Gay Rights and Religious Minorities
February 18, 2004 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Why do so many leaders and members of non-gay minorities seem to refuse, if not outright stubbornly unwilling, to admit common ground between their own struggles to attain basic rights and what gay people have been and are going through? I've never been able to get an answer that, to my own ears, sounds anything but irrational, but I acknowledge my being a white male can obfuscate my point and overrule any other experience I might be able to relate as a gay person when trying to find common ground. But I don't think that's very fair, and am looking for ways to better argue that idea. Suggestions, please?
posted by WolfDaddy to Society & Culture (20 answers total)
Well, as a black male, I believe there are quite a few undeniable similarities between the struggles and I have been involved in numerous debates with my peers about it. I think the simple answer to why it is may be something about religion's effects on both the Black community and conceptions of sexuality and also maybe something about machismo, but those are still just simple answers. I've personally always been fans of Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as well as Michael Eric Dyson, all of whom are straight black men, for their stances on issues of sexuality. You might look into those for an answer on how to argue the point.
posted by Slimemonster at 5:35 PM on February 18, 2004

While many of the political objectives of gays and African-Americans, for example, are similar especially with respect to antidiscrimination policies, there is very little common ground. There is no slavery or segregation in the history of the gay rights movement. There's no common experience such as immigration. The political movements in both groups occurred in different eras and through different means. And gays do not have a Deep South - hostility to gays is less regional and more national. And manifestations of violence at gays, while shocking and horrible when they do occur, are not analogous to violence directed at blacks in the 19th and 20th centuries which was organized (KKK), endemic, and systematic.
posted by PrinceValium at 5:45 PM on February 18, 2004

Because you don't get to choose your race, but you get to choose your sexuality?


Race hasn't ever been framed as a moral issue, has it? Maybe in terms of interracial marriage, but it wasn't even "wrong" to "be black" or "be born black," right? It was just "wrong" to associate with blacks if you were white? Maybe that's part of it.
posted by gramcracker at 5:52 PM on February 18, 2004

Well, you could take a tip from Mass. Senator Dianne Wilkerson: In arguing against the gay-marriage ban, Sen. Dianne Wilkerson drew upon her experience as a black woman growing up in Arkansas, where the hospital did not allow her mother to deliver her children.
``I know the pain of being less than equal and I cannot and will not impose that status on anyone else,'' a teary-eyed Wilkerson said. ``I could not in good conscience ever vote to send anyone to that place from which my family fled.''

She was easily able to find common ground, and many others do too.

Sometimes directly relating our experiences to others offends--maybe emphasize broader issues of equality and discrimination. Very few people of any color are in favor of denying equal rights to, or condoning discrimination towards any other american.
posted by amberglow at 5:58 PM on February 18, 2004

I'm taking a stab in the dark here, because I really don't understand what motivates anyone to classify people (or themselves) by marginal traits like skin color or who they bed with, but here goes: Maybe it's because racism comes with delusions of the inferiority of a skin color, but nobody seems to seriously believe homosexuals are inferior; perhaps distasteful in a way that inspires hatred, but superiority doesn't enter into it to quite the same degree.
posted by majick at 6:34 PM on February 18, 2004

There's a long history od people being unable to draw parallels between discrimination against themselves and against others. I have seen a Canadian suffrage poster dating from the early part of the twentieth century which depicted a very proper, well-dressed woman and a decrepit, elderly Chinese man and that had a caption along the lines of, "You won't let your good white women have the vote but you'll give it to foreign scum."

It's horrible and it doesn't make sense, but there it is - sometimes people fight for their rights purely out of self-interest, not out of a broader sense of a justice that is deserved by all.
posted by orange swan at 6:40 PM on February 18, 2004

Response by poster: Funny that you included Sen. Wilkerson's quote from a different article, amberglow, as what prompted me to pose this question here was this article Ads may not be safe for work which centered on Rev. Jackson's views and then provided Sen. Wilkerson's quote as counterpoint. Had I read either view separately, I probably wouldn't have been troubled--in relation to my own personal experiences--enough to pose the question, it was the marked contrast between the two opinions that did it for me.

