Wednesday, December 3, 2008

We Shall Overcome: Gay Rights and Civil Rights

I was inspired to write this post because of the commentary on a thread written by Bobby at Shakesville. Rather than continue to argue with those who cannot look beyond their privilege, I simply decided to retire to my own space to speak my peace. 

Anyone who is remotely familiar with this blog is aware that homophobia is not something that I tolerate.  I believe unequivocally that we should all have the same rights.  I believe intensely in the value of people.  That said, I would be an idiot if I was not cognizant of the ways in which we socially devalue certain elements of society to hold onto unearned privilege. 

While being a huge supporter of gay rights I have not been blind to the fact that it is a largely white led movement.  The common representation of gayness is in fact not only white, but male.  This is hardly surprising considering that we socially mimic what we have grown accustomed to.  White male headship has been the traditional embodiment of power and the gay community is no different in this regard.

What this has lead to is the silencing and othering of POC both within and outside of the community. Even though gay white males are certainly a group that are socially oppressed, that does not necessarily make them an ally, or any more sympathetic to other social justice issues. 

Like it or not, we continually reproduce and repeat dominant social constructions.   This can be seen with the desire to compare the struggle for black rights with the gay rights movement, otherwise  known as the its just like Rosa Parks argument.

I firmly believe that comparing the gay rights movement and the black
civil rights movement
is wrong for various reasons.  It smacks of look how bad things are for us, we are bring treated like the blacks. As I have said on many occasions, heaven forbid someone white be treated like a black person.  Lets just be honest about one fact, when we view race we think in terms of hierarchy and the so-called white race has always been on top, with blacks firmly at the bottom. 

I further resent that blackness is being used as referential for the downtrodden as though there are no other groups that have been marginalized.  We are the litmus test for oppression and this needs to stop.   It is a continual reminder not of how far we have come, but of exactly how marginalized we still remain. It smacks of you have our equality now give us ours.

Using the Just Like Rosa Parks card is racial appropriation.  You cannot take on the experience of another unless you have walked in their shoes.   Coming from a community that charged blacks with homophobia, this unacknowledged bit of racism is extremely divisive.

I believe that it should be approached as an issue of human rights.  If someone is beaten up for being gay they have had their human dignity and body devalued there is no need to say it just like beating blacks received, furthermore no gay person that I know of has been tied up and beaten with a rawhide whip for failing to serve a master quickly enough.  Gay people did not watch on television as their churches were bombed, nor have they had to watch while hoses and dogs were trained on their children.  The struggle for human dignity for black people is hundreds of years old, and it is nowhere near complete. This is not to say that gay rights are not equally as important as the blacks civil rights movement.  Human dignity is an equal issue for all.  They just simply are not based on the same kind of history.

Yes I admit that my approach makes it clear that any comparison in this way is wrong. If I had seen the community make reference to other groups continually over the years I might not find it so offensive today.  This coupled with the fact that gay and lesbian community is overwhelmingly represented by whiteness further causes me to question its commitment to seriously consider race as an issue.

If some feminists can recognize the importance of intersectionality then the gay and lesbian community can as well.  Taking an intersectional approach means realizing that POC need to be in leadership positions as well.  It means not using language that is "othering" or belittling in anyway.  It means realizing first and foremost that you cannot exclude race from your bid for emancipation.  There are gay POC, and there are POC gay allies that you risk offending by steadfastly engaging in this kind oppression Olympics.

There is no need to resort to appropriation to make a point.  The idea that something is wrong or oppressive can be made by making the issue personal to people.  Ask someone how would you feel if you were not allowed to marry who you loved.  How would you feel if what should be a basic right for you was put on a ballot instead of instantly recognized as important.  The best way to drive a point home to someone is to put it on a level that they can personally relate to.


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