Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Recognizing the Similarities Between Racism and Heterosexism

Following are excerpts from an article by Sarah Sentilles, entitled “Gay or Black: It’s Still Church-Sanctioned Discrimination.” This article was first published in the April 20, 2009 issue of Religious Dispatches.


I am deeply troubled by the notion that drawing parallels between the struggle for civil rights for African Americans and the struggle for civil rights for GLBTQ [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer] folks is a “faulty argument.” To deny that there are parallels obscures a key element that is, for me, deeply troubling: The forces opposing gay marriage and the forces supporting racism both use the Bible and Christianity to do their dirty work. Many of the arguments Christians use to prove that homosexuality is a sin and therefore not worthy of protection under the law — it says so in the Bible, it’s God’s will, it’s the natural order God intended for humanity — are the very same arguments that were used to justify slavery, to support segregation, and to sanction racism.

I remain unconvinced by articles, like Walton’s “Hitching a Freedom Ride: Gay Ain’t the New Black…”, which point out that the similarities between the two movements means denying that “injustice is contextually specific.” I know that many GLBTQ folks do not count as their history or their ancestors’ history being stolen from other countries and brought over in ships to be slaves, or being bought and sold as chattel, or being made legally 3/5ths of a human by the constitution. I know many GLBTQ folks — at least those who are white — do not endure racism on a daily basis.

But I also know that homosexuals were among the first rounded up by the Nazis. And I know that people are murdered and beaten because they are gay, that GLBTQ folks are routinely viewed and named as deviant and as subhuman, and that discrimination sanctioned by our laws and referenda affect GLBTQ folks in profound ways that are hard to imagine by those with heterosexual privilege. Choosing to ignore those parallels allows heterosexism to flourish, which is itself a form of violence. It is yet another example of how we are willing to do theological and political back flips to retain the right to discriminate against those deemed less than “us,” a core component of this nation’s history.

It seems to me that behind many attempts to reject the links between the two movements is an essential belief that the discrimination GLBTQ folks experience on a daily basis — interpersonal discrimination, structural discrimination, physical violence, emotional violence, denial of civil rights — is not, in fact, discrimination. How, for example, can you deny the parallels between the struggle to make interracial marriage legal and the struggle to make gay marriage legal? To do so, you must believe that the desire of two men to marry each other is fundamentally different from the desire of a white man and a black woman to marry each other. And how can you justify this distinction? It seems to me it is only possible to do so if you think gay people should not be allowed to marry because you think homosexuality is wrong, immoral, and sinful. And if you think homosexuality is wrong, immoral, and sinful — a “lifestyle choice” — then you will not recognize the denial of the right to marry as a denial of civil rights.

Recognizing similarities between two different struggles for civil rights does not mean equating those struggles; it means that alliances can be built. . . . There is work to be done. Heterosexism is killing people in my neighborhood. On Tuesday, February 12, 2008, Lawrence King, a seventh grader, was shot in the head, twice, by his fourteen-year-old classmate in the computer lab at his school. The murder was classified as a hate crime. Reports indicate that King was targeted in part because he was gay and sometimes wore jewelry and makeup to school.

But he was not killed because he was gay. He was killed because his killer was raised in a society that endorses — and even blesses — the ridicule, discrimination, and violence that GLBTQ people endure every day. I lay much of the blame for this boy’s murder and the passage of Proposition Eight in California at the feet of church communities, and at the same time, I remain hopeful that some of the tools needed to combat heterosexism can be found in church communities. If we deny the similarities between the fight for civil rights for African Americans and the fight for civil rights for GLBTQ folks, then I think we deny important resources for fighting against all kinds of church-sanctioned discrimination.

To read Sarah Sentilles article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
The Same Premise

Image: Jan Kubicki.


Anonymous said...

Here is one possible difference:

While, for discussion's sake, I'll stipulate to both the variety and persistence of sexual orientation, there is still a choice here: whether to actualize one's sexuality.

No such choice is possible with one's skin pigmentation. It is truly an absolute given which no amount of choice can change.

Nick said...

Actually, Anonymous, have you seen pictures of Michael Jackson lately?

He certainly has "chosen" to change his "skin pigmentation." Thus for "discussion sake," one could argue that choice can and does come into play with regard to this "absolute."

Anonymous said...

I refrained from mention The Gloved One because I didn't want to be remotely perceived as making what might be construed as a racially insensitive statement.

That said, Michael Jackson is the exception that proves the rule - unless of course, Nick, you're suggesting that people of color should follow Jackson's example.

My original assertion stands.

Liam said...

Of all the comparisons among minority groups in Western culture that have suffered oppression, I would venture that gay folk have had more parallels with Jewish folk than black folk.

And a lot of the invective heaped upon gay folk these days directly borrows from the traditions of anti-Semitic invective.

No one has ever (at least without being laughed at instantly) accused black folk as such as being an insidious elite that bent on taking control of our culture but that is able to pass without being noticed for such. (Though I expect Obama might get this treatment.)

Anonymous said...

First of all, I think you mean similarities between racism and homobigotry, not racism and heterosexism.

Heterophilia is quite normal and normative biologically as are all races and and same-sex erotic attraction. While all are biological normal and normative, not all are dominant, nor all identical.

What I think you mean is racism, the irrational denigration of one race by another race, shares analogies to homobigotry, in that both are irrational.

However, racism and homobigotry are quite distinct forms of irrational bigotry and prejudice. For the most obvious, racial features are always prima facie, or self-evident, while sexual orientation features are not.

I think you do your credibility a disservice, and the irrational prejudices of sexism, racism, and sexual orientation an injustice, since each is based on different irrational criteria.

Rather than conflating the distinctive features which "color" are distinctivenesses, we should focus on the different irrational prejudices themselves, and the distinctive reasons why each finds room for bigotry. Moreover, heterosexism is a useless neologism, as either heterosexual or heterophile names a class, and if you want to identify members within that class that discriminate against homophiles, then homobigotry, not heterosexism, is your target.

Nick said...

Anonymous, how can your original assertion still stand when you yourself admit that Jackson's bizarre choices prove that there can be choice involved with one's skin color?

It's not about whether people should or shouldn't follow Jackson's (bizarre) choice, but rather that choice exists. Your "original assertion," Anonymous, asserts that there is no choice. Jackson proves you wrong.

colkoch said...

And I would agree with Liam. The current gay propaganda is very much word for word exactly what fueled anti Semitism. Read the protocals of Zion.

The crusade against gays is more akin to a witch hunt, as was anti semitism, in that it seeks to find the 'other' with in a common national and racial heritage. In both cases this 'othering' centered on a perceived wealthy and agenda driven class which was insidious precisely because they looked just like members of the common culture. They used the common culture to become wealthy and give them the power to act on their agenda. The wealth issue is the power issue necessary to make it a witch hunt. Witches had paranormal power, not wealth but the issue is still the same.

What makes the Christian attacks on gays and witches uniquely evil is that family members are expected to turn on family members. In this context Cardinal Cushing's example is particularly meaningful. He couldn't do it, even in the name of God and Catholic doctrine.