I guess another thing motivating me is the fact that I'm leaving California in two weeks to return to my home state of New Mexico and as much as I don't want this to really be an issue on the presidential-election level, it's going to be, so I'm trying to draw upon the resources and people I know exist here in an attempt to become somewhat involved in the political scene where I'm going, which is fairly racially integrated but definitely not gay-straight integrated.

I'll definitely have to think about religion's influence in a racial minority home, so thanks slimemonster for that perspective. And to all for their ideas thus far.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:19 PM on February 18, 2004

I'm afraid orange swan is right -- it doesn't make sense and it's not amenable to rational argument. All those "here's why it's different" responses are off base; if you're of a humanist/universalist nature, you'll see the similarities no matter what the surface differences, and if you're of a... what, parochial? there must be a better word... nature, no amount of parallels will convince you: you know your people's struggle is unique and incommensurable. It's hard, often impossible, to get people out of their mental ruts, especially if they spend most of their time with people who think the way they do. Sad but true.
posted by languagehat at 7:32 PM on February 18, 2004

Homophobes seem to think being gay is some or all of the following: voluntary, immoral, and gross. Racists, OTOH, often believe that those of another race are actually subhuman. It's therefore understandable to see through the falsehood of racism by realizing that all humans are fully and equally human without thinking that homosexuality is moral or not gross. I don't think that homophobes see gay people as subhuman, but rather as sick, sinful, and/or gross "normal" humans. In some ways, this could be even more troubling to them since there is no guarantee that they or, for example, or their sons won't turn out that way. That's what they mean when they talk about sending the right message to the children.
posted by callmejay at 7:37 PM on February 18, 2004


I think you'll find that the the Nazi's attempt at eliminating homosexuals was fairly "organized endemic, and systematic", given that many were shipped off to concentration camps during WWII.

At the risk of being crisped by flames and burning in eternal MeFi hell, here's my fairly carefully considered answer to the original issue:

Discrimination is almost purely behavioral. If everybody of African (or any other people physically distinguishable from the Swedes (just as an example)) ancestry was indistinguishable from the average insurance salesman in Utah, there would not be a race issue. Most people are uncomfortable with people who behave in a fundamentally different way from themselves.
posted by skyscraper at 7:38 PM on February 18, 2004

wolf: ahhh...but don't ever forget Jesse is a Reverend, and has also defined himself to a great extent by his civil rights work and carrying on that legacy, I think...He doesn't want anything detracting from or coopting those struggles, which are still ongoing, just as many in our equal rights movement are really quick to latch on and frame our struggles as a continuation of those that came before, seeing it as a natural progression.
posted by amberglow at 7:48 PM on February 18, 2004

Another thing is that there really isn't much in common between the rights fought for by both groups.

Blacks fought for the right not to be someone else's property, but there weren't plantations of enslaved gays. Blacks fought for the right to vote, that gay men had had as long as universal white manhood suffrage came into force. Blacks fought for the right to engage in civil commerce the same as anyone else; there were never legally mandated STRAIGHTS ONLY signs on water fountains or FAG ENTRANCE IN BACK signs at restaurants. Blacks fought for the right to have their kids go to the same schools as anyone else, but children of homosexuals were never segregated into special, intentionally inferior, schools.

And on the other hand, homosexuals are fighting for the right to simply marry, which black people have had for centuries (if not the right to marry whites).

I don't mean this as "What blacks went through was worse!" -- there are enough beaten-to-death homosexuals and blacks alike for both to be well into the realm of horrors (and gypsies and Jews and Irish and Chinese and...).

