Michael Crawford

Is Gay the New Black?

Filed By Michael Crawford | December 09, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Blacks and gays, gay is the new black, gay movement, gay rights, Newsweek, prop 8 protests

For whatever reason, some LGBT people are consumed with comparing the LGBT equal rights movement and the Black civil rights movement. Some have gone so far as to ask "Is gay the new Black?"

This Newsweek.com video explores that question with a number of activists including me.

For the record, my answer is "not so much."

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Thank you. I've been so infuriated by all of this. The cover of the new Advocate is horrendous. "Gay is the New Black: The last great civil rights struggle" I'm nauseous just thinking about it. Though, to be fair the article inside counters the idea that the cover uses to sell itself.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 9, 2008 10:30 PM

You're welcome.

It is important we as LGBT people speak from our own experience.

I think it's a great slogan. Gets people talking, which is exactly what it should do. And judging by the comments in this video, people are fully capable of recognizing it as an oversimplification (which all slogans are) and discussing its implications rationally and with nuance.

For the record I get annoyed whenever a black person tries to downplay the similarities between different civil rights struggles. The mentality seems to be that groups of people are individual entities. "Our group had it worse historically". Well even if that's true, that doesn't mean jack shit on an individual level. Tell that to a vulnerable white gay teen living in the middle of the bible belt, growing up with fundamentalist parents, constantly being bombarded with anti-gay messages and with absolutely no one to turn to. History means nothing to an individual living in a dangerous situation. All they know is what they are going through.

Actually someone like that probably has it a lot worse than most blacks living today. At least most people have the benefit of growing up in a family that shares their genetic traits. Black people have a lot to deal with, but at least they can struggle through it with family members who look like them and are going through the same trials. There's an entire community of support. But many young gay people are totally and utterly alone.

We know the suicide rate for gay teens is disproportionately high. How many black teens commit suicide because they are depressed about being black?

I think we also need to realize there are several types of gay person. Some are gender typical. They can blend into a crowd and be relatively safe from violent attack (though the psychological trauma of hiding who they are may ruin their life anyway).

Then there are gender atypical gays. Effeminate gay men and masculine women. I'm sure their struggle is not much different than any person of color. Their stigma is visible, thus they are at the same risk of being visibly detected and targeted. And again, they don't have the benefit of being automatically born into an entire family that shares those outward traits. They are alone and defenseless, until they actively seek out safe spaces and communities that will accept them (which may be readily available in urban areas, not so much in rural areas).

In general there are plenty of similarities and plenty of differences. Anyone who says they are exactly the same, or that they're totally different, has their head up their ass.

Either way equality for all people is the goal.

You really think that gay teens have it worse?
What if you're *ghasp* a black gay teen?

Oh wait, that's right, black people arent' gay. *wheh* Ok, thank go we settled that one.

Unless of course, black gay teens are ok because they are the same, genetically, as their family, so that must bond them still right?

But wait, so, if a middle class white gay teen, has it worse than the black gay teen, how does the genetic argument hold up?

Yes, queer people have it bad, but if you really want to play the oppression game, let's play it right.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 9, 2008 10:36 PM

You may think it is a great slogan. A lot of Black people will find it offensive.

It is one thing to one thing to be provocative. It is a whole other thing to offend potential supporters because of your need to be clever.

I am not going to play the game of which group has it worse. That it needlessly divisive and ignores the fact that there are those of us who are Black and LGBT.

That's not how you win hearts and minds that is how you continue the division that exist between Black people and LGBT people.

For the record I get annoyed whenever a black person tries to downplay the similarities between different civil rights struggles. The mentality seems to be that groups of people are individual entities. "Our group had it worse historically". Well even if that's true, that doesn't mean jack shit on an individual level.

I can agree with this wholeheartedly. It really irks me when the African-American community absolutely denies any connection as much as it irritates me when the LGBT community tries to co-opt the African-American struggle as its own.

There is one all important thing the two have in common; they are both struggles against the pervasive bigotry that contaminates late stage imperial America.

But there are critical differences. The numbers of deaths due to slavery, particularly from the English slave trade, is incomparably higher. Racism tied to slavery is a very modern notion invented by English and American slave profiteers to justify kidnapping, murder, involuntary servitude and a thousand other forms of cruelty. That same racism endures to this day as a vicious undercurrent of American life that continues to blight the lives of African Americans and undermines every effort to change US society for the better.

I think you'd have to say that in terms of the levels of viciousness and oppression the differences are not so much quantitative as they are qualitative, i.e., African Americans on the whole clearly face much higher levels of oppression both individually and in terms of groups.

Which is not to say that GLBT people of all ethnicities don't have it bad, just not as bad or in as many ways.

The associated question is do all African Americans take a hostile approach to comparisons of the two struggles or is it primarily right-wing blacks who do? Is it leaders like Julian Bond and Al Sharpton who push these views or is it sanctimonious swine like the most reverend Donnie McClurkin and Alan Keys?

