Since the nationwide protests against police brutality started at the beginning of this month, I have struggled about whether I, as a white man, should be writing about this subject. It is important to find a balance between showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter yet also falling back and allowing the African-American community to lead the way in this national conversation.
There are, however, a few brief things that are pertinent for the LGBTQ community and why this issue is so relevant to our own movement for justice and equality.
The perfect example of this is the Supreme Court ruling made this week that gay and transgender Americans are protected from employment discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That legislation only came to pass because of the Black civil rights movement, so we as LGBTQ people are now directly benefitting from the activism that was done by Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, John Lewis and so many others more than half a century ago.
Harvey Milk also made many direct references to the connection between the fight for gay rights and that of Blacks and other minority groups. In his famous “Hope” speech, delivered at San Francisco Gay Pride in 1977, he said the following:
There is probably no minority in this city that hasn’t been ignored on the human level… It’s no longer the Seniors, the unemployed, the Asian community, the Gay, the Blacks, the Latins and so forth. They’re all US. It’s US against THEM. If you add up all the USes, you’ll find we outnumber the THEMS. And yet the THEMS control…
Without hope, not only the gays but the blacks, the seniors, the poor, the handicapped, the USes give up…. if you help me get elected that election- no it is not my election it is yours- it will mean that a green light is lit… a green light that says to all who feel lost and disenfranchised that you now can go forward- it means hope and we- you and you and you and you- you got to give them hope.
It’s the THEMS who benefit when the Gays and the Blacks and the Latinos fight amongst themselves. It’s the THEMS who want to tear down the homes and community centers of the USes for their special pet projects. It’s the THEMS who divide and conquer. It’s the THEMS who are the real outside agitators in our communities. And they’ve been here for years.
The concept of the USes is one that Harvey Milk promoted and championed till the day he died, and one that Cleve Jones, Harvey’s mentee and an iconic gay rights leader in his own right, continues to talk about.
Another way of describing it is intersectionality- the idea that all groups facing oppression have the power to defeat our common enemy together. It’s an idea that is all the more important and powerful given the enemy we face today and the gargantuan task we face of defeating them in November.
This brings us to a final point- one made by President Barack Obama in his recent remarks on the George Floyd demonstrations across America. Obama said he’d seen “a little bit of chatter on the internet” about “voting versus protests, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action.”
“This is not an ‘either-or’,” he explained. “This is a ‘both’ and to bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that could be implemented and monitored and make sure we’re following up on.”
Protesting and voting are not mutually exclusive. We have to make sure that every single person who has been out there in the streets is also registered to vote and that we all vote for Joe Biden in November.
Anything less and all the incredible energy and passion and power that we have built up in these recent days and weeks will all be for nothing. If we can harness and use it though, we have the chance to see incredible progress and change come January 2021.