TIME faith

Nashville Evangelical Church Comes Out for Marriage Equality

"Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community?" says pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church. "I don’t think I can do that."

Three Sundays ago in Franklin, Tenn., twenty minutes south of Nashville and in the heart of the country’s contemporary Christian music industry, pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church preached what was perhaps the most important sermon of his life. You can watch it above–start around 44:40 if you are short on time.

For the past three years, GracePointe has engaged itself in a time of listening on the topic of sexual orientation and identity. It began around the time that the country star Carrie Underwood, who goes to GracePointe, spoke out in favor of marriage equality in 2012, and the Westboro Baptist picketers showed up the church.

That was a time when, as Mitchell, 46, explains, the position of the church on marriage was classically evangelical. People who were not heterosexual could be members, but they could not serve on the board, lead worship or other church groups. They could be baptized and receive communion, but they could not be married or have their children dedicated.

For congregants on all sides of the debate, the conversation over the past three years has been at times painful, even devastating. For Mitchell, it has been a deeply personal as well as a spiritual journey, especially as he has seen it divide friends and family. And on Sunday, Jan. 11, the church reached a conclusion, as Mitchell shared:

“Our position that these siblings of ours, other than heterosexual, our position that these our siblings cannot have the full privileges of membership, but only partial membership, has changed,” he said, as many in the congregation stood to their feet in applause, and other sat in silence. “Full privileges are extended now to you with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness. That is expected of all. Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage.”

With those words, GracePointe became one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to openly stand for full equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ community, along with EastLake Community Church near Seattle. The results of the conversation, he told his congregation, were not unanimous or exhaustive, but they were sufficient.

“I implore you, whether you ever worship here again, or whether you come back next week happier than you’ve ever been, when all else fails, and love never fails, you are mine and I am yours, and inclusion means that we can live together in agreement and disagreement,” he said. “But if this stretches you to the point of having to compromise your soul, and you do need to separate, I would be a hypocrite to say I do not understand that, because conversely, my soul has been stretched to the point that if I do not say what I say today, I cannot be here any longer.”

The way that Mitchell explains the shift is almost as significant as the move itself. Marriage equality was not the starting point of his sermon. For 45 minutes, the pastor explored a story from the gospel of Luke when, after Jesus’ death, two of his disciples are traveling on the road to Emmaus and meet a resurrected Jesus, but do not realize it is him. The disciples then tell Jesus the story of Jesus’ own crucifixion. Jesus responds by telling them the entire Scriptures, but even then they still don’t realize who he is. The story climaxes when the disciples finally have a moment of Epiphany, a term for divine revelation, when they are breaking bread with Jesus.

Mitchell used this story in his sermon to point out that faithful people can know Scripture deeply, and even be staring at Jesus, and still not understand what the word of God is saying. “Even the presence of God and a Bible in your lap doesn’t give an epiphany,” he told his congregation. “You do not look full in the face of Jesus when you are reading the text or looking at the sunrise, but if though the sunrise and through the text you are compelled to read and look up, see and look up, … if you don’t look up, even Jesus can read the Bible to you and you won’t see him.”

This passage from Luke is not the typical Biblical text that evangelicals use when talking about understanding sexuality. Usually the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality, not the gospel stories of Jesus himself, are the trump card. But Mitchell’s is a Biblical argument, one that seeks to take seriously the meaning of Jesus’ message and understand it as a living, dynamic way.

Evangelical opponents of marriage equality don’t see it this way. After TIME published a feature on the national scope of this evangelical shift, some opponents claimed that evangelicals who are now openly welcoming to LGBTQ congregants no longer uphold the Bible’s teachings. The Family Research Council’s vice president Rob Schwarzwalder wrote, “Those professed Evangelicals who are willing to jettison the Bible’s teaching regarding homosexuality can no longer claim to be persons of the Gospel–Evangelicals.” Boyce College Biblical Studies professor Denny Burk blogged, “Can they in any meaningful sense be considered bellwethers for a movement defined by convictions that they have largely abandoned? I don’t think so.”

But churches that are shifting, like GracePointe and EastLake, are not only retaining their faith, they are also using their very evangelical roots to come to these new decisions. There are four hallmarks of evangelicalism, according to the historian David Bebbington–Biblicism, a high view of Scriptural authority; crucicentrism, a focus on the sacrifice of Jesus; activism, living out this gospel message; and conversionism, transforming their own lives.

Mitchell’s sermon pays tribute to all four of these, especially in his very high view of Scripture. It’s clear that GracePointe’s shift rests on study of and belief in the Bible. Mitchell’s interpretive methods rely heavily on textual analysis and even ancient word translation, two traditional elements of evangelical preaching. It may be a different reading of Scripture than evangelicals like Burk or Schwarzwalder or even Southern Baptists like Russell Moore use to shape their ethical outlook, but its evangelical core is hard to ignore. “Who has the copyright on the word evangelical?” Mitchell tells TIME. “I didn’t know there was a papacy on this.”

