Patricia Nell Warren

No on "Gay Is Black"

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | December 10, 2008 9:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Gay Icons and History, Media, Politics
Tags: African-American, black civil rights, gay is the new black, Holocaust, persecuted groups, protected classes of people

"Gay is the new black." It's slick as a slogan, but dangerous as a dogma. I understand what its purveyors are trying to do with it. But it's dangerous ground to stand on, and already is blowing up in their faces. I agree with activist Michael Crawford that it's proving to be divisive and hurtful, and doesn't represent the positioning of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered/intersex people who are black.

The slogan promotes a habit of equating one civil-rights cause with another. Equating is ignorant and presumptuous. Just because two groups are aiming for equal protection under U.S. law doesn't mean that their issues are alike in any way.

So "gay is the new black" is provoking resentful reactions from some African Americans. They state that we gays should not dare to equate our situation to their centuries in slavery -- that they suffered far more than we did. But how do they know how much we suffered? The conservative churchgoers among them would probably not stop and consider what it was like to be burned for sodomy in Renaissance Italy, or hung for sodomy in the American colonies. After all, they believe that we're evil and deserved the punishment.

As an activist friend of mine points out, saying we're the "new blacks" also implies that African Americans have won all their battles -- which is far from the truth. So they take our equating with them as a slap in their faces.

Making Our Case

Defenders of the slogan insist that it merely means we're now taking our turn to battle for rights.

But between the lines it sends a very different message, which is that we don't think our case is weighty in its own right. The activists who want to hitch us to the African-American bandwagon betray a certain lack of confidence that we can make it on our own. After all, when we make our case to legislators and voters and courts, we can't paint the same kind of picture that black people can -- of horrible centuries spent in slavery, not only under white European rule but Arab rule as well.

But why should we try to appropriate this picture of theirs? Our history is different, and no less legitimate. We have our own horrible centuries to talk about -- religious persecution by most religions, and countless millions of smothered lives, broken hearts and spirits, and cruel public executions.

In the end, no one but the members of a persecuted group in question can know how much that group suffered. For the rest of the world, their suffering can only be imagined.

For example, nobody but pre-20th-century native Americans, and their descendants who grow up on the reservations, will ever know how it felt after the conquest. As an American who has some native American ancestry, I can only use my writer's imagination to put myself in the moccasins of my ancestors who suffered. I wasn't raised on the rez, in a family and social atmosphere that was impacted by all that violence and cruelty. So those atrocity stories that I heard from my cousins were reaching me only at third- and fourth-hand.

Danger of Comparisons

Inevitably, the unfairness of equating can also lead to people making unwarranted comparisons of one cause with another. Comparisons can prompt one group to distance themselves from another group, or to rank themselves above another group on the belief that they were more persecuted, or more deserving of rights.

Comparing sets up a dangerous social dynamic of historians and commentators who actually try to prove "who suffered more than whom." The past can give us sad examples of what happens when one group is elevated above others.

One example: after World War II, the Nazi atrocities began to be positioned as something that happened only to one persecuted group, namely the 6 million Jews who died in death camps or massacres. Because Jews occupy a special place on the spiritual horizon of Christians, the Holocaust began to be considered as a unique event -- a gruesome kind of gold standard against which all other atrocities should be measured.

Unfortunately, as a result, it became increasingly difficult to mention the 5 million non-Jews who perished in the same death camps and mass graves. According to the Museum of Tolerance, these included Gypsies, Serbs, Polish intelligentsia, resistance fighters from various nations, German opponents of Nazism, Jehovah's Witnesses, habitual criminals, vagrants and -- yes -- homosexuals. Nobody knows how many of us were killed by the Nazis -- estimates run as high as 100,000. But somehow or other, by comparison, our sufferings, and those of the other non-Jewish groups, were made to seem less important, less horrible.

Indeed, some traditionalist Jews and Christians were upset when gay activists began asking for our inclusion in U.S. museum memorials to the Holocaust. The traditionalists denied us the status of victims of Naziism. "Homosexuals seek inclusion in the [New York City] Holocaust museum because it would help them gain acceptance of their sexual behavior," fulminated Howard L. Hurwitz, head of the Family Defense Council. He added, "Homosexuals were never walled in ghettos ... or targeted for extermination."

Hurwitz's heartless comment shows how some members of a persecuted group can actually dismiss the sufferings of another group. In this case, our activist effort wasn't saying, "Gay is the new Jew." We are fully justified in seeking recognition for our part in the Holocaust, because countless thousands of us are firmly on the historical record as experiencing its horrors.

My point is -- "comparing" the legitimacy of human-rights grievances leads nowhere, except into making whoever does it look ignorant and heartless. It also reveals a deplorable lack of respect and sensitivity for the preciousness of other people's lives and struggles.

