Black/Gay Comparing Struggles

by HotSpots Staff

HotSpots! Magazine

Friday December 19, 2008

The unholy alliance of the radical right and some African-American clergy are once again attacking their favorite target, the gay community. Social conservatives of all races are banding together to express outrage at any mention of comparisons between the gay rights movement and the fight for black civil rights. Many whites and non-gay blacks have much to say on this topic, but the words of an African-American, gay man from twenty-eight years ago continues to provide the most clarity, authority and power: "Would you ask me how I'd dare compare the civil rights struggle with the struggle for lesbian and gay rights? I can compare, and I do compare them. I know what it means to be called a nigger. I know what it means to be called a faggot. And I can sum up the difference in one word: none."

While Melvin Boozer of Washington's Gay Activists Alliance delivered that stirring message to the Democratic National Convention in 1980, today's racially charged gay baiting keeps it relevant. Pitting the black and gay movements against each other is nothing knew, but the recent votes in California banning gay marriages, and in Florida banning both gay marriages and the "substantial equivalent," has given this strategy new energy.

Of course the black civil rights struggle and the more recent gay rights struggle are not the same, but both are movements designed to end discrimination. In a recent Associated Press article entitled "Is gay the new black? Marriage ban spurns debate," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, highlights the importance of gays learning from the history of the earlier movement: "We liken some of the experiences that we have had and will have to the (black) civil rights struggle. We also are enormously respectful of the differences. What we are best served doing is when we take lessons from the civil rights experience and apply them to our work."

Black & Christian Resentment

The Christian right hopes African-Americans look at the gay fight for equality as an affront to their struggle. Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition writes, "The homosexual hijacking of the civil rights movement is an insult to every person who fought against racism and segregation during the 1960’s." In a recent interview on "The View," former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee had this to say regarding the comparison of gay rights to black civil rights: "Here is the difference. Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama. John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma Bridge." Huckabee’s implication that gays are undeserving of rights because our skulls have not been cracked, is not only horrific, it shows his ignorance. Pastor Huckabee would benefit from viewing the film "Milk" and seeing the historical footage of police brutality towards patrons of gay bars in Miami and San Francisco.

Blacks and gays have suffered oppression in different ways, but it is an insult to all victims of discrimination to make it a competition. In his blog of December 1, 2005, gay, black political commentator Keith Boykin wrote of the futility of an oppression contest: "The point is it doesn’t matter which group is most oppressed or which was first oppressed or whether they are identically oppressed. What matters is that no group of people should be oppressed. But the more we focus on the hierarchy of difference, the less we focus on the actual oppression."

Some blacks resent comparisons of civil rights to gay rights because skin color, unlike sexual orientation, cannot be hidden. The ability for many of us to "pass" as straight or pretend to be heterosexual has been both a blessing and a curse. While at times the closet has kept many of us safe, it has also kept us invisible to our families and until recently from creating a political movement to fight for equality and truth. But even with the ability to hide within the larger heterosexual society, hate crimes still disproportionately affect LGBT people and those perceived to be gay, and Hitler’s Germany still managed to find, imprison, and murder thousands of us.

Non-African-American gays have never been forced to be slaves in cotton fields, but LGBT people have been fired, disowned, institutionalized, bashed, blackmailed, murdered, driven to suicide, and driven out of communities in numbers we will never know. Gays of all races have had to deal with the enormous pain that comes from being rejected by family. No African-American family has ever turned their back on their child because they are black.

Although the alliance of white dominated right-wing organizations and some black clergy represents a formidable force pushing for a black/gay divide, our secret weapon is our membership within all communities. We are and have always been a part of the black community. Black gay people have sat at the back of the bus, have been hosed down by Bull Connor, and, in civil rights hero Bayard Rustin, have worked with Martin Luther King to organize the 1963 March on Washington.

As long as we continue to be honest and open about our lives, the divisive tactics used by some black clergy and right-wing Christian groups will ultimately fail. The fear they promote will never triumph over images of an African-American parent, like Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, beaming with pride as he embraces his lesbian daughter.

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