I have been prompted to type up this post after reading a blog earlier today.
And, please read this post with the caveat that I am loath to call myself a “Gay American” due to the narrowness of that description. However, for this post, the tag fits.
This post spoke to me. Of course, not as an African-American, since I am not, but as a Gay American.
I have never been one to champion the civil rights struggles of African-Americans in the 1960s as a basis for my own civil rights struggle in the present. There are quite a few differences between the struggles as I’ve always thought them too different to relate to each other. Yet, after reading Hamden Rice’s post, I do see one, extremely important similarity.
The differences? The most obvious is the issue of race. No one can convince me otherwise, but the civil rights fight of African-Americans was inherently harder because they could never hide who they were. A Gay American does have the option to “act” straight and hide within mainstream society (as much as I abhor that option, it does exist.) An African-American of the 60s was simply unable to hide within mainstream society of that time. Instantly, in any interaction, their “race” set them apart and “categorized” them.
Another difference? Family. The African-Americans of the 60s relied heavily on their family ties to strengthen and sustain them during their hard-fought fights. By and large, Gay Americans have been separated from their families due to being gay. Rather than being separated from families, African-Americans of the 60s were bolstered by family ties.
Finally, the biggest difference? Religion. The most striking difference of the Civil Rights struggle by African-Americans of the 60s and the Civil Rights struggle going on now with Gay Americans is the stance of almost every major religion on the issue. Quite a few of the heroes of the 60s struggles begin their name with “Reverend” and most messages coming out of the religious centers in the 60s was that society’s treatment of African-Americans was simply wrong and had to be changed. The message from the vast majority of religious centers today is one of exclusion rather than determined change of society. Most Gay Americans sit in religious services from a young age hearing messages of condemnation rather than love and acceptance.
Now that I’ve stated the differences in our struggles, let me point out the similarity.
Society sanctioned terrorism.
Mr. Rice spoke of the societal atrocities that were common place back when white men were allowed to “go berserk” against African-American men and women. The beatings, the rapes, the murders, the lynchings. African-Americans lived in daily fear of simply living.
Before reading Mr. Rice’s blog post I had never looked at the Civil Rights Struggle of the 60s in that perspective, but the moment I read it, I suddenly related to the paradigm shift that happened among African-Americans during that decade.
As a Gay American, I have long-lived in fear. Granted, I now live in a great community that is very open and accepting of allowing Gay Americans to go about their lives as normal folk do. Where I live, even if there are those that don’t agree with the very being of who I am, they are forward thinking enough to keep their thoughts to themselves. (or, such has been my experience so far)
However, I have no illusions as to the real struggle going on. There ARE places in the USA where Gay Americans, daily, fear for their lives. They know at any moment they can be on the receiving end of an ill-humored joke. At any moment, they may have the shit beat out of them. The Gay American knows as a very clear reality that today may be the day that someone who hates them simply for being gay murders them.
The Gay American lives with this every day.
As much as we would love to think that society has moved forward, it’s not the case. We all, really, know this is the truth.
So, yes, as a Gay American, I truly do relate to the African American’s struggle.
And, in Hamden Rice’s post, he talks of the African-Americans who decided enough was enough and did those things they were not allowed to do, as African-Americans, and encouraged and taught African-Americans to join them. As he said, “If we do it all together, we’ll be ok.”
I am encouraged in the current Civil Rights struggle to see that many Gay Americans are finally following the same path. We are stepping forward and doing those things that Society has said we were not allowed to do. We are doing them, en masse, and doing so proudly and publicly.
I have to thank Mr. Rice for allowing me to see that in spite of the differences, there is so much the same, in the struggles then and now. I take heart to know that the root of the struggle and the true solutions are so very similar that I know, one day, Americans will look back on both struggles and wonder how the world was so backwards that race and sexuality were ever such big issues.
Because, after all, we are all human. We all live here together and are all in this thing called life together.
There’s far more that we have in common than makes us different.