Unique as a Protected Class

When some of us say, "Gay is the new black," it implies that all civil rights in the U.S. are based on ethnicity. Hence the value of allying ourselves with a successful ethnicity cause. Comments by some African Americans reveal that even they believe that all civil rights are based on ethnicity. Indeed, many Americans still use the blanket term "civil rights movement" to refer only to the rising tide of African-American demands in the 50s and 60s.

But that narrow definition is not accurate. With passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, U.S. federal law established a number of classes of people who need protection in order to be equal under the law. Only two classes -- race and nationality -- were based on ethnicity; the rest include gender, religion, age, disabilities, marital status, familial status, and military status (veterans). Though it was race and gender issues that launched the first legislation for the 20th-century civil-rights movement, the law itself is careful not to elevate any one class over another.

The LGBT movement wouldn't want to flag itself "gay is the new woman," even though we have enjoyed support by the feminist movement. In the 1960s, the emerging women's movement did develop close ties with the black movement, starting with the inescapable fact that 50 percent of those oppressed African Americans were women, and quite a few black women besides Rosa Parks were active in the black movement, though they seldom got any recognition for it. But white women who later emerged as feminist leaders were sometimes perceived as "racist" by their black movement colleagues, because they pursued issues and strategies that mainly concerned white women.

But, in a sense, each protected class is virtually unique in its nature and circumstances. And each class surely feels that it has suffered to the max -- the battered wife, the minor who was denied rights to make a life-and-death medical decision, the abused elder, the paraplegic in a wheelchair. The greying homeless Vietnam combat veteran who was used and discarded by his country, who is now dying of Agent Orange poisoning in his cardboard shelter somewhere, feels himself to be just as wronged and overwhelmed by suffering as any black person or woman or gay man or other member of a protected class.

So it's not necessary for us LGBT people to brand ourselves as the "new anything." While we welcome support from other movements, and are willing to support them if they ask it, our cause can stand on its own merits, thank you.

Instead, we LGBT people should simply be aiming at our own unique niche in that list of protected classes. That's the only way that we're going to get the particular civil rights that we want and need. For example, we're the only class needing the right to marry.

By sticking to what is uniquely ours, we stand the best chance of winning respect and support from members of the other protected classes. And we show the utmost respect and support for their own cause as well.

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Most of their objections aren't because of perceived dissimilarities between the movements--being born into slavery is not arguably worse than being burnt/lynched upon discovery. It's because they don't want to be associated with homosexuals--whom they find morally repugnant in large percentages.

You don't see blacks raising a fuss when women used them as a parallel, or when immigrants do so.

Blacks didn't dare protest when the women's movement compared itself to theirs. After all, 50 percent of the black population was (and is) female.

So, could we say, "The gay movement is the new women's movement?"

I address this possibility in my post. Sure, we could. After all, lesbians and bi women and anyone transgendered/intersex who identifies as female is represented by the women's movement.

But would we want to? The women's movement doesn't represent all our issues. As women, we already have the right to marry...but only to members of the opposite sex. We don't have the right to marry as per our sexual orientation.

Also, some in the women's movement are anti-gay, so they would not welcome our conflating with them any more than some black activists are welcoming us. Remember the huge fallout over NOW and whether feminists would support the aspirations of lesbians?

I figured the idea was full of holes. I'm glad you pointed them out.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 31, 2008 12:05 PM

We already did, Monica, when Suzanne Pharr rightly declared homophobia to be "a weapon of sexism".

Many African-Americans who object to drawing parallels between the fight for racial equality and that of queer equality have made the mistake of buying into the oppressors' notion that civil rights enforcement, instead of being something that is restorative to a place of equal opportunity -- an infinite thing, is an exercise of "special rights" of which there is a limited pool, thus they are pitted against others seeking them. This also falsely frames injustice as privilege.

One way for an oppressor to stay on top is to pit the oppressed against each other, steering them away from seeing the connectednesses and commonalities of oppression.

While I can see the point in learning the lessons of previous movements, this comparison has become too much of a crutch. We aren't putting our own stories out there enough. You make a good point with the holocaust - why aren't we talking about that history of oppression? Or about the material impacts of these issues?

Getting off the "gay is the new black" mentality would do more than make the movement less offensive - it would make us more creative.

Amen, Alex. And I think we all agree, here at Bilerico, on the importance of our knowing our own history. Bilerican bloggers do a great deal to churn out new facts and perspectives on history during the History Months.

Many of our people are woefully underinformed...and no wonder, since no one teaches them any LGBT history in school, and most of our pro-active youth organizations don't teach our young people any history when they come out and enter the "community." I will bet you my bottom dollar that quite a few younger people never heard of Harvey Milk until the film was released.

Unfortunately the LGBT media (magazines, websites, TV channels) could be doing a great deal more on the history front. I was shocked and saddened when one of the TV channels was approached with a pitch for a sports-hero series based on my nonfic book "Lavender Locker Room," and the response was, "We don't do the past...just the present."

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 31, 2008 12:16 PM

However, to ignore the parallels that are there also denies and buries history. And being afraid to call a bigot a bigot just because the bigot has suffered oppression, too, and arrogantly sees himself immune from bigotry serves no legitimate purpose.

