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23 June 2011, 11:19 pm 10 Comments

GetEqual: Winning equality with our own blood, sweat, and tears

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This post is from GetEQUAL’s Central Region Field Director, John Blake…

Today I was reading a blog post, which I shall not name, in which an African American women was being taken to task for not understanding intrinsically the injustice in denying the lgbt community our civil, political, and social rights. This is a fight that I see frequently and as a member of both minority groups (African American & lgbt), I am usually asked to stand to embody the intersectionality in real space, usually providing credentials to a white, upper middle class, gay man against a straight, cisgender, member of the African American community.

It is tempting to do two things in identity politics, either enter into the oppression Olympics, adding up marginalized groups memberships until one reaches the gold medal of complete lack of privilege, or equating experiences of oppression as exactly the same. The lgbt community frequently calls on the events, history, and tactics of the civil rights community, and often with little regard for historical context, appropriates that experience as their own. When someone seeks to state that they do not see a 1 for 1 correlation between experiences of oppression, they are dismissed as lacking a sophisticated understanding of intersectionality and systems of oppression.

The President’s speech this evening made my point clear. While he recognizes components of our oppression as unjust, he does not see a 1 for 1 correlation between the experiences of black people in this country and lgbt people. He would never as a black man in America be able to look anyone in the eye and say that the issues of racial oppression were best left to the engines of democracy in a state by state fight, that would eventually end at equality of treatment for all Americans.

The fact that he does not intrinsically understand there to be a 1 for 1 correlation is not troubling for me. A black man who is straight would not intrinsically understand the experience of a gay man, whether he is black or not, any better then either would understand what it is intrinsically to be a woman. We can identify shared experiences and mitigate our privilege through intentional acts, and we can imagine what it might be like to experience another’s life, but we will never “know” what it is like.

This does not mean that our straight cisgender friends deserve a pass. Anyone who does not understand that the denial of the rights, privileges, responsibilities, social and political recognition, and so much else that comes with the frame of marriage, is wrong, needs to be educated on this issue until the evolution of their understanding arrives at the truth. It is wrong to stigmatize the lgbt community, and treat us as less deserving of justice, rights, and dignity. This we share with members of other oppressed groups.

The president’s misstep was two fold tonight. First he failed to state his personal desire on the outcome of the NY marriage debate. That would have been a “gimmie” that did not require him to take an official political stance on lgbt marriage, but would have implied further “evolution.” Second, he suggested that his efforts for federal employees, couples during healthcare crisis, and the hate crimes act exhausted his ability to impact the lived experience of the lgbt community in this country. As pointed out to his transition staff before he even entered the Oval Office, there are many steps he could take to unilaterally increase the level of justice and fair treatment that lgbt people experience.

We cannot allow his pretty words to distract us from our full federal equality. We cannot presume that because we have called on the historic memory of the American people of widespread oppression of African Americans, that we need do no further educating of the injustice experienced by us as lgbt Americans. And finally we cannot forget the lessons of the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movements, the farm workers movement, the immigrant rights movements, and the Native Americans rights movement, that we cannot wait for our rights to be delivered to us by legislatures on their own schedule. We must continue to go and fight nonviolently to win our equality with our own blood, sweat, and tears.

John Blake
Central Region Field Director
john@getequal.org


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10 Comments »

  • Douglas Miller said:

    This is well thought out. I have often compared the African American civil rights struggle with our civil rights struggle. Yes, there are comparisons, but they are not important. What is important that we acknowledge that African Americans have struggled greatly, but we make no attempt to compare other than to point out the ways in which we suffer and are not treated equally. To attempt to do otherwise is counter productive.

  • EOJ said:

    Sometimes I think the LGBT community is so singularly focused on marriage that is forgets the other types of discrimination we face. President Obama has done more to relieve the consequences of that oppression than any other president in US history. He hasn’t sat on his hands and waited for Congress to move. Bans on allowing same-sex partners hospital visitation rights have been lifted in every hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid. Discrimination in public housing against LGBT people is being eliminated through the grant process at HUD. LGBT federal employees have been extended every right the President can legally offer them. He put in place the strategy that brought DADT to an end (at least from a statutory point of view.) I don’t know how many recs the transition team made, but I know the President appointed more openly gay & lesbian individuals in two years than President Clinton did in 8.

    Simultaneously, we allow Congressional leaders to escape with no recognition of their role in bringing full equality to LGBT people. Where is the legislation to repeal DOMA? A Trans-inclusive ENDA? Why are we so quick to give the legislative branch a free pass and come down so hard on the President?

    The primary reason the LGBT community doesn’t need to compare itself to African Americans is because we’ve got our own history of civil rights accomplishments, and I say that as a person who straddles both communities as well. The LGBT community suffers because we don’t have strong ties to the names and faces of the men and women who have been fighting for our liberation for decades. There is no sense of continuity. I know some gays and lesbians who have sought out that information and have ties to both community and history, but they are the exception. I can’t speak for other groups, but the closest thing to a cohesive community gay men seem to have is grinder or Manhunt.

    I thought this piece could use an addendum.

  • Makaila said:

    I actually found this more entertaiinng than James Joyce.

  • KD said:

    You have equality!! What you want is special privilege! Nuff said.

  • Pastor Isaac Peters said:

    KD, you don’t understand the history of your own cult. In California, the state supreme court granted homosexuals equality, and your cult, in one of the few useful things it has done, worked hard to take it away from them.

  • KD said:

    Pastor Issac, I am well aware of Prop 8.. and stand by my previous statement.

    I suppose that if there was a small group that desired to practice bestiality and therefore also desired to marry their “pets” (calling this “equality”) ..so they scrupulously placed a few of their fellow bestiality “buddies” to the “supreme” court, to overturn the majority vote of the people who had disallowed such perversion in their society. This would be “equality”..??

    As far as your attempt to be demeaning with the “cult” remark, here is the dictionary definition:

    a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies; an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult; the object of such devotion; a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc; Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols; of, for, or attracting a small group of devotees: a congregation.

    Sounds to me like the description would include any and all religious groups and/or religious organizations, and thus that would make you a “cult” leader.. isn’t that right “Pastor” Issac..??

  • Pastor Isaac Peters said:

    So define “equality.”

  • KD said:

    “True” Equality is or contains no selfishness.. it is not a selfish “act”.. “Having all things in common” Example: (“They had all things in common”.. having no selfishness among them.) Homosexuality is totally and completely a selfish act. And the acceptance, approval and/or compliance with, or for it, cannot.. and will never be “Equality”! Anything that contains any element of selfishness, cannot and never will be “Equality”.

    The best example of “Equality” is “Agency”.. which is our God given ability to “choose” for ourselves. Which we all have. We are all equal in our ability to choose good from evil. Although as we use or exercise this ability.. the consequences of our choices begin to effect it. Hence “spiritual bondage”.. Our choices (obviously) can even lead to “physical bondage”. Therefore we see how important it is to “choose wisely”.. and/or that which is “right” or of God.. “he who knows all”.. or in other words.. to “choose righteously”. This is freedom and “true” Equality.

  • Pastor Isaac Peters said:

    KD, you’ve tied yourself in knots. What you describe is neither necessary nor sufficient to meet the dictionary definition of “equality,” which, as you could have easily found out, is “the state or quality of being equal; correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability.”

  • RobThom said:

    Equality is earned,
    not free-stuff.

    Hitler is not equal to Ghandi,
    because what they earn isn’t equal.

    Everybody starts at zero.

    If you make an annoyance of yourself to the point that people don’t like you,
    its not because you’re ghey.

    Its because you’re annoying and people dont like to be annoyed.