Do African Americans Sympathize with the Gay Rights Movement?
Some do, but feel it shouldn't be compared to Civil Rights Movement
Take a moment to browse the Human Rights Campaign’s website and you’ll see some well-known black faces—Mo’Nique, NAACP chairman emeritus Julian Bond, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker—all giving brief explanations on why they believe marriage should be a right of all Americans.
“I know a little something about fighting for what is right and just,” Bond said in his 30-second appeal.
“I support marriage equality because I believe in the 14th amendment—equal protection under the law,” Booker said.
“I believe that since we’ve all been given free will, let’s use our will to let others be free,” Mo’Nique said.
Of the seven videos on the site, four of them feature prominent African-Americans. Was this messaging purposeful? Did the Human Rights Campaign want to make African-Americans the face of its newest campaign?
It might not make much logical sense, considering that blacks have consistently showed lower levels of acceptance of gay and lesbians in polls and surveys. According to the latest data, 58% of Americans think that LGBT couples should be accepted by society. But when it comes to black respondents, the number drops to 49%.
Currently, only a handful of states will grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with another smattering of states recognizing varying levels of rights, from civil unions to domestic partnerships. But as the fight for marriage equality gains momentum, with more Americans supporting same-sex marriage than opposing it and legislation pending in several states, some have drawn comparisons to the civil rights movement.
Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization that fights to eradicate racism and discrimination in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, said she understands the comparisons, but it’s really not an apples-to-apples situation.
“Do we (the LGBT community) get hosed down and dogs sicced on us? No,” Lettman-Hicks said. “But we’re comparing how our community is treated, from a so-called civil society—the overt discrimination and bigotry. No one should be able to understand that better than black people in this country, and that is the root of the comparison. But you can’t compare the plight of the movement, the centuries of oppression that black people in this country had to face.”
Preston Mitchum, a student at American University’s Washington College of Law, said he doesn’t believe the two movements can really be compared either.
“My role is dual, because it comes from being gay and black,” he said. “I can see both sides of the story, and people need to recognize that the struggles are different. It almost trivializes black civil rights in a way.”
Mitchum is also quick to point out that sexuality is a big part of identity, and LGBT people shouldn’t feel pressured to hide it to avoid discrimination.
“If you look at race, you’re born that way and people know ‘what you are’ immediately,” he said. “With sexual orientation, somehow people say you choose to be that way. It almost implies that if you’re discriminated against, then it’s your fault. As a gay man, I know I didn’t choose to be gay. For someone to say otherwise, it’s really offensive.”
While Lettman-Hicks believes that much more work needs to be done, she acknowledges that there has been significant progress made over the past few years.
“It had become commonplace for a LGBT person to be disrespected, to be mocked, as if it’s okay,” she said, referring to recent media controversies around Kobe Bryant’s anti-gay slur during a game and Tracy Morgan’s anti-gay tirade during a stand-up routine. “Now they’re seeing that there are consequences for that type of disrespect. We’re saying enough is enough.”
Advocates like Lettman-Hicks believe that advocating for equality—rather than pushing for “same-sex marriage”—is the real purpose of the movement.
“Our messaging is to make people understand that we’re looking to be equal,” Lettman-Hicks said. “We’re just another extension of the American narrative. We’re looking to be recognized in the country so we can be valued for the contributions we make. We’re not pursing special rights—we just want equal rights.”