The slogan also brings up the tasteless implication that "black is the old black," i.e. obsolete, finished, out of fashion.

Even though we have elected a black president, I don't think we can say that the movement for black civil rights/equality is over. Not while there are still racial disparities in health care, education, income, and so many outright racists in this country as we have seen during the campaign.

Civil rights movements do not come in and out of style. They are not something to be put on and taken off because it's the cool thing to do.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 11, 2008 2:11 AM

Dear Editoria, Fabulous...

Having visited a German concentration camp and observing the "pink triangles" on the fragments of prisoner uniforms on display it would seem that Mr. Hurwitz is a blind idiot. One would have to ask if he has visited a concentration camp.

In Europe, where they still teach history, these sad memorials greatly overshadow a New York Holocaust museum. They should wish to include us as a statement of accuracy or their message is a falsehood. Perhaps they do not mind that, but they should. Perhaps a public statement from the head of the History Department of New York University might convince them. Any volunteers?

Our story is a great and compelling one and we need neither apologize for it or mimic any other movement (except perhaps tactically)to forward social change. Thank you Patricia!

I'd rather not have to claim my own rights by saying, "I'm the next black person." I don't want my rights based on someone else; I want them because I deserve them on my own standing.

Absolutely. While there are similarities along the way, I'd like to believe that - when we do receive equal rights - it won't be because someone out there is thinking, "damn, we did give rights to [insert group here] so I guess we have to. . ." Human dignity and equality ultimately have little to do with what others have experienced; it's about the essential human-ness of us all.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 31, 2008 12:26 PM

But the parallels are a useful tool when one is seeking analogies that provide a frame of reference to bridge the gap between the familiar to us. It can be quickly humanizing and that's sometimes just what's needed. It's a process that doesn't ignore our stories, just connects a story someone already knows and empathizes with to one of our own, stretching the empathy across the divide from the familiar to the unfamiliar and making the unfamiliar familiar in the process.

beachcomberT | December 11, 2008 8:59 AM

I agree GLBT people should present their case for equality simply as "Americans" -- not as "new blacks," new Jews (some of whom, like gays, closeted or disowned their identity, anglicized their names, etc, to pass,) new Indians, new feminists, or anything else. We live under U.S. laws and pay taxes -- 'nuff said.
Regarding the gay part of the Holocaust, the U.S. Holocaust Museum does have a traveling exhibit that focuses on the gay victims. I saw it last spring at the Univ. of Rhode Island. Though modest, it does help shed light on an overlooked footnote of history. One thing that amazed me was that Germany left its Paragraph 175 anti-gay law in effect for decades, and continued to keep some gays imprisoned for years after WW2 ended.

Thanks for mentioning the Museum of Tolerance's traveling exhibit on the gay victims of Naziism. I did mention the Museum's full recognigion of us, albeit briefly, in my post.

Honestly. Whenever someone says "_______ is the new black" it's a trendy fashion statement more than anything else. Saying "Gay Is The New Black" trivializes our struggle for equality, and it trivializes us. I seldom allow myself the luxury of getting outwardly irritated at anything; I control such emotions, to make them more powerful when I do reveal them. Nonetheless, I am impatient and irritated when I see things like this.

Our experience is unique. It's because of our unique identity and experience that we are hated, targeted, and discriminated against.

So yes, and yes, and yes. Thank you for the post.

I personally hate all the _____ is the new ______ pop credos. Of course, I didn't realize it until Gay is the new Black rose its ugly head. There was nothing pop about it; it was far too serious.

That's when I realized it was all a cop out. 40 is not the new 30, it's the same ol' 40 -- of course, if I say it often enough, maybe I'll feel better about my current state.

'Gay is the New Jew' says it all, and I wonder why I never made that comparison before. It's a comparison no one would dare make. To trivialize the OLD BLACK by making it the NEW anything with such ease is, at the very least, most unsettling.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | December 11, 2008 9:50 AM

I frankly sometimes get a little irritated at the knee-jerk use of the term "separate but equal is inherently unequal", which comes from the Supreme Court's landmark case dealing with desegregation of public schools, in the context of marriage equality. Not so much in the sense that the California Supreme Court rightly reflected it in its equal protection analysis last June, but as to the nature and degree of the inherent inequality involved.

Being told for decades that because of the color of your skin you couldn't be in the same school building/classroom as your white counterparts seems a far cry from a situation, still largely hypothetical, where same-sex couples have enjoyed the "separate but equal" legal benifits (both state and federal)of civil unions, with the legal difference being only use of "the M word".

The last time I voted they made me go through the stigmatizing humiliation of making me stand in a line for people whose last names began with "M to Z" rather than "A to L". So far as I could tell my vote counted and I was treated exactly the same. Maybe that needs to be litigated in the name of full voting equality.

