Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's About Civil Rights

I sometimes read a blog known as Pandagon, but I hadn't visited in a while until a friend sent me a link directing me to the comments on a post by one of the writers, Pam Spaulding.

Spaulding who is both black and a lesbian, had written about the successful initiatives in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida to legalize discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation. She also addressed the significant percentage (70%) of Black voters who had voted for Prop 8 in California, overturning recent law that recognized that people who are gay were entitled to marry the person whom they loved, a right that straight people take for granted. Spaulding pointed out that in spite of the large numbers, that as Blacks make up 6.2% of California's population and about 10% of voters, it isn't likely that the Black population was responsible for single-handedly passing Prop 8. However, she also indicated that the large anti-homosexual feelings that run deep in Black communities across the nation need to be addressed directly. Spaulding suggested that the LGBT community needed to engage in more outreach in the Black community challenging homophobia and bigotry based on sexual orientation.

For those of us who are black and gay, a group too often marginalized within a marginalized community, I see this as a clear signal to the LGBT advocacy community. There hasn’t been enough outreach to those groups who voted against us. We haven’t reached them; there hasn’t been enough effort expended. (Spaulding )

I think that Ms. Spaulding has a valid point, but as I was reading my friend Marc's blog entry for today, another thought hit me. When I was younger, and the civil rights movement was the hope of the future, I remember sitting in a discussion group and trying to explain to a well meaning young white woman that ultimately it was other white people who had to challenge white racism. I'm not certain that she understood me, but my words came back to me as I read Marc's entry.

As a black person, I have experienced bigotry and discrimination first hand. I know what it does to one's psyche to be treated as less than, to be denied the same rights as the majority population because you and your people have been identified as other. How can I not vehemently oppose any attempts to place any other group of people in that same cage with a lock forged from irrational fear and hatred? The same words that I spoke to that young woman some 30 years ago, I spoke to myself today with a little modification. As a black person, who understands that bigotry in any form is unacceptable, I have to challenge other people, black and white, when it comes to discriminating against anyone based on his or her sexual orientation. I like to think that I have lived my life in such a way that I have done this consistently. However, today I concluded that there is an even more important need for me to specifically address the Black community on this issue of civil rights where we should be standing in solidarity.

Yesterday, while reading Spaulding's post, I also read the comments that followed. One of them was from a woman who identified herself as a Black woman. She leaves a series of comments that get progressively more defensive and offensive. Listed below is her comment that started the discussion ball rolling ; the punctuation and spelling are those of the commenter:

Here’s my drop of honesty on this one: I am Black and a Woman.... but, I am pretty sure I am atypical:
-I do not go to church -I am selfish (I LOVE myself more than I love other people...I do not sacrifice myself on the alter of womanhood and motherdom) -I have dated more White men than Black men
-I do not espouse the status quo or the Patriarchy and I do not shy away from the word “feminist”

Here’s the thing though---; When presented with the question about whether homosexuals should be able to marry and adopt, my answer is NO. Furthermore: When people start waxing on about how anti gay marriage laws are reminiscent of anti miscegination laws and / or making comparisons between racism and anti homosexual sentiments, my hearing gets turned off. There you have it. Uhura! on 11/05 at 02:03 PM

I left the following comment addressing Uhura's words, but my comment is really for anyone who thinks like the person calling herself Uhura (I confess that as a long time fan of Star Trek in all its incarnations, I am really offended by her appropriation of Uhura's name):

Dear Uhura:

I’m a 53-year-old black, southern woman. I proudly identify myself as a feminist. I am spiritual but I don’t attend church regularly. However, unlike you, my hearing is just fine and discrimination is discrimination no matter what disguise it may wear. Gay rights are a civil rights issue.

Denying people basic civil liberties based on sexual orientation is just as discriminatory as denying rights based on skin color, ethnicity, age, disability, national origin, socioeconomic class, or religious belief.

Indeed, the very act of demanding that people convince you as to why they are entitled to the same protections under the law as you are entitled to is in and of itself, discrimination.

If someone were to ask me to justify why black people are entitled to protection under the laws of this country, I would think that person to be a complete and utter fool. No one has to justify why they are deserving of civil rights. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence that sets out the founding principals of this country presents that these rights are "Inalienable." They cannot be taken away because they are not conveyed; they are each and every person's entitlement as a human being. Don't worry, I'm quite aware that the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration and subsequently our Constitution has been an ongoing and sometimes sluggish process, but the ideology is clear.

No group of people has to justify why they are entitled to the same rights experienced by the majority. It is the responsibility of the majority to specifically delineate the basis for any restriction on those rights. That's the basis for our entire legal system. If someone is accused of violating a law, that person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is only when a jury of ones' peers determines that one is guilty of the allegations against him or her that the person's civil liberties are suspended.

