Trailblazers have an ethical obligation when they presume to break a social or occupational barrier to a marginalized group’s participation and equal treatment. Simply put, their duty is to make the bias that has created the barrier and necessitated the “trail” look ignorant, cruel, foolish and unfair. A trailblazer does not have to be a shining star, though it helps, but must be capable of at least doing a solid, average, generally acceptable job., even in the grudging judgment of bigots.
This is because a trailblazer who does a poor job or displays character traits that are objectively inadequate for a role model, which a trailblazer inevitably becomes, risks adding to the barrier he or she just breached for those who follow behind them. The ethical requirement for trailblazers is the same as the traditional edict for doctors “First do no harm.” Being a trailblazer, however, is not easy, and since failure is catastrophic for the group a trailblazer represents, there is a duty not to attempt such a high-risk, high-profile cultural role unless the trailblazer is first, reasonably convinced that he or she the resources of talent, ability, fortitude, character and courage to succeed, and second, willing to accept and overcome the added stress of relentless attention and criticism.
There have been excellent trailblazers, cultural heroes all. Jackie Robinson, the first black Major League baseball player to break the color barrier is the template, but there are many other successes: Justice Thurgood Marshall, John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic President of the U.S., Amelia Earhart, Diane Crump, the first female jockey, the late Ed Brooke, the first black U.S. Senator since reconstruction, and too many more to mention. There have also been some miserable failures. The worst trailblazer was probably Shannon Faulkner, who fought in the courts for two years to force The Citadel to accept female cadets, then, after she was victorious, showed up fat and unprepared, and washed out in just one week as millions of dubious vets said, “See? What did we tell you?” Then there was Carol Moseley Braun, the charismatic, promising African-American Democrat whon Illinois voters elected as the nation’s first black female Senator, only to turn out to be thoroughly corrupt.
More recently, we have seen other trailblazers fall short, like Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL. Is there a celebrity gay marriage that has not ended in a quick divorce? Most have been failures, reinforcing the belief that gays are promiscuous and unsuited for a real marriage. Most vividly of all in the realm of trailblazer malpractice, we are reminded of the disheartening and tragic examples of Barack Obama, and Eric Holder every day.
Still, in the annals of epic trailblazer fiascoes, it would be hard to top the story of Stacie Laughton, New Hampshire’s first openly transgender state legislator, who was elected in 2012 as one of three House members for Ward 4 in Nashua. Continue reading