In the past month, we have seen milestone after milestone in the march toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.
But there is a key element of this progress that we should shine a light on. What for many seemed like a red light at the intersection of race, class, sexual orientation and gender identity has turned yellow — even green — as we see diverse groups strongly and publicly supporting each other across issues and working for civil rights — human rights — for all people.
But we know well that perception is often far from reality. And this week we all learned a valuable lesson: the early days of the AIDS crisis taught us Silence = Death, but yesterday we learned that silence can also be a powerful, life-affirming and uniting force when people come together in solidarity and bear witness in silence to injustice.
Of course, we all saw President Barack Obama became the first-ever sitting president to express his personal support for marriage equality as a civil right; in fact, he urged the rest of America to “evolve” on the issue in comments at an LGBT Pride reception at the White House last week.
In addition, the NAACP’s national board, for the first time, endorsed marriage equality. New polling has shown an impressive surge in toward support for marriage equality by African-American voters in Maryland, where a referendum this November will decide the fate of the state’s marriage equality law.
This is very different from the specious “blame game” played after the loss of Prop. 8 in California that attempted to lay the defeat at the feet of African Americans, a baseless and racist analysis that we still need to debunk regularly.
The truth is that the so-called “wedge” between LGBT people and people of color has been a red herring and tool of the anti-LGBT organizations for so long that, sadly, even our own community was starting to buy it, as many did after Prop. 8.
No longer. This week’s rally demanding an end to stop-and-frisk tactics employed by New York City police was a perfect example and hopefully the beginning of an era for more sophisticated and realistic discussion of communities working together and the overlap not only of why a broad set of issues are part of our agenda, but how the LGBT community’s diversity itself makes it imperative we focus on issues that many may not see as “LGBT issues.”
As we continue to celebrate LGBT Pride month, I think we can all be proud that we have reached a point where support for LGBT equality can unite more of us — rather than dividing us along lines of sexual orientation, race, religion and income, as our opponents have long sought to do.
The National Organization for Marriage’s now-infamous leaked documents may have advised “fanning the hostility” between African Americans and LGBT people and “driv[ing] a wedge between gays and blacks.”
But the right can no longer hope to use marriage equality as a wedge issue as they have tried in the past. African-American support for LGBT equality is both greater and more visible than ever before. And the LGBT community is stepping up on issues of importance to African Americans.
The reality is that this support is not a one-way street, nor is it new. It’s just that is has become news.
We, along with other LGBT people, have stood with African Americans on issues of racial justice for decades. After all, for black LGBT people and their allies, we cannot separate out racial justice from improving our lives as LGBT people.
My organization, along with scores of other LGBT organizations, stands firm against racial profiling. This week, in New York City, the Task Force took a leading role in a silent march protesting the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which has been abused to the point where police can effectively treat all people of color as potential criminals.
We marched alongside our partners such as the NAACP, the National Action Network, and the SEIU — all of whom are ardent supporters of LGBT rights.
Racial justice and LGBT equality are not separate issues; they are deeply intertwined. In fact, it is LGBT people of color who often bear the greatest burdens from both homophobia and racial and economic injustice. Where these experiences intersect is a very dangerous place to be in our society.
LGBT people, of course, have their own history of unjust treatment from law enforcement not the least of which was the raid on the Stonewall Inn in 1969, launching the modern LGBT movement. But The Task Force does not just stand in solidarity with LGBT people; we stand against racial profiling for all people of color. The entire concept of it goes against not only the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” it undermines the free society we fight for every single day.
On June 17, we marched down the same street — Fifth Avenue — where we will soon march for LGBT Pride, literally following in the footsteps of our stand against racial profiling.
Seeing the connections between our experiences as people of color, as LGBT people, as those who care about freedom and justice, is critical to our country’s ability to move forward. In fact, the Associated Press story that ran about the March on Sunday was headlined, “Civil rights, gay activists march to NYC mayor’s home, demand end to stop-and-frisk policing,” showing that our solidarity and collaboration are finally being noticed in a bigger way. And it’s about time.
In 2012, the year of what would have been gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin’s 100th birthday, we are continuing the trail he blazed as he marched with Martin Luther King Jr.: a path for people of all sexual orientations, races, genders, and faiths, walking hand in hand toward equality together.