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.