Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is Gay The New Black?

Before ya'll bite my head off, I'm not taking a position but asking the question.

I'm neither Gay nor Black, and it has been my feeling that you cannot equate one form of discrimination or marginalization with another (especially since what if you're Gay & Black?) so my initial interest in "X is the new Y" comparisons like this were rather passingly shallow... Until I read the biography of [Bayard Rustin].

It was another random day bumming around Wikipedia instead of doing my homework. I had happened upon the speech Robert Kennedy gave immediately following the assassination of MLK, and before I knew it I was link jumping from article to article, reading about the SCLC, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and eventually how Adam Clayton Powell Jr. forced Bayard Rustin to resign from the SCLC by threatening to accuse him and MLK of having a homosexual relationship unless King called off marches that possibly threatened the Democratic Convention (and my extension Powell) over Civil Rights issues.

This was the context in which I found Rustin. A Gay Black man in 1960's America.

Reading through his biography was like reading a goddamn Greek Tragedy. The man worked so hard for so much, only to be continually marginalized, even by those who were supposed to be his Brothers. His contribution to the infamous 1963 March went uncredited by pressure from NAACP chairman (at the time) Roy Wilkins. Moving from organization to organization, Rustin found no respite -- not in the Black Panthers, and not among any other Black Power groups.

Interestingly enough, he served on the board of trustees at the University of Notre Dame throughout the 70's & 80's, despite the university's strict Catholicism which condemns homosexuality.

Eventually Bayard Rustin died on August 24th 1987 from a perforated appendix. He was 75. His obituary in The New York Times went like this:

"Looking back at his career, Mr. Rustin, a Quaker, once wrote: 'The principal factors which influenced my life are 1) nonviolent tactics; 2) constitutional means; 3) democratic procedures; 4) respect for human personality; 5) a belief that all people are one.'"

It was a sad story to read about honestly. And while I hope his soul has found peace now, it seems to me that he was never fully appreciated in his lifetime, nor is he appreciated now.

But coming back to the topic at hand. It was a speech Rustin gave in 1986 entitled, "The New Niggers Are Gays" that caught my eye.

Why? Because in this speech, Rustin says the same thing that [the Advocate said in December 2008] which received such a round of condemnation. [Even Tyra got in on the controversy].

But unlike Michael Joseph Gross who is a White guy saying this in the late 2000's -- Bayard Rustin said this as a Black man with a long history in the Civil Rights movement (as well as organized labor, and socialism, and international human rights) over 22 years ago!

And yet not a peep. Nary a nod or a wink.

How do I know? Because I had to spend hours on the internet researching the material for this blog-post. Rustin's speech isn't found online really, except in excerpts. His contributions are sublimated to the mainstream history that I've read, from Howard Zinn's alternative to my old high school textbooks. Critiques of Rustin, essays on his contributions, and copies of his speeches are hard to find, even for an internet-savvy nerd like me.

And when The Advocate published Gross' piece, nobody mentioned Bayard Rustin. Nobody said, "maybe the new Civil Rights movement isn't Glenn Beck's Tea Party, but the struggles of LGBT people for equal protection under the law."

Realizing this made me question my assumptions, not just about racism or homophobia, not just about Black people or Gay people, but about the very idea of civil rights.

What was it exactly that Rustin said which impacted me so? It was this:

"Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new "niggers" are gays... It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change... The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people... because we stand in the center of progress... to build coalitions of people for the elimination of all injustice."

I think that says it all.



Here are some links for ya'll to peruse if you're still interested in the topic.

[The Guardian UK]

[The Daily Voice]

[HV Press]

8 footnotes:

Anonymous said...

Gays are the new black? Really?

What about transsexuals? intersex people? Poor white men? A movement that has, since Stonewall in 1969 been covered pretty much positively at all levels of the culture and by the cultured elite is to be compared to people that ARE invisible to our sympathies or that we wish would stay invisible ?

