Opinion: Gay Rights are Civil Rights

Why every citizen of the US has the right to political, economic and social freedom, and equality under the law

I know many people in the black community will argue that they support LGBT people not being discriminated against in terms of housing and employment or subjected to violence. But yet the gay rights issue always seems to somehow return to a moral agenda wrapped around marital rights that has allowed state legislators to strip LGBT people of their economic rights.

In all fairness, there were a number of African American clergy that spoke out against the North Carolina amendment, acknowledging that it is wrong for any federal or state constitution to exclude any group from equal protection under the law. This is an argument that should center on legal benefits and not religious privilege just like divorce in the US is not governed by God-ordained doctrine. If it were no one would be allowed to end their marriage on the grounds of incompatibility or irreconcilable differences—only adultery.

No gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person is asking for anyone’s love. No one is asking for anyone’s permission to exist. That is a God-given right. But this is a fight about the right to exist without fear of persecution. In the same sentiment as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”

There is sad irony in that so many African Americans have denounced gay rights as a civil rights agenda. Yet, it was an openly gay black man, Bayard Rustin, who was a key architect of the non-violent civil rights movement. He was a friend and advisor to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also was the chief organizer of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.

It was Rustin who advised King on the use of nonviolence tactics as they organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and later protests, based on what he learned in India from followers of Mohandas Gandhi. It was Rustin in the forefront with Ella Baker in 1957 when King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) along with such religious leaders as the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, Rev Joseph Lowery of Mobile, Rev. Ralph Abernathy of Montgomery, and the Rev CK Steele of Tallahassee. So, yes it is fitting for gay activists to learn and benefit from the “Black” civil rights movement just the same as black civil rights activists learned from the nonviolence resistance of Gandhi in India’s successful fight for freedom from British control.

“Indeed, if you want to know whether today people believe in democracy… if you want to know whether they are human rights activists, the question to ask is, ‘What about gay people?’ Because that is now the litmus paper by which this democracy is to be judged.”—Bayard Rustin

Carolyn M. Brown is a Senior Multimedia Content Producer at Black Enterprise and author of the magazine’s GLAAD Media Award-winning article, “Black and Gay in Corporate America.”

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