A Bad Job on A Bad Analogy: A Response on Black and Gay Civil Rights

I read a diary on Daily Kos the other day that talked about how unfair it is to analogize the gay rights movement with the African American civil rights movement. A Bad Analogy: The Civil Rights Struggle of Blacks and Gays, the author proclaimed (Note: that diary was eventually deleted, but I am going to let my response stand). I am an Indo-Amrican gay man and I found the diary quite offensive. Not for the usual suspect reasons though: I'm not someone who is fond of comparing struggles of the movements for rights for different groups of people and then trying to decide who had it worse. That's a pointless argumentative exercise. But the author fails to realize that when we in the gay rights movement speak of the race rights movement, we refer to the the arc of history that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of so eloquently bending towards justice.

Not only did the author pretend as though we in the gay rights movement are pretending that we engage in the same struggles and pains as those suffered by Black Americans over the entire history of our country, s/he did a poor of job of explaining why we don't. Let me address the larger argument: that African Americans had it "worse."

These are moral and subjective judgments, not objective standards. "You can't see gay!" is the essential argument, whereas race is obviously identifiable by outward appearance of skin color, for the most part. But this isn't, in its entirety, true. Open up your ears. Don't you hear people saying "Oh he looks so gay?" There is a large segment of the gay and lesbian population that dress, and appear in their outwardly behavior quite obviously as gay. Many have natural demeanor that identifies them as gay. In addition, there are those who would like to express their true selves, but cannot for the fear of rejection from family and community, violence or even death.

You can ask me when the last time was that I saw a person stopped for driving while gay. I can turn around and ask you when the last time was that you saw a young black person sent to an "ex-black" camp where they are treated with shock therapy to drive out the black in them, akin to "ex-gay" camps.
And if you really want to talk about legalized police brutality on gay Americans and black Americans, I think you will be wise to study the history of both the race civil rights movement and that of Stonewall, both MLK and Harvey Milk.

You can say, as the author did,
Gay Americans weren't left in the ghettos with lead in the water and failing schools, during a period of straight-flight.
I can say, black Americans aren't disallowed by the military from claiming the death benefits of a spouse who died in the service of that very military.

Laughably, you can even say,
Nixon wasn't clamoring about law and order and demanding we lock up all the gay people.
Are you aware that Texas and many other states in fact made homosexuality illegal and homosexual acts a crime - yes punishable in jail - until the Supreme Court struck down those laws in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003?

The next accusation:
Employers can't look at a person, discern their sexuality on sight, then refuse to give them fair consideration for a job.
In fact, in most states, that is about the only type of discrimination employers ARE allowed to do by law. And if you don't think people can look at a person and discern their sexuality in a vast number of cases, please read up. Secondly, this isn't about people being able to discern other people's sexuality, it is about everyone being able to live as they are, fully expressive of their natural selves, and not have to fear social, economic or legal retribution.

Then we can talk about hate crimes, if you want:
What about hate crimes? They are overwhelmingly committed because of the victim's race or ethnicity. Why? Because - in general - physical difference, ie, skin color, is just more readily apparent than sexuality.
This, I am sorry to say, is pure baloney. Reported hate crimes are far more often because of ethnicity than sexuality because of three primary reasons: First, there are way more people of color in this country than there are gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people. Ergo, everything else being equal, one would expect crimes based on race to dwarf the number of crimes based on sexuality. Second, with a moral judgment passed on sexuality, many are forced - and their families are forced - to conceal their sexuality, even after a crime is committed. Therefore, the reported numbers far underestimate the actual number of sexuality based crimes. Third, in many localities, people are afraid to report crimes or when they do, express sexuality as a concern, because their local police or Sheriff's department isn't particularly fond of the gays (you know the term they use). Again, this makes the numbers deflated.

In addition, I would argue, a social climate that forces people conceal their own sexualities is a hate crime unto itself.

We can have at this all day. We can play the victim card on each other. We can be outraged that we dare - somehow, in the convoluted logic of people looking to pick a fight - to compare slavery with gay oppression. But the point is that the movement for equal rights for every single human being isn't about victimology. It is about justice. The race civil rights movement wasn't about comparing the sufferings of colored Americans with those of women or religious minorities (elsewhere), but it was all connected through a thread of justice. It is simply not ok to try to somehow compare the sum of sufferings of one group to another. This "we suffered more" attitude is destructive, divisive and derogatory. Should Jewish people compare their suffering during the holocaust to black suffering during Jim Crow?

The movement for equal rights is all one big movement. This isn't about comparison or competition. This is about cooperation and cohabitation. This is about fighting all forms of bigotry and supporting equal rights under law for every single person.


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