When Christian fundamentalist groups that are actively involved in the opposition to marriage equality make statements like,"homosexuals [are] hijacking the Civil Rights Movement," it is a DELIBERATE attempt to exploit racism among white lesbians and gays, and heterosexism among African American heterosexuals (quote taken from OneMan_OneWoman's twitter page).Too many people, including but not limited to white folks, believe that African Americans are particularly/excessively homophobic. Dan Savage, a white middle class gay male journalist, was among the people who mobilized this racist belief (albeit, Savage did not think he was colluding in racism) when the California public's votes passed Proposition 8, or the 2008 California Marriage Protection Act, which amended the state's Constitution to repeal marriage equality in that state. (Thankfully, Prop 8 was overturned on August 4th, 2010 by Distric Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, but remains valid pending the outcome of an appeal). In the wake of Prop 8's passage in 2008, Savage, and many many white gay/lesbian folks placed Prop 8's passage squarely on the shoulders of African Americans. After all "we've" done for "them" they said! "We" elected a "black" president and now "they" take "our" rights away!
Who is the "we" whose rights were abolished?
Who are the "they" that participated in the abolishing of those rights? This language is really interesting because it implicitly locates ALL African Americans as: 1) heterosexuals and 2) as homophobes *AND* ALL lesbians and gays as 1) white and 2) anti-racist. In so doing, the existence -- and oppression (racial, gender, and sexual) -- of African American LGBTQ's, and LGBTQ's of color, more generally, is COMPLETELY elided -- ignored -- erased.
After all, if "blacks" are voting against "gay rights" -- none of those blacks are gay, which means all of the gays must be white.
The (unfortunate) widespread belief that African Americans harbor more intense homophobia/heterosexist attitudes than whites IS a stereotype -- a racist assertion -- doesn't matter the race of the person that's says it! It's a racist belief. It's simply not true (see bell hooks article "Homophobia in Black Communities" in her book, Talking Feminist, Thinking Black).
One need look no further than the U.S.'s largest voting population -- white middle class heterosexuals -- and the U.S.'s political ruling class -- white upper middle class heterosexual men in the federal government (it's useful to remember, that prior to Barack Obama's ascendency to the presidency, he was ONE of TWO black Senators in the House at the time of his election. One of two!) and local government are literally designing and defending the laws that daily deny LGBTQ folks of all races rights guarenteed them under the U.S. Constitution. In short: it is white voters and white politicians that play the most direct, predominant role in maintaining (white, upper-class) heterosexual (men's) supremacy -- not black folks.
Which is *not* to say that there aren't black folks who are homophobic and heterosexist -- indeed, there are. Black folks, however, are NOT PARTICULARLY homophobic *NOR* more intensely homophobic than any other racial group in the U.S. And it is important to recognize that there are many black heterosexual allies to LGBTQ's -- people such as Coretta Scott King (Dr. Martin Luthar King's partner), Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou, Danny Glover, Wholike Nobel opie Goldberg -- and these black allies span the globe. I am referring to people Peace Prize winners South Africa's former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African ex-President Nelson Mandela -- and many many more, most of them ordinary folks like you and I (okay, so we're not so ordinary ;).
That said, there are folks -- people of color *and* white anti-racists -- who have criticized LGBTQ folks for comparing their social justice struggle to that of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1950s to late 1960s, a practice the popular queer magazine, The Advocate addresses in it's article, "Gay is the New Black?". The vast majority of LGBTQ's who make that comparison are themselves white middle class people, who sometimes talk about "gay rights" as "THE last remaining oppression" tolerated by the masses. In the same breath that LGBTQs compare their struggle to African Americans' in the Civil Rights era, these folks often say that racism is a thing of the past -- "black folks got their rights, now it's OUR turn!"
(I thought the first image was a rather subtle appeal to the sentiment that "gays are the new blacks"...until I found the historical photograph on which the image was based. Yeah... )
However, the gay folks who say stuff like that don't speak for me, or for those like me: queer people of color.
Like many white folks (who are not middle class, cisgendered, etc), queer people of color are targeted for multiple oppressions -- racial, gender, sexual, class, etc and so on. If white middle class gays (who comprise the vast majority of those who lead LGBTQ rights organizations) aspire to create allies among folks of color, and build coalitions -- they must acknowledge these crucial differences -- they must stop talking about "gay rights" as though they describe one kind of oppression that is experienced the same way by all LGBTQs. Certainly, a white middle class gay man who fits stereotypes of masculinity does NOT have the same experience of heterosexist oppression as a poor white gay man, or a middle class gay woman, or a gay person of color living with a disability, or a poor transgender person of color living in Uganda, to name just a few examples.
White LGBTQ activists must also recognize -- and emphasize in their rhetoric! -- the multi-racial character of LGBTQ communities (AS WELL AS class differences, ability differences, etc) *AND* the very real existence of racism in the LGBTQ community, particularly among white LGBTQ's (who are the bearers of white privilege/ who reap the advantages of racist oppression, albeit limited by their LGBTQ status**), and the existence of individual and INSTITUTIONAL racism in the U.S. and the world. Black heterosexuals and black LGBTQ's confront racism everyday of their lives -- racism that limits or entirely eliminates their job, education, housing (etc) choices; racism that results in their excessively disproportionate incarceration; racism that motivates police to murder unarmed civilians of color who have committed no crime; racism that makes the poverty that most blacks folks live in far more severe than the poverty white folks live in.
Finally, white middle class folks ought to use caution -- perhaps, even re-consider -- comparing the LGBTQ rights movement to that of mid-20th century African American Civil Rights activists -- not because one oppresson is "worse" than the other -- but because the kinds of oppression, though similar in some ways (both groups are fighting white male heterosexual supremacy), are in many ways very different.
More specifically, the Jim Crow/legalized race segregation that existed from 1893 to 1965 is a different kind of terror institution than the legal inequality of LGBTQs today. For example, the years 1893 to 1965 were certainly no cake walk for homosexuals and transgenders. But if those homosexuals and transgenders were white, and could pass for straight cisgenders, they too would benefit from the legalized race segregation that kept most Southern blacks living in a brand of poverty most of the people reading this post could never imagine -- that meant organized rape campaigns where white men gang raped black girls and women -- where white men *AND* white women lynched black men, women, and children -- as their own white children looked on... there are so many more examples I could give, but I'll stop there.
LGBTQ's in the present day belittle the experience of African American heterosexuals *AND* African American LGBTQ's who survived and perished under that kind of institutionalized racism, when we, LGBTQ's, say that our oppression is EXACTLY the same as the oppression blacks suffered under Jim Crow. It's simply not true.
Racist white Christian fundamentalist groups like OneMan_OneWoman would be powerless to exploit racial divisions among LGBTQ's -- and the broader Right/Republican movement would be rendered powerless to exploit racism among liberals/Democrats and leftists -- if we actively and consistently try to understand how whiteness, white privilege, racism and other oppressions shape our perspectives on various issues, our rhetoric, and our activism.
LGBTQ liberation movements MUST be inherently anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-ableist, etc, in order to be most broadly effective.
**In An Open Letter to My White Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Sisters and Brothers, Dianne Finnerty sets THE perfect example of how LGBTQA's can fight for social justice with an anti-racism as a fundamental organizing principle.
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