LGBTs, African-Americans Vie For Top Spot in Oppression Olympics

When comparing the LGBT rights movement to the African-American struggle for civil rights, it’s important to figure out which group has suffered more. At least that’s the feeling you get when reading Tara Pringle Jefferson’s article on, “Do African-Americans Sympathize with the Gay Rights Movement?”

Jefferson begins by noting that four of the seven celebrities featured in the Human Rights Campaign’s marriage equality videos are African-American—something she says “might not make much logical sense” considering that recent Pew Research polls place blacks’ acceptance of LGBT couples at 49%, well below the 58% of all Americans overall.

Jefferson asks Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, and Preston Mitchum, a student at American University’s Washington College of Law, why some blacks get offended when LGBTs compare their fight for equality with the Civil Rights Movement.

“Do we (the LGBT community) get hosed down and dogs sicced on us? No,” Lettman-Hicks said. “But we’re comparing how our community is treated, from a so-called civil society—the overt discrimination and bigotry. No one should be able to understand that better than black people in this country, and that is the root of the comparison. But you can’t compare the plight of the movement, the centuries of oppression that black people in this country had to face.”…

“If you look at race, you’re born that way and people know ‘what you are’ immediately,” Mitchum said. “With sexual orientation, somehow people say you choose to be that way. It almost implies that if you’re discriminated against, then it’s your fault. As a gay man, I know I didn’t choose to be gay. For someone to say otherwise, it’s really offensive… My role is dual, because it comes from being gay and black. I can see both sides of the story, and people need to recognize that the struggles are different. It almost trivializes black civil rights in a way.”

In response, activist John Aravosis pointed out that even Martin Luther King Jr’s widow Coretta Scott King compared the fight against racism with the fight against homophobia. Aravosis  adds that he’s “tired of gay people who feel the need to apologize for ‘daring’ to compare the gay civil rights battle to the Civil Rights Movement”:

Usually there are two reasons given why gay civil rights violations aren’t nearly as bad as what African-Americans suffered, and thus gays aren’t really part of the long history of the Civil Rights Movement in this country.

1) African-Americans were oppressed for hundreds of years.

2) Lynchings.

Well, here are two responses.

1) And gays (and transgendered people) had it great the past couple of thousand of years?

2) Yes, lynchings were horrible. And the Holocaust wasn’t exactly a cake walk for gays either.

He then goes off on a tangent by pointing out that Jews have long been oppressed too and ultimately asks, “Maybe the question isn’t why we dare compare the two civil rights movements, rather, maybe the question is why some dare not.”

Here’s the thing: though the gays, blacks and Jews all have their own tortured histories, they overlap somewhat with regards to the methods employed by the oppressors and those fighting for liberation. So instead of stating the obvious, it’s more productive to find what each movement can teach us about fighting inequality, no matter the group.

Image via Monica Roberts

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