GracePointe’s move is not without concrete consequences. January giving usually is about $100,000–so far this month the church has brought in an estimated $52,000. When GracePointe began the listening process in 2012, Sunday attendance averaged 800-1000. The Sunday he preached the inclusion sermon, attendance was 673, and two weeks later, it was down to 482. “It’s a gut punch,” Mitchell says. “I know a year from now, I’m going to feel a whole lot better, but right now it is just hard.”

For now, spiritual and Biblical convictions are pushing GracePointe and its pastor forward. Pastors are coming to him quietly and undercover from all over town, he says, to talk with him about how to have this conversion in their own evangelical churches. And, while a three-year conversation is ending, another one is just beginning. “Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community?” Mitchell asks. “I don’t think I can do that. We are on the front edge of a movement that means so much.”

Read next: How Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage

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TIME faith

Mormon Church Supports LGBT Protections in Shift

Faithful Attend Mormon General Conference In Salt Lake City
The Salt Lake Temple is seen during the 184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Oct. 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. George Frey—Getty Images

Looks to support legislation while also protecting religious freedom in major policy announcement

The Mormon church is revving up its efforts to protect both religious freedom and LGBT rights in the United States.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Tuesday that it would support legislation to provide LGBT protections in housing, employment and other policy areas, as long as it also protects religious freedom. The move is a proactive step on the part of the Church to address the growing polarization and competing interests between religious freedom advocates and LGBT advocates.

It is unusual for Church leaders to make so public a statement, especially with so strong a lineup of speakers. Three members of the leadership group The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at Tuesday’s news conference—Elders Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland, and D. Todd Christofferson—as well as Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Church’s Young Women general presidency.

“This nation is engaged in a great debate about marriage, family, individual conscience and collective rights and the place of religious freedom in our society,” Marriott said. “The debate we speak of today is about how to affirm rights for some without taking away from the rights of others.”

While the announcement is rare, it is not surprising. Mormon leaders have had dozens of conversations over the past few years on this topic, according to a Church spokesperson—with LGBT advocates, government officials, and other religious leaders. Those conversations have continued since 2009, when the Church came out in favor of Salt Lake City ordinances that aimed to protect LGBT residents from housing and employment discrimination.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as the Utah Legislature is considering competing bills on this very divide. One measure would bar housing and employment discrimination against LGBT people in Utah. The other would protect an individual’s right to deny services, including performing marriages, based on religious beliefs. Legislatures around the country are also beginning new sessions, and religious freedom bills have been cropping up across the country, from Michigan to Texas to North Carolina.

Looming over the entire debate is the reality that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear landmark marriage equality cases in April, to be decided upon in June. Marriage was not on the table in the Church’s announcement Tuesday—and no church doctrine or teaching is changing—but the move instead signals a new strategy amid the heated national debate over when religious freedom becomes the right to discriminate, especially in matters of human sexuality.

The big question for many religious conservatives is where that line will be drawn, and ensuring that they can continue to practice their religious convictions as laws to protect LGBT rights expand. The practicalities of that debate are on Mormon leaders’ minds.

“For example, a Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so, especially when others are readily available to perform that function,” Elder Holland said. “As another example, a neighborhood Catholic pharmacist, who declines to carry the ‘morning after’ pill when large pharmacy chains readily offer that item, should likewise not be pressured into violating his or her conscience by bullying or boycotting.”

Ensuring such religious freedom protections in the midst of increasing laws to protect LGBT rights is a growing concern not just for the LDS Church, but for many other Christian communities. It is prompting increased collaboration between Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons to stand for religious freedom. Last week, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who is hosting Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families in September, spoke about the urgency of this new partnership at Brigham Young University. “The differences in our doctrine and practice are obvious,” Chaput said. “But that doesn’t preclude friendship. … And it doesn’t obscure the fact that we face many of the same problems and share many of the same convictions about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life and the urgency of religious freedom.”

Accommodating the rights of all citizens, the Mormon leaders said, means taking seriously the rights of religious minorities. In the United States, less than 2% of the population is Mormon, according to the Pew Research Center.

“When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser,” Oaks said. “Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender. … It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.”

