The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is internally conflicted over gay rights and Proposition 8 according to the Empowering Spirits Foundation. Apparently the national SCLC leadership threatened to remove the Los Angeles chapter’s president (Rev. Eric P. Lee) because of his outspoken support of gay marriage. My first response was of course, SCLC…Southern…Christian. What should we expect? But it’s disheartening nonetheless.
The tension between “blacks and gays” (a linguistic construction that perpetuates the invisibility of gay blacks, not to mention the complete absence of the L, B, and T part of GLBT or of any other non-white queer in this struggle) has been part of the national discussion of Proposition 8 for a while now. This tension is particularly painful when the media cites various statistics around the country that show black people reject gay marriage at much higher percentages than do whites. And, of course, white conservatives gleefully exploit and propagate this rejection of justice by blacks.
The arguments in a nutshell revolve on the analogy between the black civil rights movement (was it only for blacks? Really?) and gay rights. Some people are resentful that the queer community implies that black = gay when they call gay rights “the new civil rights movement.” This resentment obviously comes in large part from a place of homophobia and heterosexism. As one black preacher puts it, the comparison is “insulting, offensive and racist. To compare civil rights with gay rights is to compare my skin with their sin.” Some black Christians claim that you can hide your sexual orientation, but you can’t hide your skin color, thereby implying that race trumps sexual orientation in the oppression game. (This type of statement leaves in place the deep silence about the ugly dynamics surrounding “passing,” either as white or as straight.)
The resentment toward gay civil rights also comes from a place of legitimate anger that black people still face overwhelming oppression, and that the civil rights movement has far from reached its goal of ending racial oppression. I understand this resentment and anger, but I reject the game that says one group of people’s rights come before another’s. White women played that game in the 19th century when it came to advancing white women’s rights over black men’s. It left an ugly mark on the “first wave” of feminism when the advocates of women’s rights, who fought so hard for ending slavery, turned to such a depressing reliance on white privilege when they expressed dismay that black men would receive the vote before white women. It was racist then, and it’s homophobic and heterosexist now.
I’m not going to rehearse here all the standard arguments that attempt to mobilize MLK on either side of the debate, or that discuss the way that large portions of the black clergy did not support MLK during the 60s, or that white conservatives used the very same arguments against blacks that homophobics of all races use against gays today.
No, today my agenda is just to be depressed. Utterly depressed. The Huffington Post has a post about the NAACP publicly supporting gay marriage. I’m grateful for this organization’s support, but the responses to it are virulent and sickening. They overwhelmingly play “my oppression is worse than yours”: White gays are racist toward blacks. Blacks are homophobic toward gays. White gays lay all the problems at the foot of blacks. White gay rights are a way to detract from the suffering of blacks. White gays do not speak up for the rights of people of color.
Here are some disheartening examples:
One post (WTF???): Who said you don’t deserve rights? You need to work for yours, just like everyone else. No piggybacking.
Another post: Black communities are under constant attack by way of the war on drugs even as white people are the ones using all the drugs. And all this has to take a back seat because sodomites want to get married?
Another: Oh please! Is this a merit award race for victimhood? That’s precisely why you don’t want the NAACP to support gay civil rights. It’ll mess with your black victimhood—and you don’t want to share that spotlight. How tragic. You and I both know that’s real deal here with your objections.
And another: I begin to regret all the blood and sweat and tears I, a white person, have invested in fighting for racial equality. I see all I did was help another group feel that they, too, can direct their bigotry toward another group of people being treated unequally and unjustly… How despicable that those who only recently were treated as second or third class citizens are so willing to relegate others who pay taxes, obey the law, serve their country and are otherwise good citizens, to discrimination. I will keep this in mind when next asked to support affirmative action and other programs.
Utterly Transphobic: When the gay community figures out how many letters it wishes to stop at after GLBTQI or how many plastic surgery procedures it wishes to define as changing a person from one sex into the other, then it can start mapping out how other organizations can participate in moving forward in their struggles. Until then.. the NAACP needs to get back to furthering its original mission.
One of the few sane voices: Also during the stonewall riots black panthers fought the police alongside drag queens, gays and lesbians of all stripes, butch lesbians, peace activists and homeless kids.
I seriously need a drink.