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How the Streets of London Helped Me Deal With SCOTUS This Week

Posted on July 3, 2023
Dean Diez Roux at pride event

By Dean Ana V. Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH

Last week’s two U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions rejecting race-conscious admissions at universities and limiting LGBTQ protections, although not unexpected, were demoralizing and saddening to many of us. Together with the decision ending the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S. last year, these SCOTUS decisions represent a threat to core public health values of diversity and inclusion, redressing historical harms resulting from racism, and protecting the rights of all, including a woman’s right to control her own body.

I found some comfort in the words of Justices Jackson and Sotomayor, who captured the dismay that many of us feel and the full potential impact of these decisions. In reference to the affirmative action ruling Jackson said, “Given the lengthy history of state-sponsored race-based preferences in America, to say that anyone is now victimized if a college considers whether that legacy of discrimination has unequally advantaged its applicants fails to acknowledge the well-documented ‘intergenerational transmission of inequality’ that still plagues our citizenry.” Sotomayor noted that, “The majority’s vision of race neutrality will entrench racial segregation in higher education because racial inequality will persist so long as it is ignored.” She also referred to Friday, the day of the LGBTQ decision, as a “sad day in American constitutional law and the lives of LGBT people,” and that the “decision itself inflicts a kind of stigmatic harm, on top of any harm caused by denials of service.”

Both decisions could have important implications beyond the specific cases in question. Intended or not, the affirmative action ruling could affect other efforts to support higher education for groups that have been historically excluded from higher education as a result of racism and inequality including targeted scholarships and recruitment events or other programming. The LGBTQ ruling could also have broader impacts as Sotomayor noted when she said that the decision “threatens [..] to allow the exclusion of other groups from many services.”

Most importantly, we must recognize that these SCOTUS decisions affect all of us, whatever our race, whatever our gender identity or sexual orientation because of what they imply about what we as a society can or cannot do to promote the inclusion of everyone, protect everyone’s rights, and redress past harms. We cannot let these rulings discourage us, history shows that social movements can overcome setbacks, and often once started cannot be stopped. We need to envision new ways to continue to do what is right. Universities and other social activists must hold their ground, strenuously defend the values of diversity, inclusion, human rights and social justice, and vehemently prevent self-censorship or scale back on efforts to achieve their goals.

While in London visiting our niece, we went to London’s Gay Pride celebration on Saturday. The streets overflowed with people of all colors, races, ages and genders, all celebrating who they are, with joy and determination, in ways that would not have been possible when I was growing up. Despite the huge crowds, the intermittent rain, and the fact that we could hardly see the parade from where we were (only flags and signs bobbing up and down, and a red bus every now and then...) we felt one with it, we felt buoyed by everyone around us. There have of course been huge obstacles thrown in the path of the social movement towards equality, inclusion and social justice, and there will be many more. But the sheer joy, ebullience and yes, utter fearlessness of the Gay Pride city-wide celebration gave me hope for what is still possible.