TIME Civil Rights

The Atlanta World of Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King Addresses Meeting
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a protest meeting in Atlanta in 1957 Robert W. Kelley—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

Growing up, King’s middle-class background offered some insulation from brutalities of the Jim Crow system — but there were no guarantees

The Auburn Avenue neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in January 1929 was both a spatial and human embodiment of Atlanta’s paradoxical reputation for both strict racial segregation and black economic success. Noted journalist and renowned apostle of the “New South,” Henry W. Grady, may have strained the credulity of his New York audience in 1886 when he insisted that he bore no resentment toward his beloved Atlanta’s arch-nemesis, General William Tecumseh Sherman, but Grady’s claim that “from the ashes he left us … we have raised a brave and beautiful city” was more than the idle boast of a shameless booster. Atlanta’s speedily restored railroad connections and postbellum emergence as the Southeast’s principal trade and transportation hub all but assured its magnetic allure. By 1900 it was home to 90,000 people, more than a third of whom were black. A bloody race riot in 1906 left at least a dozen and quite likely more black Atlantans dead, yet — with the city’s “Forward Atlanta,” crusade for economic growth proceeding apace — the city’s black population nonetheless continued to swell. It stood at 90,000 by the time King was born into a well-established black middle class of merchants, lawyers, educators (the city boasted six private black colleges well before 1900) and ministers, concentrated in the city’s West Side on and around Auburn Avenue, which a prominent resident once called “the richest Negro street in the world.”

If Atlanta had established a reputation as a relative mecca of upward mobility for black Georgians looking to better themselves materially, it had proved no less a font of opportunity for those of a more spiritual bent, including the infant King’s father and maternal grandfather, both of whom had been born into sharecropping families in nearby rural counties. Martin (né Michael) Luther King Sr. had arrived in Atlanta as an aspiring, though scarcely literate, young minister in 1918. His determined efforts to improve himself and his circumstances did not suffer in the least from his fortuitous marriage to Alberta Williams, whose own father’s meager rural origins had not prevented him from building his small congregation into the powerful Ebenezer Baptist Church, where, upon his death in 1931, he would be succeeded in the pulpit by his son-in-law. Growing up, the younger Martin’s solidly middle-class background offered some insulation from brutalities of the Jim Crow system, but there were no guarantees. Scarcely a year after King was born, Dennis Hubert, a sophomore at Morehouse College and also the son of a prominent black minister, was brutally murdered for allegedly insulting two young white women. For all this atrocity said about the limitations of middle-class standing for the city’s blacks, the young man’s white killers were arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison, an outcome highly unlikely, to say the least, in any rural county anywhere in the state at that point.

It was not surprising that a historian of that era found Atlanta “quite evidently not proud of Georgia” or that, across the state, all but a very few whites heartily reciprocated the sentiment. Indeed, this was the primary reason that Georgia’s overwhelming rural legislative majority had taken formal action in 1917 to quarantine the capital city’s insidious racial and political moderation. This was accomplished through the brazenly anti-urban artifice of the “county-unit” electoral system, which effectively guaranteed that the preferences of voters in Atlanta, population 270,000 in 1930, could be neutralized completely by those of voters in the state’s three smallest counties, which had a combined population of scarcely 10,000.

This was a situation tailor-made for a rustic, race-baiting demagogue like Eugene Talmadge. Peppering his speeches with the N word, stonewalling efforts to improve the schools, and reveling in the impotent rebukes of “them lying Atlanta newspapers,” Talmadge claimed the governorship for the first of four times in 1932.

For all he might have done to impede progress across the state as a whole, however, Talmadge’s impact on Atlanta itself was notably less severe. Despite the economic reversals of the Great Depression, the infusions of cash from a variety of New Deal programs had already paid off for Atlantans by the end of the 1930s, with a greatly expanded and modernized infrastructure and dramatic improvement in schools, hospitals and other public institutions. The overpowering urge to show the world that Atlanta was back and better than ever was more than apparent in December 1939 when the film version of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind premiered at the Loew’s Grand Theater. In keeping with the city’s now well-known penchant for self-promotion, PR-savvy Mayor William B. Hartsfield spared no exertion to assure a glittery Hollywood presence for the event including, of course, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and the film’s other white actors. Fearing repercussions from local whites, however, he extended no such hospitality to Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen or other black cast members. In the end, the only black participants of note in the entire affair were the members of the choir at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, including the son of its pastor. Just shy of his 10th birthday, Martin King sang along as, in keeping with the film’s blatant racial stereotyping, the group, dressed as slaves, performed spirituals for an all-white audience at a Junior League charity gala.

King and Hartsfield would cross paths frequently in the years to come. Under Hartsfield’s leadership, Atlanta would leave a racially fraught Birmingham, Ala., in its dust as it rode the crest of World War II economic expansion to undisputed pre-eminence as the South’s most dynamic city. Steadily changing with the times, the popular and uber-connected Hartsfield would draw on his gift for orchestration again and again as he presided over the desegregation of downtown businesses and the city’s tiny but notably uneventful first steps toward integrating its public schools. Meanwhile, returned to share Ebenezer’s bully pulpit with his father, the younger Rev. King began to cast doubt on the mayor’s vaunted claim that his city was “too busy to hate” by consistently pushing the envelope of social change further and faster than Hartsfield had envisioned. Though Atlanta had provided a unique environment in which King could become the man he was, the city still had a ways to go.

