Friday, February 10, 2012

Michael Steele Is Right and Wrong About Gay Rights

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After his treatment by the Republican party, for the life of me, I cannot understand why Steele refuses to get on the right side of history.  In an interview with on MSNBC recently, he decided to parrot the ridiculous state rights routine to deny gays and lesbians the right to vote.  It was his contention that theses things need to be decided on the local level, because the federal level would force the issue on him.  I wonder if this fool realizes that without the 1964 and 1965 voting rights act, he would have no say in the government he is so damn concerned about.  I personally believe that civil rights should never be held up to a vote because it leaves historically marginalized people to suffer the tyranny of the majority.  There are somethings that should just be considered immutable human rights, and same sex marriage is certainly one of them.

When John Heilemann decided to ask how Steele would feel of Black men were unable to marry White women across the entirety of the U.S. Steele has the following to say:
First off, let’s just be very clear about a couple of things. There are a significant number of African Americans -- myself included -- who do not appreciate that particular equation. OK? Because, when you walk into a room, I don’t know if you’re gay or not. But when I walk into a room, you know I’m black. And whatever racial feelings you have about African Americans, about black people, that is something that, it viscerally comes out. I don’t know until later on, maybe you tell me or some other way, so don’t sit there and make that comparison. It’s not the same.



Not all GLBT people are able to hide who they are.  I remember years ago, when I had a friend come out to me, that I had to stifle a smile because honestly, WE ALL KNEW and we already loved him for he is.  Some are quite able to go through life and never be read as GLBT but for others, it is as clear as the nose on your face.  For those who are able to pass (note: hate this term),  it does not mean any less discrimination for them, because the moment they come out, they are subjected to homophobia.  The closet is not a benefit, though it is often constructed as such by many homophobes. No one should have to lead their life in hiding in order to be treated with basic human respect.  Steele would know this, if he were not so heavily invested in his straight privilege.

Where I do agree with Steele, is the idea that African-American civil rights should not be compared to GLBT civil rights, by those who are not both Black and GLBT.  Outside of that circumstance, it smacks of appropriation.  It further comes across as lecturing Black people on oppression, when all African-Americans are intimately familiar with it. Unless you know what it is to be Black, in a White supremacist world, you have no business making the comparison. When made by a White person, it reads as a complaint that Whites are being treated like niggers, and yes, I have a huge problem with this.  Homophobia is in and of itself a huge problem, and should be recognized as such in its own right. There is absolutely no need to make a comparison, and if people are ever going to recognize their straight privilege, they have to learn to see homophobia for the terrible oppression that it is.

The disconnect with Steele is that he does not seem to recognize that GLBT rights are indeed civil rights.  There should never be an instance in law, when you have different laws for people based in identity.  GLBT people are abused, bullied, beaten and harassed every damn day.  Steele makes it clear that he is hyper concerned with Black people, and it seems to me that GLBT rights should then be a natural outcome of his concern.  The abuse doesn't just happen to White GLBT members, homophobia impacts people of colour who are GLBT, as Lt. Dan Choi so eloquently pointed out.  To ignore this fact is to actually be accepting of Black people facing oppression.  One cannot love Blackness and then fail to celebrate the myriad of ways in which it manifests.

It is also worth mentioning that Steele's discomfort with the comparison between GLBT civil rights to the African-American civil rights movement has everything to do with his homophobia, rather than from the stand point of  not being accepting of appropriation, or the tendency of some White members of the GLBT community to use racism to fight for their rights, or the ongoing attacks against Blacks on the basis that we are supposedly uniquely homophobic.  What he does not realize is that the intent behind his objection only serves to embolden those who believe they have the right to appropriate from African-Americans at will, because they can clearly see that homophobia is behind the denial. You cannot fight oppression with more oppression; it only supports the false idea that we all have a right to wallow in our privilege.