Some black people who remember the days of real "badges of inferiority" might be forgiven if they don't quite see the "civil unions vs. marriage" debate quite the same as thier own struggles in this regard.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 31, 2008 1:31 PM

Of course being denied the right to civil marriage and the attendant lack of access to the tens of thousands of laws and regulations is not the same as having no civil marriage rights and having one's religious marriage vows limited not just to death but to one spouse being sold to a distant new owner. But the sociological effects on us all of marriage and family disruption are highly similar.

And that similarity extends to Brown when one digs below the surface details of apartheid to the groundbreaking research illuminating the psychological effects of being denied equality under the law -- the effects on the psyche, particularly the virtually identical injury to the development of self-image and self-esteem.

That universality is what makes Brown so broadly applicable -- and important a case -- and it defines, beyond the issues of portability and nonredundancy, the "M"-word as consequential and other forms of civil union as anything but equal to civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.

It also goes further to define, in a de facto manner, opposition to civil marriage equality as undermining of Brown, thus undermining of the foundation of modern civil rights law, thus racist.

The GLBTQ movement has to achieve its wins as its own entity with the help of willing allies, as it has over the last nearly forty years.

Paraphrasing the phrase Black is Beautiful to create Gay is Good proved a useful adaptation of the Civil Rights Movement for the Gay Rights Movement. Today's Gay Is The New Black appears doubly problematic.

I wholeheartedly agree that each protected class is virtually unique in its nature and circumstances. The incarnations of the homophile movement to the Gay Rights Movement to the California fights in the 1970s, NGLTF, HRC and more assimilationist movements today is a unique trajectory to be respected.

The African-American struggle for rights has been extremely unique. Gay Is The New Black makes me highly uneasy because of the comparison that it generates. I'm certain it does the same for others and will win few allies as it muddies the waters of GLBTQ and African-American history.

The issue is not just one of semantics. We want "marriage" not for the Hallmark-card sentimental value of the term but for the 1,100 or 1,200 benefits that "marriage" and only "marriage" now conveys. For example, check with your local Social Security office. You and your partner, Mr. Right, won't be entitled to any survivor's benefits unless you are married. Nor can one partner's work record be used to obtain higher pension benefits for the other, unless they are husband and wifey. There are many, many other examples of this inequality in daily life. We've grown to inured to them we have trouble recognizing them. Oh, I suppose, it's slightly possible President Obama and his radical Congress will pass an across-the-board measure repealing DOMA and granting civil unions (gay & straight)full equality with "married" heteros. But I wouldn't want to lay money on that bet. Sadly, we have to rely mainly on the courts to move us up to the front of the marriage bus.

I'm so glad someone wrote about this. The "Gay is the New Black" argument has irked me to no end. All of the points you made against the argument are exactly spot on. I've been calling for an open discussion to find what's a valid argument for OUR civil rights struggles with friends and on facebook. In a sense it's a cop-out not to take that time to find what's unique to our causes. The blacks in the 60's didn't say "Black is the New Jew."
Also, your article brought up the fact for me that we also have to make an extra effort to learn about our past. We don't have families to pass down stories of our injustices in the past. We pop-up randomly, born into straight cultures, then have to find our own identity, stumbling and tripping over ourselves throughout adolescence, looking for our safe zone. We're not raised with a sense of who we are or where we've come from so it becomes that much harder for us to move forward. I hope everyone takes the time to learn about our history--pre-1969.

I feel compelled to note that while I do not equate the struggle for transsexual rights with the Black civil rights movement, the current situation is oddly parallel in many fashions.

Just a few years ago in a discrimination case in Western New York, the defendants used the exact same arguments, literally word for word, of the Dread Scott case. When a transwoman is murdered, her killer can pretty much count on a much much reduced sentence upon being found guilty than for almost any other class of victim. The only other group that suffers per capita risk of being murdered to transwomen are black men.

Gays and Lesbians could have made similar comparisons forty or so years ago, they cannot now. That's reality.

Just to put a bit of perspective on the subject.

Your point is well taken. In the law, there is the power of precedent, and lawyers always try to invoke precedent if they can. "X was decided in XYZ case in 1950, and we have similar ABC circumstances in this case before us today, so therefore we should be deciding on X today."

A build-up of precedent can actually create a powerful trend towards change...which is what the religious right is trying to do in getting rid of Roe v. Wade, little by little, by nibbling away on the limb it hangs from.

In our case, however, precedent is giving us only so much help. From that point on, we have to build from our own circumstances.

One of the big problems I see, is that mainstream people are very uneducated about the centuries-long oppression of us as a group. They accept blanket statements by our enemies that "homosexuals were never oppressed." We have to put more of our history out there, to judges and legislators.

I vividly remember testifying in federal district court in Philadelphia during the CDA lawsuit in 1996, in a situation where the judges had admitted they didn't know much about how the Internet and the Web works. The issue was censorship, and the pros and cons centered on the technology of how certain limits on expression were going to be possible, or not possible. So the first day of the hearings, both sides got to do their technical seminar on the ABCs of Internet technology, so the judges could get educated. And later, having been educated, the judges made an educated decision...and went on to declare the CDA unconstitutional.