Atlanta had found its breezy, boosterist persona in the artful and charming Hartsfield. It would be slower, however, to acknowledge its conscience — the 1964 Nobel laureate who, the day after returning from Oslo amid global acclaim, forfeited the acclaim of the local business establishment by venturing scarcely two blocks from his church to join workers picketing for better wages at the city’s Scripto Pen Company. Ironically, but surely fittingly as well, some 30 years later, the plant’s remains would be bulldozed in order to provide parking for visitors to the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District.

James C. Cobb is Spalding Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Georgia and a former president of the Southern Historical Association.

TIME Family

How to Talk to Your Kids About Martin Luther King Any Day of the Year

Dr. King Addresses Meeting
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a protest meeting in Atlanta in 1957 Robert W. Kelley—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

If he hadn’t been assassinated in Memphis in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. might have lived to be 86 this year. And despite the victories of the movement King led, the issues of justice and peace he fought for are still with us. Apart from watching the film Selma—which as Tina Fey joked “is about the American civil rights movement that totally worked and now everything’s fine”—what are some concrete ways to talk with kids about King and his legacy, not just on Martin Luther King Day, but in ongoing conversations?

Clayborne Carson, founding director of the King Institute, professor of history at Stanford University, and author of Martin’s Dream, suggests parents look at King’s childhood. The civil rights leader clearly describes the injustice he suffered in his autobiography: “For a long, long time I could not go swimming, until there was Negro YMCA. A Negro child in Atlanta could not go to any public park. I could not go to the so-called white schools. In many of the stores downtown, I couldn’t go to a lunch counter to buy a hamburger or a cup of coffee. … I remember seeing the Klan actually beat a Negro. I had passed spots where Negroes had been savagely lynched. All these things did something to my growing personality.”

King also recalls how his mother talked about these issues with him: “She taught me that I should feel a sense of “somebodiness” but that on the other hand I had to go out and face a system that stared me in the face every day saying you are “less than,” you are “not equal to.” … Then she said the words that almost every Negro hears before he can yet understand the injustice that makes them necessary: ‘You are as good as anyone.’”

Andrea McEvoy Spero, director of education at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute at Stanford University, suggests that parents can talk their own elementary age kids through the same issues by starting with a basic discussion of what’s fair and unfair, and what it means to be part of a community, with questions like, “What does it feel like to be excluded? What can I do to help other people feel included?”

By middle school, McEvoy Spero says, kids can wrestle with King’s statement that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” And parents can help kids answer that question not just by asking their kids, but by asking themselves, what they are doing for others. “Our young people are watching us,” she says.

In high school, kids are ready to “get into the complexity,” McEvoy Spero says: how to fight like King did to defeat the three interrelated evils of war, racism, and poverty. Older kids can start asking not just what they can do to help, but what they can do to create change. And they’re old enough to turn to King’s writings, like “The Drum Major Instinct,” or the famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

At any age, it’s important to help students remember that King wasn’t a legend, but a person, just like them. “If you put someone on a pedestal, they you can’t really be like them,” Carson says. “But if you realize that he was a human being just like the rest of us, who was caught up in a great movement and did extraordinary things, then people begin to understand that they can do extraordinary things, too.”

TIME Civil Rights

Selma Cast Marches in Alabama Ahead of MLK Day

Oprah Winfrey, director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, and the rapper Common all attended

Oprah Winfrey and fellow actors from the movie Selma marched with hundreds Sunday ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, recalling one of the bloodiest chapters of the civil rights struggle. Their steps in tribute to King in Alabama came as key black members of Congress elsewhere invoked recent police shootings of young black men as evidence that reforms are needed to ensure equal justice for all.

Winfrey, a producer of Selma who also had a part in the film, joined in marching along with director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed King in the movie, and the rapper Common, who also had an acting role. They and others marched from Selma City Hall to the city’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights protesters were beaten and tear-gassed by officers in 1965.

“Every single person who was on that bridge is a hero,” Winfrey told the marchers before they walked up the bridge as the sun went down over the Alabama River. Common and John Legend performed their Oscar-nominated song “Glory” from the film as marchers crested the top of the bridge amid the setting sun.

Winfrey said the marchers remember “Martin Luther King as an idea, Selma as an idea and what can happen with strategy, with discipline and with love.” Winfrey played the civil rights activist Annie Lee Cooper in the movie, which was nominated for two Oscars, in categories of best picture and best original song.