You offer no basis for suspending the civil rights of an entire class of people based on their sexual orientation other than that you just aren't in favor of the idea of gay marriage or the adoption of children by gay parents.

"I really have a hard time expressing exactly why, and I would love to be converted to the other side of the argument. "(Uhura)

I find this exceptionally lazy. If you are going to express your belief that some people are not entitled to the same freedoms that you enjoy, you should at least make the effort to articulate the basis for your bigotry. Uhura, I really hate to burst your balloon, but you are a bigot and one of the more disturbing kind. Having grown up in the south, I have always preferred my racial bigots to be honest. Tell me flat out that you believe that my skin color makes me inferior and not entitled to the same rights and freedoms that you enjoy. Don't do some song and dance about how I need to persuade you of why I should have the rights that you so freely enjoy.

Your type of rhetoric is only designed to make you feel justified in your bigotry, to be able to tell yourself that you are not a bigot; it's those gay people who can't even justify why they should be allowed to get married or adopt children. No one has to justify why he or she is entitled to the same freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution to everyone.

Discriminating against the LGBT community is a civil rights issue, just like racial discrimination is a civil rights issue. No sane person would ever ask me to offer reasons why I am entitled to the same rights as white people. So Uhura, I offer you some choices: (1) you are insane; (2) you are a bigot; or (3) you are an insane bigot. You choose, but please stop running around pretending that you offer the black perspective.

Certainly there is a larger focus in segments of the black community on anti-gay sentiment and as Pam points out, there needs to be some serious strategizing as to how to ameliorate the bias. I also agree that the debate needs to be reframed to focus not on religious beliefs but on access to equal rights and equal treatment under the law.

Uhura, just so we are clear, I am not gay. I normally don't identify my sexual orientation except to people with whom I intend to have sex, but given your demonstrated proclivities for labeling any black person who disagrees with you as only doing so because they have a secret gay agenda, (Uhura accused a black male, who challenged her opinions, of being gay, in very unflattering terms), I want to make it perfectly clear that the only agenda that I have is one that recognizes that to discriminate against any person is to lessen the integrity of us all.


warrior scout said...

nice post sheria. i defnitely agree that the message about outreach is clear. i also have come to believe that a step back does not always truly mean a loss of advancement. sometimes it is a necessary part of advancement as a whole. in the early nineties, amendment 2 was passed in colorado. there were very hurtful slogans chanted and abandonment feelings stirred by our lgbt brothers and sisters regarding boycotting, and the state of hate. but the amendment found itself in the state supreme court and was overturned when ruled unconstitutional. i read so many posts and articles that stir the echoes of hatred and bigotry that instigate these kinds of measures and proposition. i hope my beloved lgbt community can find its way to inclusive thinking to overcome here, as that is a needed tactic.

Dannelle said...

Great post and eloquent answer to Uhura. I have been extremely disturbed by the actions taken here in California. I must be a Pollyanna because I never dreamed CALIFORNIANS would deny civil rights to the GL community. The atmopshere is quite ugly here right now. Many of my friends are worrying about their legal marriages becoming null and void. If they can do this to one group, what's next? I do not want to know. Dannelle

Marc said...

I'd bet a lot of money Uhura was rejected by a man who preferred other men. Hell hath no fury...
I heard a black woman on the radio say "I was born black. I didn't choose my skin color. Gays choose to be gay." This is the most pernicious myth in the ignorant community--black or white. And I don't think unless this basic misbelief is addressed, you are going to sway many of they H8TERS with rational discussion of civil rights. They will reject the label of bigot because they believe they are judging a behavior, not someone's unchangeable essence.
Homophobia is interrelated to misogyny. Both have at their heart a contempt for what is perceived to be weak. In a culture that so long has emasculated black men, those rendered powerless have needed to feel powerful over others. (In prison I heard "bitch," "ho," and "female," but NEVER "woman.") Oppresion is the gift that keeps on giving.
It is my sincere hope that with Obama and the gradual reduction of racism in the country, there will be less hurt to pass on. But the ignorance that sexual orientation is no more a choice than skin color, that is the #1 issue that must be addressed. And don't even get me started on the Bible and the church.
I'm glad to have you on our side. But I think your approach has to be less logical. You are dealing with irrational beliefs. People change when their personal experience gives them evidence to alter it. Uhura needs to know she loves someone gay.

Beth said...

OMG, as soon as I saw how she signed her comment, I thought, "How dare she use the name Uhura! Uhura and Captain Kirk shared the first interracial kiss on network TV!" I had to laugh when I saw that you also objected to her use of the name!