Answering that question will clarify the discussion. In any case I've never seen any proof that all African Americans are hostile to comparing the two struggles or find them mutually exclusive. And plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

What we've all seen in the aftermath of Prop 8 is the ugly proof that many LGBT euroamericans are contaminated with racism. Look again at the videos from some of the Silverlake street demos.

If the slogan is upsetting people to the extent that they're not hearing the intended message, it's not a good slogan at all.

The goal is judging people by the content of their character is the same, the history isn't. We need our own civil rights movement. We can learn lessons from the African American Civil Rights Movement, but that isn't the same thing as appropriating it.

Gay is the new gay. k?

Thank you, Greg. You said it clearer and nicer than I would have. :/

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | December 9, 2008 10:39 PM

Exactly Greg. It is about winning hearts and minds not showing how clever we are.

You looked great, better than your still photo on Bilerico.
Which is more important to you ? The African American civil rights struggle or the equal rights struggle of LGBT's. Are you at odds with other ethnic groups of LGBT's, whites, latinos, and asians? If you had to choose communities, which one would you feel deep in your heart that you really belonged ? I would say African American due to childhood indoctrination. Am I right ?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 11, 2008 2:43 AM

Is it most important to be right or to look Maavelous? Charles, just my observation, I don't think we need to know. If what we are working toward collectively is a color, gender, age and sexuality blind society (or at least one that lacks all discrimination) which group is closest to "us" is a personal matter.

Anti-LGBT prejudice is "the last" prejudice that people can express *openly and explicitly* in a broad national forum and still be considered polite. To a lesser extent this is also true for anti-women prejudicial speech in some contexts. Anti-Arab, anti-Muslim prejudice is also considered polite speech in some contexts.

Anti-black, anti-other racial group, and anti-Jewish prejudice is no longer considered polite speech if expressed directly. Code words must be used, and these code words are usually accepted as "polite speech" because less specific, more weaselly.

So, in terms of explicit polite public discourse, gay is the new black. But this is a tiny fraction of the overall experience of "non-standard" (not white, male, heterosexual, Christian) people.

Black is the new black, if you are evaluating economic prejudice, educational disadvantage, health care access and outcome, etc.

Gay is NOT the new black. Here's why:

1) Gaybashing ain't nothing new- Gays have been bashed, burned, beaten long before there was an african slave trade.
2) There is no match for the psychological devastation gay people have endured for centuries. No straight person- black or white- is born a pariah in their own home or amongst their own people.

We have our own historical narrative. We don't need to piggy-back on someone else's.

When I moved to Georgia in 2000, I received a massive education on not comparing the LGBT struggles with the Civil Rights Movement. I understand fully why it shouldn't be done.

I have been hearing something else that disturbs me. "Transgender people are the new gay." It comes from all the media attention of so many transgender issues and people lately. Everybody wants a piece of us. The trend to compare will stop with us, because we will never hear, "(blank) is the new transgender."

"Civil rights" is a generic term indicating equality and absolute rights affirmed and enforceable under law. This includes the Bill of Rights, suffrage and enforcement of access to polls, public accomodation law, right to own property, right to sit on juries, etc - equality under the law, equal access to a voice in the government, freedom of expression, press, right to bodily integrity and self-determination, and so on.

African-Americans don't hold the copyright to the term "civil rights", except in the specific context of 1955 to 1968 American history. An Indian might think of civil rights as public accommodation laws allowing Dalits and unscheduled classes to have physical access to governmental buildings and services. Examples abound. Specificity is good.

Here are my views on the subject:
The struggle for gay rights is equivocal to the struggle for civil rights in the 60s only on the level that the power to discriminate is all encompassing then and now, as well as the struggles are equal in that populist ideas tend to oppose both of the rights then and now. In other words, the struggle itself is comparative--not the people; and the opposition and its ideology are comparative--not the effects.

I agree with the belief that on an individual level it doesn't mean jack shit namely because on an individual level there can be no equivocation--you are simply a grain of sand on the beach. In unity, it means a whole lot because the collective mentality is what hurts one, hurts all.

What I truly don't seem to understand is the divisive ideas put forth about being a blak gay teen, a white gay teen, an asian gay teen, etc etc. All this seems to do is to separate, divide, and make the struggle all that harder, weaker, if you will.

Reading the comments and the ideas set forth from this entire subject seem to contradict, in a way, the fundamental truth that gay rights, like the civil rights, should be color blind (or in this instance, should be "chasm-blind"). Take it this way, if every gay person were to unite into one belief, under one call to action regardless of sex, age, race, nationality, etc...what you become is one entity. And collectively, as well as individualy, what happens to that one entity affects you individualy, and affects all collectively.

Maybe I am not reading the comments right, but it seems to me there is a lot of derison and division between a lot of the comments on particular reasons. Is this really something that the gay rights struggle needs?

That title, oh my. Well, they did get attention, and with dying circulation, that's probably the Advocate's goal.

But it's just an awful slogan. It's like, here, we don't have any reason for why we should be a political movement or why anyone should care about us, so we're just going to say we're the same as another group and ignore the fact that life isn't perfect over there either.