Selma chronicled the campaign leading up to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the subsequent passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Law enforcement officers used clubs and tear gas on March 7, 1965 — “Bloody Sunday” — to rout marchers intent on walking some 50 miles to Montgomery, the Alabama capital, to seek the right for blacks to register to vote. A new march, led by King, started on March 21 of that year and arrived in Montgomery days later with the crowd swelling to about 25,000.

Today, the Selma bridge and adjoining downtown business district look much as they did in 1965, though many storefronts are empty and government buildings are occupied largely by African-American officials who are beneficiaries of the Voting Rights Act.

Lisa Stevens brought her two children, ages 6 and 10, so they could walk the bridge that King walked. “I wanted to bring my children here so they can know their history and for them to participate in this walk,” said Stevens, who moved recently from New York to Greensboro, Alabama.

“It’s a part of their history and I think that they should know. Being that we’re in the South now I want them to understand everything that is going on around them,” she said.

McLinda Gilchrist, 63, said the movie should help a younger generation understand what life was like for those in the 1960s who sought to oppose discrimination. “They treated us worse than animals,” Gilchrist said of the treatment of the original marchers at the hands of white officers.

“It was terrifying,” recalled Lynda Blackmon Lowery, who still lives in Selma and was the youngest person to march there in 1965 as a teenager. Now a 64-year–old mother and grandmother, she spoke Sunday in New York of a harrowing experience of unarmed marchers going up against rifles, billy clubs and fierce dogs. She has since written a memoir, “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom.”

For Monday’s federal holiday, some were recalling King’s leadership in light of fatal police shootings that have recently shaken the U.S., including the death of an unarmed black teen last year in Ferguson, Missouri.

Eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Ferguson on Sunday as they invoked King’s legacy. They vowed to seek criminal justice reform.

“We need to be outraged when local law enforcement and the justice system repeatedly allow young, unarmed black men to encounter police and then wind up dead with no consequences,” the St. Louis Democrat said. “Not just in Ferguson, but over and over again across this country.”

Other King events planned Monday include a wreath-laying in Maryland, a tribute breakfast in Boston, Massachusetts, and volunteer service activities by churches and community groups in Illinois. In South Carolina, civil rights leaders readied for their biggest rally of the year.

King’s legacy also was being celebrated at the church he pastored in Atlanta. The current pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, said the annual King holiday is a time when “all of God’s children are busy spreading the message of freedom and justice.”

In the Sunday sermon, Professor James Cone of New York’s Union Theological Seminary urged Ebenezer’s congregation to celebrate the slain civil rights leader “by making a political and a religious commitment to complete his work of justice.”

Warnock closed the service by leading singing of the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

MONEY

275,000+ Free Tickets to Selma Available for Students

SELMA, from left: Colman Domingo, David Oyelowo, as Martin Luther King Jr., Andre Holland, Stephan James, 2014.
From left: Colman Domingo, David Oyelowo (as Martin Luther King, Jr.), Andre Holland and Stephan James in a scene from Selma. Atsushi Nishijima—Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

A "Selma for Students" campaign has raised enough money to allow hundreds of thousands of American middle and high school students to see the Martin Luther King, Jr., biopic Selma for free.

The critically acclaimed civil rights drama Selma may not have gotten quite the recognition some feel it deserved by the Academy of Motion Pictures, but a nationwide movement called “Selma for Students” is ensuring that the movie isn’t overlooked at theaters.

The program allows 7th, 8th, and 9th graders to receive free tickets to Selma at participating theaters around the country, including four apiece in cities like Baltimore, Nashville, and New Orleans, and at 11 movie houses in the San Francisco Bay area. The requirements differ slightly from city to city—some give free admission for high school students no matter what the grade—but in general, all you need to do to get a complimentary ticket is to show a student ID, report card, or some other proof of being a student at a participating theater’s box office.

As the Washington Post reported, the idea for “Selma for Students” was born in New York City, where African-American business leaders joined together in early January to create a fund allowing some 27,000 students in the city to view Selma for free. Roughly two dozen other cities have since joined the cause.

In St. Louis, for instance, local efforts are making it possible for some 6,250 teenagers to see the film for free. “It is important that St. Louis students are informed about this moment in history and its connections to the challenges they face today,” Reverend Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation, a partner in the “Selma for Students” campaign in the city, said via press release. “We believe this experience will nurture civic engagement among young people and give them hope that systemic change is possible through cooperative, intentional, and well-planned efforts.”

Altogether, it’s being estimated that more than 275,000 American students around the country will be able to get free admission to the movie, with most attending over the long Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend.

A limited number of tickets are being given away for each theater, and as of Friday afternoon several locations were already “sold out,” including all of New York City and Philadelphia, and all but a few of the participating Regal Cinemas around the country. All who watch the movie are encouraged to share images and responses on social media using the hashtag #SelmaforStudents.