Wouldn't it be great if we could create more opportunities to educate Congress, state legislators, church people, judges, and everybody else out there who desperately needs more fact and understanding on why we want change???

There's absolutely so much that I agree with in this post. The sentiments are so much aligned toward mine.

But I can't help but feeling somewhat scorned every time I'm told "be quiet" when I talk about the parallels between African-American civil rights and LGBT civil rights.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, "America has learned many lessons in its history, including after the Civil War, through the Women's Movement and in the 20th century Civil Rights Movement. These are lessons that can be applied practically and legally to the issues we face today."

I don't think there's anything wrong with the phrase you cited, which invokes history, and the progress of establishing rights in the U.S. A lot happened between the Civil War and the 1964 Civil Rights Act that Americans tend to forget about.

It IS important for Americans to recognize that the term "civil rights" does not refer exclusively to the struggle of African-Americans. It's hard to understand how this mis-definition of the term has happened. Watching the news footage, I actually see blacks themselves saying, "Civil rights is based on ethnicity," and that's their grounds for denying rights to us, since we're not an ethnic group.

The 1964 body of legislation firmly established a number of protected classes, only one of which was based on race. Later Congress added several new groups to the list of those who are designated for protection to make them equal under the law. So "civil rights" is a very broad concept, and there is no reason why we can't be included.

But the phrase "gay is the new black" goes way beyond the kind of statement you cite.

Let's say a black person stumbles into a KKK meeting,
"Hey, I'm not really black.", he tells them as they close in.

Now lets say a gay person stumbles into a KKK meeting; saying nothing, he just kind of smiles, shakes hands, and at an oppurtune time, makes his escape.

So, does the gay person's encounter differ from the black person's? Of course.

LGBT people, with a few exceptions, do not have to come out publically. There is no defining characteristic that marks them as "gay" to the public eye, unlike blacks, who can not hide their skin or other ethinic characteristics.

It is sheer arrogance on the part of the person who tries to equate their struggle with that of others. It makes a sham of the struggle for acceptance and equality that the other group has had to go through. It is demeaning.

Gays can 'hide' in plain sight. Our struggle is that we should not have to, we should be accepted by society just like any other group, and should have the same rights and privledges that are bestowed by law to others. Being gay should not be a stigma, and whether we are open about who we are or not, should make no difference in the eyes of others.

Gay men and women have it fairly easy, unless they are so flaming or so butch that they fit the stereotypes, they are able to pass through society with nary a ripple.

Ask a black person if they ever had to "come out", or was caught "being black" by accident.

Just more rich white gay man crap if you ask me.

>>Ask a black person if they ever had to "come out", or was caught "being black" by accident.

I'm not disagreeing with anything you say, but you might want to watch "Show Boat" or "Imitation of Life" sometime. There was a time when "passing for white" was an issue for some.

Passing was possible only for light-skinned people with the right features, who had a mixed ancestry of African and European. Which is what Julie, the singer in "Show Boat," was.

Remember that the "one drop" laws in the South meant that you were considered "colored" if you had just "one drop" of African blood, even if it was several generations back on your family tree. And by the way, that also applied to anyone with Native American ancestry, since some early European settlers in the South married into the Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, etc.

That was what drove the original motive for passing. People moved to non-Southern states, committed fraud to have birth records changed...anything to get the "one drop" monkey off their backs.

I had that problem in my own family, where a Warren ancestor in Virginia married a Cherokee woman in 1775. Eventually my grandfather was motivated to leave the South, to get out from under. It was several generations later, but he was still dark enough that it was hard for him to pass. So he didn't try to.

What really got to me, and why I mentioned it, was the personal dimension that the two stories illustrate. When Sarah Jane passes in the 1959 film version of "Imitation of Life" it results in tragedy and heartbreak, for her and for all the people who loved her. No one should be forced or feel a need to pass.

Sometimes I think that movie should be required viewing for anyone grappling with coming out...

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 31, 2008 1:05 PM

The experience of living in a mixed-race family where many are still unaware of it, some are still passing and approach attempts to tell the truth about that with fangs bared, others are in denial of it -- some with fangs equally bared, and still others were not able to pass and some of them are angry and resentful at those who did as well as at their white relatives, lets me say with a scientific level of certainty that racial passing and its consequences are anything but a thing of the past, which serves, at minimum, as ample evidence that racial injustice is hardly conquered either.

This is waaay to simplistic.

There are plenty of LGBT people, even gay white men, for whom "hiding" is not an option.

What do you think would happen to a gay, white, EFFEMINATE man who walked into a KKK meeting?

Not all gay people are able to hide. Why do you think so many children are teased, beaten and bullied for being gay before they even know what the term means and if or how it applies to them?

Thank you Matt....

My childhood was a series of one beating after another for my "differences". I used to say they could smell the girl on me.

My oppression trumps yours is a zero sum game. Oppression is oppression and no one knows what someone has dealt with in that regard until they are told.

