A guest writer makes
the connections between homophobia and racism and the political
movements they have instigated
By Lily West
In the ongoing debate
surrounding same-gender marriage, several African-American religious
groups have spoken out against the cause. The influential African
Methodist Episcopal Church, for instance, supports gay-marriage
bans. In addition, the Rev. Eddie Long, a pastor in the New Birth
Church, has worked to organize marches in protest of same-gender
marriages and encouraged fellow African-Americans across the nation
Jasmyne Cannick, the
spokesperson for the National Black Justice Coalition, a nationwide
organization that advocates for African-American LGBT-identified
people, acknowledged the divide between the LGBTIQ and black
communities in this country. She said that the divide often involves
the cultural and religious traditions passed down in the
It is my belief, however,
that this rift should not prevent these two communities from working
together, as the links between them and the common goals they seek
would benefit greatly from their cooperation.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.’s words are just as applicable today as they were
during the height of the civil rights movement. He did not
distinguish between types of injustice or victims of discrimination,
so why should we?
Tolerance is considered a
prerequisite for a successful democratic society. It would be
hypocritical to embrace liberal democracy while allowing intolerance
toward any group to weave its way into our social fabric.
That being said, homophobia is one of the ugliest types of
intolerance. Coretta Scott King stated that “homophobia is like
racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks
to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their
dignity and personhood.” Can Matthew Shepard’s death be considered
any less heinous than a hate crime based on race? I don’t think so.
An African-American and
LGBTIQ identity are not mutually exclusive. Thus, when members of
the civil rights movement shun the LGBTIQ rights movement, they are
closing the door on some of their own. Not only does this breed
intolerance, but it ostracizes those who choose to celebrate, rather
than conceal, these overlapping identities.
In both racism and
homophobia, discrimination is based on immutable, arbitrary factors.
Of course, many will challenge this perspective and argue that
“being gay is a choice, and being African-American isn’t.” For the
sake of saving space, I will say that being gay, lesbian, bisexual
or transgender is either an identity that one can’t shed or that one
doesn’t want to shed. Either way, discrimination is based on a
factor that, for whatever reasons, won’t change.
One of the core principles
of the civil rights movement is that the application of freedom,
equal rights, justice and access shouldn’t be contingent on race,
sexuality or any other of these characteristics that shouldn’t
matter in how we judge a person. Those members of the
African-American community who dissociate themselves from the LGBTIQ
rights movement are, in turn, distancing themselves from one of the
fundamental tenets of the civil rights movement.
We all harbor some bias
toward minority groups. This is true regardless of one’s sexual
identity or race. There is, however, something to be said for
overcoming this bias and working together as a stronger whole.
We fight against a similar oppression. Both the African-American and
LGBTIQ communities struggle as minorities in a culture dominated by
a set of standards imposed by a majority. Whether we label it racism
or heteronormativity, we’re basically talking about the same foe. If
this foe is battled in a combined effort, we stand a better chance
at eliminating discrimination from all sides and achieving inclusive
equality for African-Americans, members of the LGBTIQ community and
members of other minority groups.