TIME People

What Martin Luther King Jr. Was Like as a Child

Martin Luther King Jr
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking before crowd of 25,000 on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Ala. Stephen F. Somerstein—Getty Images

Remembering his youth on what would have been his birthday

First, he was named Michael. Though Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be observed in the United States on Jan. 19 this year, it was on Jan. 15, 1929, that Michael Luther King, Jr., was born. As TIME recounted in a 1957 profile of the Civil Rights leader, he was six when his father — a pastor in Atlanta — decided that the two should switch out their first names for Martin, in honor of Martin Luther, the priest who brought about the Protestant Reformation. His childhood home (a two-story yellow brick house, according to TIME’s profile) was a religious one, where the younger Martin would recite from the Bible at dinnertime.

The early article provides a rare glimpse at how the leader was discussed before he was known throughout the world.

And, even if he didn’t always want to be a minister, it’s clear that his childhood shaped the rest of his life:

From his earliest memory Martin King has had a strong aversion to violence in all its forms. The school bully walloped him; Martin did not fight back. His younger brother flailed away at him; Martin stood and took it. A white woman in a store slapped him, crying, “You’re the [n—-r] who stepped on my foot.” Martin said nothing. Cowardice? If so, it would come as a surprise to Montgomery, where Martin Luther King has unflinchingly faced the possibility of violent death for months.

The shabby, overcrowded Negro schools in Atlanta were no match for the keen, probing (“I like to get in over my head, then bother people with questions”) mind of Martin King; he leapfrogged through high school in two years, was ready at 15 for Atlanta‘s Morehouse College, one of the South’s Negro colleges. At Morehouse, King worked with the city’s Intercollegiate Council, an integrated group, and learned a valuable lesson. “I was ready to resent all the white race,” he says. “As I got to see more of white people, my resentment was softened, and a spirit of cooperation took its place. But I never felt like a spectator in the racial problem. I wanted to be involved in the very heart of it.”

As a kid, in the classic tradition of kids, Martin wanted to be a fireman. Then, hoping to treat man’s physical ills, he planned to become a doctor. Becoming more deeply engrossed in the problems of his race, he turned his hopes to the law because “I could see the part I could play in breaking down the legal barriers to Negroes.” At Morehouse, he came to final resolution. “I had been brought up in the church and knew about religion,” says King, “but I wondered whether it could serve as a vehicle to modern thinking. I wondered whether religion, with its emotionalism in Negro churches, could be intellectually respectable as well as emotionally satisfying.” He decided it could—and that he would become a minister.

Read the full article here, in the TIME Vault: Attack on the Conscience

TIME LGBT

Does Saks Have the Legal Right to Fire a Transgender Employee?

2014 Holiday Shopping Windows - Chicago, Illinois
Chris McKay—Getty Images

Leyth Jamal claims she was mistreated and lost her job because of gender identity

A former employee of Saks & Co. is taking the luxury retail store to court in Texas, claiming that she was discriminated against for being transgender.

Leyth Jamal says she was belittled by coworkers, forced to use the men’s room and repeatedly referred to by male pronouns (he and him) before ultimately being fired. The company responded in late December with a motion for the federal court to dismiss the case. In it, Saks’ lawyers don’t spend much time on any specific claims about mistreatment, instead arguing that transgender people simply aren’t protected by federal non-discrimination laws.

Legal experts who specialize in LGBT issues disagree. While there’s no federal law protecting transgender people from discrimination, courts and government agencies have taken the position that it is illegal, especially in recent years.

The Saks team declares it is “well settled” that transgender people are not protected under Title VII, the portion of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on sex. Opening their defense, they quote from a 7th circuit ruling that says sex discrimination is not synonymous with “discrimination based on an individual’s sexual identity disorder or discontent with the sex into which they were born.” But it’s important to note that this ruling was made in 1984.

“We’ve seen a real turnaround,” says Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Early cases from the ’70s and ’80s were negative … but starting about 10 years ago, there began to be a reversal of that.”

Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, says that if anything is “well settled,” it’s the fact that transgender people should be protected under Title VII. “The trend has been very, very strong in recent years,” she says of court decisions in cases involving transgender employees and students.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency in charge of enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination against job applicants or employees, takes a similar position on the matter. “We have claimed that to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity is the same as gender stereotyping and therefore is discrimination on the basis of sex,” says EEOC spokesperson Justine Lisser.

She traces their position back to a Supreme Court case from 1989. Ann Hopkins, a management consultant, was refused a partnership at accounting firm Price Waterhouse and told that in order to make the cut, she should “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear makeup and jewelry, have my hair styled.”

In the end, the case set a standard that making employment decisions based on gender stereotypes like that—expectations about how a man or woman should look or behave—amounts to sex discrimination. Turner argues that discrimination against a transgender person “is always related to the perception that they’re going against sex stereotypes.”