Yes, there is a certain level of the simplistic in the argument, but it is an argument comparing a general set of conditions, and as such, the purpose is to point out a circumstance that is in a sense 'averaged' from the experiences of the groups compared.

Plenty of non-gay children get beat up and called faggot, queer, and what have you, just because a bully wants to have a little 'fun'. Being in any way percieved as weak or different is an invitation to a beat down for some folk.

Yes, light skinned blacks can, and have 'passed' as white in the past, and do you blame them for doing it considering America's history?

So what? Still doesn't change the fact that, gays have a better chance of being able to pass in our society with little or no repercussions than a black person.

In the LGBT community the only group who has a possibility of knowing how it might feel to 'walk a mile' in a black's shoes, is the group that has a more difficult time blending in, transwomen. But even then, the experiences are different, since the font of hate for trannies flows from a much different source than the typical source for bigotry.

still, I will never equate my struggles as a transwoman to those of a black, just as I do not accept, and will not compare, a gay man's struggles to my own. We can sympathise and understand each other's struggles, but they just are not the same.

Yes. You get it. It's the first time I've seen any non-Black gay person acknowledge the basic problem that we have with gay activists comparing the two.
Gay rights are no less important than the rights of Blacks. The problem is one of the two groups has a choice in divulging the attribute that will cause them oppression. It's hard to see it as the same level of discrimination when you experience it almost every day, not just occasionally.

No Shanta, not all gay people can hide it. This argument is too simplistic. It assumes all gay people "act" "straight."

LGBT people don't just experience oppression "occasionally." It's something we live with every day, inside of ourselves.

And it starts when we're still in the closet -- the guilt and deep distress when we're still trying to conform, the extreme anxiety about being accidentally outed, even the sense of being horrifically different when we're still kids and being teased about being a tomboy or a sissy.

The oppression of all three groups Jews, African American and LGBT's stem from the same source, passages in the Old and New Testament of the Bible.
I blame main stream religious denominations for not speaking out against other Christian denominations. Faith is considered "private" and not a topic for dialogue. This is how the extremists gain control.
Even when it is discussed, it is one passage against the other passage. Not a free thinking dialogue pertaining to modern society and scientific findings.

From Adolph Hilter who remained a Catholic and was never excommunicated.

"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before in the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.... When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom to-day this poor people is plundered and exploited."

-Adolf Hitler, in his speech in Munich on 12 April 1922

[Note, "brood of vipers" appears in Matt. 3:7 & 12:34. John 2:15 depicts Jesus driving out the money changers (adders) from the temple. The word "adders" also appears in Psalms 140:3]

That 'Gay Is The New Black' slogan has irked me for years especially considering what I've observed as a African-American transgender activist into the mix.

I see a group of people who wish to compare themselves to the Civil Rights Movement but fail to apply the fundamental lessons of that movement in terms of coalition building, composing civil rights law as broadly as possible to cover the most people, and doing so in a morally ethical manner.

When I look at those documentaries and movies on the Civil Rights moment, I see most of the signs carried by marchers have something to do with jobs and not getting lynched, not marriage issues.

To be honest, short of the obvious one involving the trans Atlantic slave trade, the transgender community has more similarities with the African-American struggle at its inception than the gay one does.

Monica, you're kidding right?

"...the transgender community has more similarities with the African-American struggle at its inception than the gay one does."

Did you really just say that?

Number one: I hate this comparing game. It needs to stop.

Number two: You owe an apology to people like the founders of Bilitis and Mattachine and Frank Kameny and a host of other pre-Stonewall gay and lesbian leaders: They fought for the simple right to have a job, have a home and stay away from electroshock and lobotomies.

To be honest, I'm kind of appalled.

Sure did Matt...let me count the ways.

At the time the civil rights movement started we had no political representation at the state, local, and only one congressman on the federal level.

Transpeople have ZERO representatives on the federal level, have only elected statewide rep in the person of Kim Coco Iwamoto, no representations in state legislatures and no city council representatives in any major city.

We have an average of two people a month being killed simply for being trans (see lynching)

Amnesty International has documented the abuse of transgender citizens at the hands of law enforcement.

Shall I continue?

the first time i ever heard "gay is the new black" was from Wanda Sykes in 2004-ish. since then i have heard leaders of the NAACP say similar things. it was not until the passage of Prop 8 that i heard the gay community use this phrase. and now we are being chastised for the mere suggestion. no, it is not an accurate point for point comparison, but there are many similarities that several black leaders and many others in the black community do recognize. and there are many differences as well. i have never and will never use the phrase, but i also don't quit understand the problem.

if we are going to go down the "it's a disservice to compare to those who *truly* suffered" road, then wouldn't the current generation of blacks comparing their own personal experience with the racism and inequality of today to the suffering and slavery of their ancestors who undeniably had it far worse ... wouldn't this comparison be inaccurate and a disservice to their ancestors?

or for we in the gay community to compare our struggles to those of our gay brothers and sisters who suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany? is this comparison not also inaccurate and a disservice to those who came before?