I think Marc is right--so much of this goes back to the untrue belief that being gay is a choice. When people move past that, and I believe they eventually will, things will change. Or maybe those people "choosing" to be gay can all make a pilgrimage to Sarah Palin's church, where they can "pray away the gay!" (Sorry, I couldn't resist throwing that in there.)

Great entry.

Love, Beth

Saltydawg said...

As a Brit, ok a gay man too, I just don't get it. Yeah, we have problems here, but this thing about same sex marriage just does not blow anyones hair back and make them scream and run out the door. Personaly I have a theory that many American's are like this as they seem to think they are more religious than other Christian countries. No, it's not that. They are not as accepting as other Christians in the UK and are far more biggoted. Still, there's change a foot in the US, I can just feel it.
Gaz xx

Cathy said...

It is amazing, isn't it - "Uhura" is not unlike many black women who pride themselves on their race and creed, then get them mixed up in the GLBT issue w/o explaining their stance. Many religious blacks feel it would be blasphemy to endorse same-sex pairings of any kind no less legal ones and for some reason it resonates more loudly in that community than the white. I'm told it's because blacks take their religion more seriously. Not sure about that but one thing is clear: sex and religion don't mix, like most things and religion. Personal preferences for instance. God should stand alone. To see an issue clearly I believe one must take off the christian filter, this isn't a "God" issue it's a human rights one IMO and I would expect everyone of mine, why shouldn't my 2 lesbian sisters, trans brother, trans nephew and bi brother? Good post.

Alan said...

On this I have to follow a sentiment from my Marine friends. "Marry'm all and let God sort it out." The foundations of this country are resting on tolerance. That, more than anything else, is the American Ideal. We are free to make religious an moral choices based on our own relationship with God, not on governmental legislation, as long as those choices don't harm another. It is a Civil Rights issue, and religion should be backing it not opposing it. Of course, these sentiments will get me burned at the stake in my community.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

I think Cathy nailed it, and made me laugh at the same time. First, "one thing is clear: sex and religion don't mix, like most things and religion." And second, "To see an issue clearly I believe one must take off the christian filter".

There's the rub. In my experience, Grade A Christians (and I assume perhaps wrongly that a higher percentage of the CA blacks voting 'yes' consider themselves Christians than those voting 'no', can't even accept that they see the world through a filter. They see 'truth'. Plain and simple.

Tying that back to an early comment in Sheria's original post. I agree with Sam Harris that only 'moderately' religious people can reel in their excessive brethren. Us heathens have no leverage.

Yasmin said...

Having read the article you reffered to and "Miss Opinionated but hasn't thought it through" response, does make me wonder what goes through peoples minds, however in the UK although do not agree with Gay Marriage, it's in the main now accepted as the norm, and it is normal if to people wish to share their lives and want to cement it by marriage good for them, and want to adopt children etc why not the so called normal marriages aren't the greatest advert for the modern family dynamic, and also shock horror we might learn something from those who are already facing adversity because of their oreintation. I've been seeing a theme through many blogs that I read about the break down of Christian family values, but find they are very unchristian like in their beliefs and actions if you don't agree with them, if only they would tell us what exactly they're trying to preserve, then we would all be enlightened in the same way, these people need to get a grip, the world is changing and you have yo least embrace the idea of change, if you can't go back to your cave and bolt the door.
Great post Sheria.

Take care


Rhonda said...

I'm going to stop coming here because..dang it you always make me think. It's very tiring! :)
I don't have any big mind blowing comment to this. When a person says about themselves "I am selfish (I LOVE myself more than I love other people...I do not sacrifice myself on the alter of womanhood and motherdom)" You cannot possibly be shocked by what comes next. Although, I had trouble understanding what "I have dated more White men than Black men" had to do with anything. I am not a christian, however, I can tell you that it is going to be a tough battle to divorce the gay issue from religion. They have found justification in the bible for the bigotry, just as they had and have found justification for prejudice. Don't ask me where it is because I couldn't possibly tell you. According to my husband who grew up Catholic and can recite the bible in his sleep, it doesn't exist. Don't tell that to them though, they honestly won't listen..much like Uhura, ears are closed. There has been justification found in the bible for just about every horrible thing we have done throughout history. Moving to the South has certainly opened my eyes to what terrible bigotry and prejudice still exists in this country, in the name of God. I have a gay brother-in-law who is madly in love and would like nothing more than to be married. It is heartbreaking that he is not able to do so. Just when we think we've made some progress it becomes apparent that we still have a very long way to go.

Big Mark 243 said...

A great post, IMO. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.