By Guest Contributor Dumi R. L’Heureux Lewis, originally published at Uptown Notes
So for the past few years I’ve been jousting with my family and loved ones around the issue of same sex marriage and repeatedly found my argument falling on deaf ears. In fact what I most often heard was, “I am for gay rights but…” and what would follow would immediately sweep away any indication of actual support for the union of two people from the same sex. As a service to myself and those with whom I will soon have this discussion with, I’ll provide some statements and my rebuttals. Instead of taking our 45 minutes on spinning wheels, let’s work and see and if we can cover some different ground.
1) “I’m for gay rights but … you can’t compare being Black to being gay.”
I feel you, I understand that being Black is different than being gay, but did you realize even in that statement you’re implying that we don’t have Black gay folk? No really, this is the part of the conversation where you keep on throwing out “they” which you might as well then say “those people.” I know you don’t like me bringing that up, because for so long and so often within the dominant White culture of America Black folks are referred to as “they”, “those people” and even recently “that one.” It’s really a process of othering, trying to make a distinction of who is “in” and should receive privileges and who is “out” (pun intended).
2) No, you’re not getting it, I didn’t choose to be Black and I can’t hide being Black.
Touche, you’re probably don’t remember when you chose to be Black, if you ever did. In fact, since we’re talking – heterosexual to heterosexual, I don’t remember when I choose to be straight, but that’s besides the point. The point is that being “Black” and being “gay”, as we sociologists say are both “socially constructed”. Yeah, fancy academic words but definitely important. By socially constructed I mean that we create the boundaries and meanings for these categories. There is a great film that breaks this down and books, but let’s be real, you ain’t gonna pick up a book or watch a movie in the middle of this blog post, so let me do what I can to break it down now. While we’ve come to think of meaning of Blackness as something that can’t be changed, avoided, and pretty much is like gravity, we’ve forgotten that was created. In fact, the dominant images and tropes of “What is Black”, weren’t even our creation. Think about it, how many people who identify as Black, would say “my skin is actually the color of Black.” Very few, in fact, we respond by saying things like “I’m brown, caramel, dark chocolate, etc.” all descriptors that side-step an imposed moniker. Also have we forgotten that for so many years, the oppression of being Black and not having access to rights made many of our ancestors pass? Yeah, that’s right, not all of us are “definitively Black” and certainly what it means to be Black has carried consequences.
3) That’s my point, almost exactly, you can tell when someone is Black usually, but you never know if they’re gay! Well unless they’re really flamboyant or something.
Ah, I get it, if you are gay you don’t have to “look or act gay” and if you don’t act gay, you’ll be fine in society. Yeah, that’s called passing … well actually more appropriately covering. See, as a Black folks, I really hope we think deeply about oppression and how oppressive it must be to not be able to show your love for someone else. If I walk outside and decide to kiss a strange woman in the middle of the street I won’t get many strange glares (other than folks saying “Dumi’s a wild cat”) but if I love someone of the same gender and walk arm-in-arm with them down the street I’m likely to get screw faces down the block. As a result, we, heterosexual folks often say stuff like, “I don’t care what you do behind closed doors but I don’t want to see it.” Interesting… we live in a society were the physical expression of romantic love between people is common, but almost completely forbidden for certain groups. In order to be one’s self we ask people not to express themselves and “pass” or “cover” for straight. That doesn’t sound very equal or liberated to me. Can you imagine a community where love was the norm and hate was not what we used to regulate others behaviors? (that’s rhetorical)
4) Okay, I get that, but doesn’t it piss you off when they use the Civil Rights Movement for their movement?
Once again, what’s up with the us and them type of thinking. Gay Black folks have been around for a long time, to act as if they are not us is to deny part of ourselves. In fact, the most prominent voice and architect of the Civil Rights Movement was Martin Luther King Jr. His work centered on non-violence which he derived from Gandhi but he learned from Bayard Rustin who was a queer Black man. Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Queer Black folks have been at the center of our movement for rights as well as our cultural and social uplift, why try to write them out of history now? Or rather why not acknowledge the central role they’ve played in the collective Black struggle which should include lgbtq brothers and sisters? We can only say gay folks are piggy-backing on the civil rights movement if we don’t acknowledge the contribution of gay folks to the movement. Now has the equal rights movement around sexuality taken on some tropes that came along during the Civil Rights movement, absolutely! But all subsequent movements do that, in fact, a marker of a successful social movement is an adoption of some its techniques. But let’s not forget what the Civil Rights Movement was about! It was fighting to make the 14th and 15th amendments real!!! Those amendments legally gave Black folks equal civil rights but when we looked at how Black people were treated and what they could do, it is seen that it’s unequal. I think we can take a similar look at the Gay Rights movement which is simply fighting for the same rights that heterosexuals have, be it marriage, adequate healthcare, or to live freely in society.
5) I hear what you’re saying but God made “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve”! We’re a Christian country and marriage is a bond before God between man and woman.
Ah, you got me with that one, I didn’t realize a rhyme could break down an entire situation. Oh wait, no it can’t. There is an entrenched myth in this country that marriage is exclusively a religious, often insinuated Christian, practice that the government sanctions. Not true at all, anthropologists have long observed and discussed marriage as beyond Christian and beyond the sanctioning of the state. It is true here that many associate the two, but that does not seem logical that it must also be seen as such. First, the mythos of the United States as Chrisitian nation is based on ignoring that colonies were founded out of the fleeing of religious oppression. How ironic is it that religion would then become the basis for oppression in 2009 and 1619 when non-Christian Africans arrived in captivity and quickly were proclaimed subhuman and savage. If you are going to invoke the credo of a nation, then I’d suggest you invoke the ones of equality and diversity, which means you are welcome to have your beliefs but your beliefs should not be the basis for impinging on other’s rights.
Now I know by this point you likely still don’t agree with me, but I do want you to see there is validity to a discussion about gay rights and the civil rights or more importantly gay rights as civil and human rights! I do want you to see that all to often we neglect and relegate a part of our people to inhumane and unjustified treatments through our active and passive condoning of covering. I do want us all to think about what MLK meant when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I do want us to really grapple with the fact that if Huey Newton in the 1970s could see the connection, we should be able to see it in 2009. I wrote this because I worry about a people’s ability to turn a blind eye to injustice in a world and nation that often has suggested the unjust is just the way it should be. For a people who have fought for existence and rights, it should only be natural to continue that fight with our brothers and sisters.
***this piece is designed to be a primer and conversation starter. there are many more things to say, but wanted to get the ball rolling and get some basic ideas out there***