In 2012, the EEOC made a landmark decision in a case known as Macy v. Holder. According to the complaint, a transgender woman applied for a job with a federal agency while still presenting as a man. She was qualified for the position, had a successful interview and was told she had the job as long as no problems arose during her background check. During this time, the applicant alerted the agency that she would be transitioning from male to female, and a few days later she was told that funding had dried up and the job was no longer available. Then she found out that someone else had been hired instead.

The case led the EEOC to explicitly state that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. “To refuse to hire her because she was a man who had transitioned to a woman was equal to saying she didn’t meet some social norm,” says Lisser. The EEOC now has two lawsuits pending against private companies who allegedly discriminated against workers for being transgender, under the same interpretation of the law.

In December 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the entire Department of Justice would also be taking the position in litigation that Title VII protects people from discrimination based on their transgender status. “This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity,” Holder said. “And it reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

The announcement underscored just how quickly things are changing: Holder was the namesake in the Macy v. Holder case, because she had applied for a job with a bureau in the Department of Justice.

Still, the Saks’ case could go either way. Courts have ruled in conflicting ways on the issue, and despite Americans’ common belief that there is a federal law barring discrimination against LGBT people, no such statute exists. While 18 states have non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity (and three more cover just sexual orientation), Texas is not one of them. Consider same-sex marriage as a comparison: just because courts have been ruling in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, that doesn’t mean couples can get married in states where rulings on the issue are still pending.

“It is still not a settled question of law for the entire country and it won’t be settled until the Supreme Court addresses the issue,” says Minter. “There’s no way to secure certain and stable protections that can’t be undone except by states and the federal government enacting legislation.” In late 2014, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley announced that he would be proposing a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill in the spring, though its chances are slim in the Republican-controlled House or Senate.

Opponents of local or state-level non-discrimination bills that include gender identity often make the arguments that the specific protections are unnecessary, because legal precedents already protect transgender people and because so many corporations have their own non-discrimination policies in place.

However it shakes out, the Saks case is ammo for critics of those arguments. Despite billing itself as “inclusive to the LGBT community,” Saks’ lawyers are arguing that “employment handbooks are not contracts.” On Jan. 8, the Human Rights Campaign meanwhile suspended the company from their Corporate Equality Index, a ranking of LGBT-friendly workplace policies that Saks had scored high on in the past.

Jamal’s claims about the poor way she was treated, on top of her team’s legal arguments, will have to be tested in court. If the court rules against her, agreeing with Saks’ lawyers about Title VII, it may actually bolster politicians like Merkley who are trying to make such lawsuits moot by passing non-discrimination laws. “I just wanted to do my job,” Jamal has said, “but I was met with resistance at every step of the way.”

TIME Civil Rights

The North’s Shameful Refusal to Face Its Own Tangled Racial Past

Abraham A. Ribicoff
Then Governor of Connecticut Abraham A. Ribicoff speaking at the Democratic Convention in 1960 Howard Sochurek—The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett

What we should learn from Senator Abraham Ribicoff’s failed attempt

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

The Northeast has been a region at war with itself, pulled toward its higher ideals of democracy and equality yet bedeviled by racial segregation.

At some moments during the twentieth century, segregation and racism prevailed. At other times, movements for racial democracy carried the day. This presents a stark contrast with southern history, where the proponents of white supremacy strangled dissent and throttled almost every attempt to bring racial equality.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut illuminated all of these forces: northern racism, northern progress, and southern resistance.

This saga began in February 1970, when Ribicoff stood on the Senate floor and declared: “The North is guilty of monumental hypocrisy in its treatment of the black man.” Ribicoff’s speech came in response to an amendment proposed by Senator John Stennis of Mississippi, a longtime segregationist. The Stennis Amendment stipulated that school integration policies had to be uniform across the country. If the Senate wanted to pass a bill aimed at integrating southern schools, then northern cities would have to enact the same policies. Stennis hoped that if white northerners had to apply such policies to their own states, they would stop devising programs for school integration. Stennis had explained to his colleagues from the North: “If you have to integrate in your area, you will see what it means to us.” His amendment was a clever ruse.

Ribicoff saw an opening. By speaking in favor of the Stennis Amendment, he could give public expression to the segregation that plagued so many schools and neighborhoods above the Mason-Dixon line. He described the North’s thoroughly segregated landscape of cities and suburbs, and he denounced northern leaders for racial inequalities to deepen.

In the aftermath of Ribicoff’s speech, white southerners hailed him as a hero. Nothing warmed southern hearts more than the sight of a New England liberal who decried northern racism. Southern senators praised Ribicoff to the heavens. Dixie’s newspapers featured Ribicoff in editorials and political cartoons. A cartoon in the Richmond Times-Dispatch depicted a statue of Ribicoff on Richmond’s Monument Avenue – next to the statue of Robert E. Lee.