But it could be easy to see the other party as not fighting (or having fought) for the stuff that "really" matters, because you don't know what it would be like to not have the thing the other side is fighting for. The sets of things being fought for are largely disjoint, with the possible exceptions of civil rights in hiring and housing and hate-crime protections.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:49 PM on February 18, 2004

I know about the holocaust, skyscraper, but I was talking about the U.S. - I should have made that clear.
posted by PrinceValium at 7:56 PM on February 18, 2004

and if you're of a... what, parochial? there must be a better word... nature

posted by staggernation at 8:02 PM on February 18, 2004


Whoa. That was weird. Pretty much the opposite of what I meant to say. Sorry.
posted by staggernation at 8:19 PM on February 18, 2004

Here's an even more horrible example than the one I gave above for this failure to connect.

And I still don't know of any convincing arguments - if someone has suffered terribly from discrimination and still can't see how wrong it is when applied to someone of a different stripe, what is there to say?
posted by orange swan at 10:19 AM on February 20, 2004

If everybody of African (or any other people physically distinguishable from the Swedes (just as an example)) ancestry was indistinguishable from the average insurance salesman in Utah, there would not be a race issue.

Sadly, this is not true. Classic example: Rwanda and Burundi, where the absence of any clear (physically distinguishable) dividing lines between Hutu and Tutsi (pre-existing groups made into official "races" by the Belgians) didn't prevent savage racial mass killings that in the case of Rwanda a decade ago rivaled the Holocaust in grim determination to exterminate. People will use any excuse to repress and/or butcher each other.
posted by languagehat at 10:41 AM on February 20, 2004

I think in many cases it comes down to the same principle that causes the middle child, if beaten up by the older child, to take it out on the younger. I think it was in "Colonize This!" (a great book of essays dealing with intersections of oppression) that I read a piece about racial discrimination against Hispanics in the U.S. and domestic violence in poor latino areas. The thesis is essentially that as the Hispanic male's breadwinner status was destroyed by low-paying jobs, and his social status undercut by massive prejudice and discrimination, there was a cultural retreat to a macho culture, which culmanates in beating one's woman in order to assert some kind of dominance. When a person feels that they have no control over their own lives, due to economic or sociological factors, they see the strong hand of the dominant classes, and try to emulate it, in the hopes of gaining some kind of control. In this case, a heavy-handed control over the domestic situation.

bell hooks makes some keen observations of the interplay between the black civil rights movement and the feminist movement in the 60's, noting that many of the male leaders who were risking life and limb to secure black civil rights were actively discouraging the feminist movement, apparently seeing it as a threat to black male power. Her conclusion, as a radical feminist, is that we need to recognize other people fighting to be freed from oppression as being equal with ourselves, and give up fighting for equal power, because that power will drive you as mad as the old rich white guys. (This is a very poor summary; check out 'Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center' for the long form.)

Likewise, I think many homophobes see homosexuality as a threat to sexual dominance, though perhaps the sentiment isn't so explicitly vocalized. I mean, this is what homophobia is: a recognition and fear of those who have refused, for whatever reason, to take part in the mainstream gender politics. Thus homophobia goes beyond just gay-bashing, but also extends to belittling males who fail or refuse to exhibit the cultural signs of masculinity. Likewise, lesbians are a very real threat to the traditional power structure: these are women who have publicly refused to be put under the yoke of a man.

I think it therefore unsurprising that the black male civil rights movement, which rallied around the "Black Power" slogan, would feel threatened by any attempt to undermine the sexual power structures, impinging on the power that is entitled to them by their penises.

But that's just this kid's view...
posted by kaibutsu at 10:51 AM on February 20, 2004

There are so many good points in here, but I would like to echo kaibutsu's; the racism of the Irish in the US from the Civil War to modern times is a good example of this. As soon as a group shows up that's even more opressed than the current bottom-dwellers, the reaction isn't to join together in common cause but to beat them down further to cement your spot one rung up the social ladder.

Any and all power corrupts. The trick is to overcome it by willingly giving it up/away.
posted by yerfatma at 11:06 AM on February 20, 2004

I was writing about exactly what kaibutsu said in relation to this issue earlier this week. Fact is, this is another in a long line of instances of minorities being pitted against each other in American history. (And I'm not saying that one or the other minority isn't entirely complicit in this.)
posted by grrarrgh00 at 2:29 PM on February 21, 2004

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