals in the U.S. are under attack.
To honor Williams’ legacy, it is important now, more than ever, to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights.