Wrong Side of History: Blacks and the Gay Rights Movement

The recent defeat of same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland, which was largely due to the black church’s opposition, further illuminates the chasm that exists between the black community and the gay community. This disconnect leads me to believe that the black community is afflicted with some form of acute tone-deafness or a neurological disorder that contributes to memory loss. That is the only explanation that makes sense to me when I hear the vitriol that is often directed at gay and lesbians by many blacks.

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We must have forgotten that we were once vilified, maligned, and degraded. We must have forgotten the lies and stereotypes that were spread throughout history in order to further subjugate us. We must have lost the ability to hear the cries for acceptance and equality from gays and lesbians. And we must lack the ability to hear how the cries of the GLBT community echo our cries as African-Americans. This lack of empathy and solidarity is glaring and I wonder how the history books will treat the black community and black church's wholesale suppression of the gay rights movement.

A recent study revealed that 64 percent of black people find homosexuality to be immoral. That statistic is not surprising when we consider the fact that most black Americans consider themselves to be Christians and the black church's stance against homosexuality is well-documented. Black folks point to the Bible as being their moral guide and compass and consistently quote the Bible when discussing GLBT issues. But many of us have forgotten that the very same Bible that we often use to justify our prejudice against gay people, was once used to justify OUR ENSLAVEMENT. Where is our sense of history? And why are we so disproportionately expressive and open about our opposition to homosexuality on moral grounds, when we have so many other moral dilemmas that are far more pressing and damaging to the black community?

Nearly 80 percent of black children (mostly born to heterosexual parents) are born out of wedlock. The overwhelming majority of black children (products of heterosexual parents) are raised in one-parent households. Nearly 30 percent of black men (predominately heterosexual) are at some stage of the criminal justice system. Black men (predominately heterosexual) are shooting and killing each other left and right on street corners in urban America. Black women (mostly heterosexual) have more abortions than any other race of women. The average black 12th grader performs on an 8th grade level. We are the unhealthiest race and are afflicted with almost every single disease at disproportionate rates. And let us put this in perspective: Blacks account for nearly 40 percent of the national prison population, while only about 2-3 percent of the black population is gay. But, if you want to get a significant number of black churches galvanized, tell them that a marriage equality law is being proposed. Want to get a lot of black people riled up, tell them that a gay person is doing....anything. There is something wrong with this picture. Where are our priorities?

We have turned the gay rights issue in to an “us” vs. “them” issue. Gay people are not our adversaries. Many of us are participating in the discrimination and suppression of people who are members of our families, churches, sororities, and communities. How do we rationalize this discrimination? I often hear black people take umbrage to the comparisons that are made between the gay civil rights movement and the black civil rights movement. The parallels are obvious. Why did so many whites oppose interracial marriage? Because they thought it was disgusting and unnatural for a black person to marry a white person. Those who opposed interracial marriage believed that it would lead to the unraveling of society. They thought that it went against what God intended. Does any of this sound familiar?

The Black community must realize that gay and lesbian people are not aliens that should be scorned and vilified; they are members of our families, our friends, our sorority sisters, our fraternity brothers, our churches, and leaders in our communities. Some of the greatest heroes and heroines in the black community have been gay or bisexual: Barbara Jordan, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Alvin Ailey, Octavia Butler, Angela Davis, Bayard Rustin, Bill T. Jones, and Lorraine Hansberry. Are their contributions to the black community any less significant because of their orientation? Should they have or have had many of their rights circumscribed because of their orientation?

Civil rights icon and congressional representative Jon Lewis (D-GA) put it best, “I have fought too hard and for too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.” It is time for black people to stand up for what we spent centuries fighting for, equality.

Rochee Jeffrey is a pop culture addict, new media consultant, and screenwriter/filmmaker. She is an avid blogger and shares her opinions about everything from pop culture, fashion, relationships, sexuality and life on her personal blog www.ithastobesaid.com. Hailing originally from Jamaica, she balances and navigates two distinct cultures through her writing and life. As a devout feminist, she strives to empower women through her writing and advocacy. Feel free to follow her on twitter @ithas2besaid.

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