I think the editorial misses the major point. Where is the "coalition" of like-minded civil right organizations? Look to your left, now to your right. Oh, we are alone. And then there are those within our community who blame the victim (folks, that's us). Let's just look at one group -- Blacks. Imagine the insanity of voting for the first African American president with one hand and then voting against us by 70% on the other. I don't want to hear the garbage that somehow their vote against us was our fault. The "dirty little secret" is the enormous level of homophobia in the Black community.

With all respect, Sam, it just isn't true that "we are alone." We have enjoyed coalition with many other groups, from liberal and progressive religions (Unitarians, Quakers, etc.) to many in the women's movement, to unions, progressive Democratic organizations and non-gay veterans.

Scouting for All, organized to fight anti-gay bias in the Boy Scouts, was founded by a non-gay man. Not to mention PFLAG, which happens to be straight parents and friends of ours.

"You don't see blacks raising a fuss when women used them as a parallel, or when immigrants do so."

Let me start by saying that I am an openly gay middle aged black man and I believe that many straight blacks (and some black gays) recoil at white gays comparing their movement to the black civil rights movement because of an underlying homophobia. Having said that, I believe the statement in quotes is incorrect on several levels.

In the 1970s, when the "women's lib" movement was taking the country by storm, many black men and some black women expressed outrage that white women were comparing "their" movement for women's rights with the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Many blacks in the 1970s referred to the women's movement of that time as the WHITE women's movement. Many blacks (and not just men) felt then and feel now that white women "stole" something (i.e., affirmative action, etc.) from them. And now many blacks (and not just straight ones) think white gays are doing the same thing white women did back then. Read up on the history of the black civil rights movement (1950s and 60s) AS WELL AS the so-called black nationalist movement (1960s and 70s) that came later.

Moving along, many blacks today are very upset about immigrants coming to the U.S. illegally and "taking" jobs that unskilled blacks who wanted them used to get. Also, whole neighborhoods in Los Angeles that were mostly black as recently as the early 1990s are now mostly or totally Latino. Many blacks are VERY upset about these events but there is little or nothing they can do about it.

My take on it is that white gays should continue to fight for their goals AND make that extra effort to include black gays. And I don't mean the kind of black gays who have white partners, although I realize that they are probably the only kind of black gays you know (if you know any at all).

Question: If gay is the new black, where does that leave black gays?


The LGBT movement was defined at Stonewall most notibly. There were folks who fought to have a job etc before that. It was only in this past century that LGBT was a label to define the community of us. some of us happen also to be people of color of various communities each with their own struggles bigotry, hatred etc. black lgbt may have he civil rights now because of being part of the black community of color, but we need to all rally together as LGBT for our cause for our rights. Not let one segment define who we are.
We will have more credibility that way.

I have seen folks say alot of things and Gay being the new Black which was coined as a note of humor.
Like most humor it is directed to bring light to a situation. LGBT people have always existed just not with that title in human history until this past century.

We have struggled to be comfortable in our own identity to ourselves, our families, our larger communities if we are people of color or not.

When Wanda Sykes said it it was to say we are fighting for our civil rights. Not to compare ourselves especially to the horrors Black people have faced for years in this country, slavery etc.

Women have stood up for their rights to be and we have been standing up for our rights on many fronts but we need to stand up for our rights as LBGTQ period. We are right to eschew false slogans.

those of us who are white know that experience, those who are Hispanic know that experience, those of us who are African American know that experience etc., but we all need to stand as one and declare we have rights as humans, we pay taxes, we do everything everyone else can do except.......marry with all rights and protections afforded to the other citizens of this country, we do not have protections to work, not to be beaten, enlist and serve in the military if we so choose etc. Our relationships have validity in our own eyes, some of our families, some of us who have forward thinking employers, but we are not equal at the table.

to zythra some African Americans have passed for white if they had the physical characteristics for it. And if it was in the last 50 years or more the descendants may have no idea their origins.

In my own family my paternal grandmother could have but didn't though she had some cousins who did. for those of us of color we may pass for straight if we choose or able at one time or other. when we do not speak up and say this is wrong to discriminate against me for, being myself we remain invisible.

Which is why Harvey Milk said come out and stand up for your rights.

James -- Thanks for your insightful comments. Actually significant progress was made long before Stonewall, thanks to groundwork organizing that was done right after World War II by the earliest activists, who were mostly men and women military veterans. Also there were legal victories won by early organizations like the Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis and ONE Institute.

First of all, we had to establish our right to even freely associate with one another, which had been illegal in many cities. These ordinances were aimed at bars, but they also served to prevent us from organizing.

We also had to get the right to send our organizational materials through the U.S. mail, since even non-porno magazines and organization newsletters were viewed as "obscene" in themselves. We won this right in 1958 in a key lawsuit, after the ONE Institute sued the U.S. Post Office. The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that the mere discussion of homosexuality was not "obscene."