Yet there was one white southerner who did not join in the exaltation: the liberal journalist Robert Sherrill. In the pages of The Nation, Sherrill took the opportunity to skewer Ribicoff. And he pinpointed the vital racial differences between the North and the South. Sherrill acknowledged, “Everyone knows that the North has been no saintly station of racial benevolence…The North’s callousness toward Negroes … is long-standing.” Sherrill noted that white northerners “shoot Panthers, stuff blacks into slums,” and “flee integrated neighborhoods.” But those facts did not comprise the totality of the region’s racial practices. The North possessed other traditions. For instance, Northeastern states had passed fair employment laws and several cities had elected African American politicians. Relative to the South, “other sentiments do prevail in other regions and it is only these other sentiments in other regions – which the South calls hypocrisy – that have ever given the black man a chance in this country.” If the nation was ever to realize its dreams of democracy and freedom, it had to draw on the traditions of the North.

Many northern liberals also took Ribicoff to task. Jacob Javits jousted with his good friend on the Senate floor. Walter Mondale pointed out that the Senate had passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968, over the objections of southern senators. Indeed, during the 1960s, the nation had enacted landmark civil rights laws only because northern liberals stood strong in the face of the southerners’ filibusters. But in 1970, Ribicoff encouraged many northerners to stand with John Stennis. Ribicoff’s speech seemed to endanger efforts for integration, as it threatened to fracture the liberal bloc in the Senate. Thus the liberal Jew from New England was lionized in Virginia and scorned in New York.

One year later, Ribicoff put his money where his mouth was. He showed himself as no apologist for the South, but as someone deeply committed to desegregation. Ribicoff moved beyond mere rhetoric about northern hypocrisy. He channeled the region’s more noble traditions, and crafted a creative and forward-looking policy. In 1971, Ribicoff proposed a bill that would integrate every last urban and suburban school in America. The Urban Education Improvement Act left many of the details up to each locality. Ribicoff imagined that metropolitan areas might institute redistricting and busing, or build magnet schools and educational parks. His plan was grand, and it was to be implemented by 1983.

White southerners cried foul. Now that they were confronted with an actual integration plan – rather than just a speech exposing northern racism – they denounced Ribicoff. In turn, Ribicoff gained the support of many northerners who had previously eyed him with suspicion. His proposal suggested that northern liberals might not cede the future to John Stennis.

Yet many advocates for racial justice opposed the Urban Education Improvement Act of 1971. Leaders of the NAACP stood against the plan because they believed that 1983 was too long to wait for integration.

Ribicoff’s plan garnered mixed reactions from other northern senators. Southerners rose as one against it. The Senate defeated the bill easily in 1971, and again in 1972.

Ribicoff both laid bare the segregation that festered in northern cities and proposed a forceful plan to combat it. He exposed one powerful northern tradition: racial segregation. He also tried to revive the North’s other tradition – a commitment to racial equality. The two sides have coexisted in the Northeast, the progress together with the backlash. This is a messy history, and it can be difficult to assimilate. If we are to truly understand America’s racial history, we must reckon with the northern past – tangled and troubled as it is.

We can also recognize Ribicoff’s grand plan as one opportunity that the nation never seized. Our history is littered with roads not taken. The hope now is that Americans do not miss the opportunities presented in our own time. The moment for action is fleeting, and it can pass in the blink of an eye. Each protest in the streets presents us with a new opportunity to address the racial inequality that still shapes our society. Let us not look back, years from now, and remember this as a moment that we were too timid to seize.

Jason Sokol is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire and the author of “All Eyes Are Upon Us: Race and Politics from Boston to Brooklyn” (Basic Books)

TIME russia

Russia Won’t Let Transgender People Drive

Rainbow flag
Getty Images

Among other "disorders" listed in new decree on restricting licenses

A new Russian law supposedly aimed at curbing the country’s high rates of traffic accidents effectively bans transgender people from obtaining driver’s licenses.

An official decree published this week, after having been signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Dec. 29, provides a list of illnesses that disqualify people from operating motor vehicles and includes gender identity disorders.

The law published Thursday does not explicitly ban transgender people. Instead, it singles out those with “personality and behavior disorders” by referencing a section of the International Classification of Diseases, published by the World Health Organization, which includes gender identity and behavior disorders like “pathological” gambling and fetishism.

The decree drew quick condemnation from the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights. “The decision of Russian Government will cause the serious violations of human rights,” the organization said in a statement. “The decision demonstrates the prejudice against the groups of citizens.”

Russia has come under frequent scrutiny for its LGBT rights record, including its crackdown on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

—Simon Shuster contributed reporting from Berlin

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