By Steve Charing
Black History Month affords an opportunity for African-Americans to reflect upon one’s identity, heritage, culture and those whose contributions and achievements throughout history had paved the way for progress. It is a source of pride as well as introspection. And we all should participate—black, white and rainbow—for the contributions of African-Americans are an indelible part of the American fabric that formed our nation.
The fight for black civil rights had been an excruciating struggle. Marked by the de-humanizing effects of the Constitution’s considering blacks to be three-fifths of a person, slavery, the horrific Jim Crow bloodshed and lynchings, segregation, disenfranchisement and discrimination, the process to right these wrongs has been slow, agonizing and painful. These horrors will always remain in our history. And they should never be forgotten or minimized.
Laws have been put in place to eliminate the injustices on a legal level. Yet racism does and will persist, and the battle to eliminate it could take many decades.
We in the LGBT community have our civil rights battles, too. While our history has not been characterized by the suffering that numerous African-Americans had experienced, we are still searching for the same equality, justice and non-discrimination principles upon which our nation was founded.
LGBT folks have also been victims of hateful violence for being who we are. We could not serve openly in the armed forces to defend and die for our country, and until the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is certified, we still cannot. We can be fired from our jobs just for being who we are regardless of job proficiency.
Same-sex couples put their lives on the line if they choose to hold hands in public and such action is witnessed by a homophobic person or group. With few exceptions, these couples cannot marry in the U.S. Moreover, our government passed a law that forbids the recognition of marriage between same-sex couples at the federal level.
With these grievances, LGBT people can and should relate to the treatment blacks have experienced over the years. We can only hope that African-Americans see our struggles in the same context. And we should all pause and acknowledge that LGBT African-Americans have seen violence and discrimination for being in both groups.
For the most part, an alliance between gays and blacks has not been forged, and the relationship has been blemished by suspicion, misinformation, distrust and even resentment. Many African-Americans rebuke the notion that gays and lesbians advocating marriage equality and other measures do not constitute a civil rights movement.
But they are wrong.
The late Coretta Scott King spoke for her husband when she said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Representative John Lewis, who fought alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the black civil rights battles said, "I've heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry."
And civil rights leader Julian Bond pointed out, "That's why when I am asked, 'Are gay rights civil rights?' my answer is always, 'Of course they are.'"
Too many black ministers excoriate gay people from their pulpits when talking about “gay marriage.” They use Scripture in the same manner that white southern preachers did to promote slavery, segregation and disenfranchisement. History has not yet taught them that discrimination is wrong. They are shrouded in the darkness of prejudice themselves and cherry-pick the Old Testament as justification but failing to acknowledge that Jesus Christ never once condemned homosexuality.
What may not be apparent is the fact that gays and lesbians, including whites, were integral participants in the black civil rights movement. Though many were closeted at the time, others were openly gay, such as Bayard Rustin (pictured), an African-American, who was the lead organizer the March on Washington in 1963.
Gays and lesbians walked arm-in-arm with blacks during those iconic marches of the 60’s. They joined forces, even risked their lives, to help blacks achieve the right to vote without undue barriers. This was acknowledged by Mrs. King and is part of black history as well as LGBT history. It should not be overlooked.
The uneasiness between the two groups is a point of concern. Following the Proposition 8 ballot initiative in 2008, fingers were pointed by gay activists towards the African-American community for voting to uphold Prop 8. While a majority of black voters supported Prop. 8 and thereby denying marriage equality to same-sex couples in California, a review of post-election data concludes that various other factors contributed to the defeat at the polls, such as the generation gap.
And if and when Maryland voters face a similar initiative in 2012, you can be sure that the nefarious opponents of equality will attempt to drive a wedge between the African-American and LGBT communities by accusing gays of hijacking the civil rights movement as our own to the consternation of many African-Americans.
African-Americans should rightly be proud of their history and contributions while contemplating the painful past on the road to equality and justice. We all should. We celebrate the achievements of numerous black men and women with the culmination being the election of the first ever African-American to be President of the United States.
And African-Americans would be honoring their heritage and journey—not just in February but year-round—if they remain cognizant of the trailblazing civil rights leaders of yesterday and today who believed in the principle that all men are created equal and that discrimination is wrong. Period.