The “civil rights revolution” fought in the middle of the 20th century was a battle for the hearts and minds of the American public, as well as a political and legal campaign. The new medium of television brought pivotal events into America’s living room—everything from the soaring words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Bull Connor’s use of fire hoses and police dogs to suppress protests in Birmingham, Alabama. The NAACP and other civil rights groups filed lawsuits challenging segregation, but the ultimate victory came legislatively—as a result of a transformation of Americans’ attitudes regarding race, following a painful, candid public dialogue about freedom and equality.
In contrast to this model, the current movement to confer radical legal rights upon transgender prisoners is being waged clandestinely—without political consensus—relying primarily on federal court litigation brought by a network of well-organized special interest groups.