I support "gay marriage" and I find hate crimes against gays , esp. gay teens abominable. But the fact is they have organized lobbies which represent them and some degree of cultural power. They legal and socially acceptable treatments of homosexual people cannot be compared to slavery, and arguably can't very well be compared to Jim Crow, a system whereby whites and blacks had separate water fountains and other physical and social assets with the black ones almost always being inferior in every dimension.

Also, it's a well known fact that of Stuff White Women Like (a subset of SWPL) having a gay friend or two or even ten is the "in" thing and has been most of the past 10 years.

I respect this post because it brings up the name of someone whom I've heard of but never really read about and makes the case that that he has been unfairly overlooked and his contributions downplayed. But excuse me if I don't find him a particularly savvy social thinker, at least in terms of future prognostication.


Zek J Evets said...

@clarence: those are fair points, and in the LGBT movement there is a constant push & pull over the participation/exclusion of intersex, transgendered, and other gendered/sexual identities. (transsexuals are already included in the LGBT acronym though.)

however, i think that the issue of gay marriage, where literally homosexuals do not have the right to marry (or in some states, the right to the same kind of marriage) like straight couples do. would that not be an example of "jim crow"?

however, i'd have to take issue with your comment, "A movement that has, since Stonewall in 1969 been covered pretty much positively at all levels of the culture and by the cultured elite"

i think that the older gay people i know, especially many of my san francisco professors who suffered through the aids epidemic would say that you just started victim-blaming and diminishing the suffering of LGBT people by playing into oppression olympics.

thanks for your comment though!

Danny said...

I've personally never like the "Y is the new X" statements no matter how you fill those values in. It sounds to me that when you you do that you are implying, "Y is the new X. X is doing fine now and doesn't have to worry about injustice."

Y and X are going through two different sets of things. Yeah they may have some in common but to try to put them in a sentence like that does one thing that usually does not end well. And that is compare the injustices of Y and X. That's Oppression Olympics territory.

Yes Blacks have made lot of strides that Gays need to make. But trying to say that one has replaced the other is limiting and dishonest.

Zek J Evets said...

@danny: X is doing fine now and doesn't have to worry about injustice.

that's a good point. and i don't think bayard rustin was making that assertion himself either. i don't believe he truly felt that Black people were completely equal in 1986, but i think that his experiences as a Gay & Black man shaped his views to regarding being homosexual as worse than being Black solely because being homosexual is what lost him so many friends and opportunities.

for myself though, i'm not sure which side of the fence i sit on. it's hard to equate oppression, but at the same time it's hard to dismiss the round of bashing LGBT people have been getting in this current political climate. i think particularly of PoC who are LGBT.

Anonymous said...

Do you even speak English? Seriously, wall of text crits me for 99999k.

Zek J Evets said...


yeah, i totally can't speak english. but damn do i write it very well =)

if you can't scale the walls of text, maybe you need to go back to grammar school. take some remedial classes bruh =/

Anonymous said...

Just because your dating a black girl does not make you an expert on black people or black issues. I just wanted to throw that out their because I have seen a couple of white men that date black women start to spout nonsense concerning blacks like yourself. And the comparison of the rights of gays to blacks in the Civil Rights era makes no sense at all. I can't believe people try to make that argument.

Zek J Evets said...


Well, if you're gonna start throwing personal attacks, why not make a handle and identify yourself. Or are you more comfortable slinging shit from your arm-chair?

But thanks for assuming that all White guys who date Black women are the same. Because, like, that totally isn't stereotyping!

And I'm not making the argument, I'm asking the question. It's like the FIRST THING I say in my post. Did you bother to read it? Or did you make that up in the same place you made up where I claimed to be an expert on Black people & Black issues?

However, if you have a problem with people who make that argument, then why don't you take it up with Michael Gross and Bayard Rustin instead of writing random anonymous comments to get your angry jollies off.

Game, set, match.