Without these early victories, it would have been impossible to carry on the 1960s type civil-rights organizing.

Thanks Patricia. I have despised the phrase "Gay is the new Black" since the first time I heard it. No one minority (or majority in the case of women) need appropriate or equate the struggles of another to gain their rights. We can and should attain these rights on the basis of the discrimination that we have faced.

I am Jewish, bi and transgender. I have experienced discrimination for each of these over my lifetime, but in different ways. I was constantly tormented as a kid for being a sissy or fag. I could not hide my gender differences. I grew up in a non Jewish area, and was also harassed for that.

One interesting parallel is that as a Jew or bisexual transperson still living outwardly as birth sex, I often "pass" as something I am not, and am thus invisible. I have often outed myself to confront prejudice. Certainly this isn't the same situation for African Americans, or other POC.

You hit the nail on the head with your article. As a Black gay male, slogans like this make me feel that my race should no longer be something that I am discriminated about, when in fact I know better. I think it is similar to what lesbians go through being discriminated against for being a woman AND for being gay, and therefore it is offensive when someone suggests that this country has achieved gender equality. I just can't see an African-American having been involved with this slogan making, and so it makes me wonder how out of touch some people really are with LGBT of color.

Regan DuCasse | December 15, 2008 5:47 PM

There are at least some interesting and accurate similarities to how black and gay citizen's and their sexuality has been mytholized and defamed in recent history.
One thing that could inform black people of this reality is education.

I did some research for a literary project that asks the same question on how our historical context fits together. And it is in the regard of sexuality that it does.
For example: the enforcement of Jim Crow and school segregation was borne of intense paranoia of sexual congress between blacks and whites.
And in a comprehensive research project during the 40's on the persistence of Jim Crow, whites were extremely preoccupied with black sexuality.
While in counter to that blacks were concerned with equal access to housing, fairness in jobs, and when in encounters with law enforcement and most of all, and end to casual violence and intimidation.
This should all be very familiar to gays and lesbians as well.
Where white women were the fragile object for protection from black male sexual lust, black women were exploited. Gay men are the object of paranoia around children, lesbians are exploited.
And in the early sixties, as legal integration was advancing, three states in the South tried to implement marriage bans on blacks through out of wedlock birth and low marriage records. Citing blacks as morally immature and incapable of caring about marriage or their children.

Were those stats employed today, black people would still be considered unfit to marry, let alone intergrate.

The finer points of legal and socio/political context are not a matter of opinion.
But let me say that gay people are in and have been in a unique position of being outwardly indistiguishable, as say Jews are, but with the calculation of isolation still being so complete, heterosexuals rarely want to compare notes on how sexual orientation manifests.

What perhaps is best to communicate is how universal homosexuality has always been and is to ALL human life. Therefore making being gay impossible to compare with say, how one chooses what religion to follow.
And minimizing the contributions, while exaggerating threat, is a common defamation of whatever unpopular minority.

In the end, everyone it turns out...has always had something to offer society, and has had to fight centuries of fear and distrust.
And the traditions of discrimination for what a person IS has never shown to be justified, EVER...whether you're of color, gay or both.

Work to do, we have miles to go. But the emphasis on respecting experience and that education is peace...hopefully will work where empathy has failed.

Thanks Patch, for a wonderful essay.


all of -isms are related and ruthless

they are not equal struggles but they are undeniably equal oppressions

emmett till and matthew shephard and sakia gunn etc...are all equally slain by bigots

see more on the INCREASINGLY valid comparisons of racism to gaybashing at:



Wisdoms Naked,
Your genius shakes me with awe every time!!! Why don't we just make you Queen of the Planet and be done with it? I mean it!

Spoken with the Wisdom of the Sun rising and the reality of the big skies. In the big picture, big Worlds, One Planet all Peoples this is a given. In the idiot worlds of legal laws I am pretty sure this is advertising spin is one of the legal game plans that will be used to wiggle through State case by case to bring Gay Equality to a fragile framework. Too damn bad that legal framework is the vehicle for Equal Right to life. It did not work for black/white - white/black marriages either, their living had to blend into actual equality of community and functioning economies as will ours.

Shaman Lesbian and activist for GrandMother Earth and all of her families

Anthony in Nashville | January 3, 2009 12:34 AM

I know people may not be reading this thread any longer, but this "gay is the new black" is not a new phrase. While going through the archives of black gay blogs (I think it was Keith Boykins), I saw a photo of two black men wearing shirts with this slogan from maybe 2005. So while the Advocate elevated its popularity, it's not as if they made it up.


i love all u post!

Comparisons are not synonymous with equations. No fool would ever dare to EQUATE homophobia with racism in America. But, glaring similarities abound!!! Everywhere, everyday, homosexuals are refused services in public places, stalked, beaten, arrested, murdered, raped, verbally harassed, fired, evicted, legally discriminated against, rejected, slandered, libeled, scapegoated, and generally tortured, simply because they are homosexual.

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