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Racism ≠

Racism ≠


In the glory days of gay liberation our movement was blessed with strong support from African-American leaders. That's still the case, but on the ground the bond may be fraying. One Gallup survey shows a growing antipathy among blacks toward gay rights.

There are many reasons for this shift. One of them stems from the perception that queers have hogged the civil rights limelight. I think that's largely true, through no fault of ours. The troubling fact is that the sound and fury over issues such as same-sex marriage provides an excuse to divert attention from racism. To add insult to injury, some LGBT leaders act as if their struggle is comparable to that of blacks.

I'm not suggesting that racism and homophobia have nothing in common. Both are rooted in society's need to create a demonic and degraded "other." Matthew Shepard's murder certainly was a lynching. But that doesn't mean all forms of bigotry are alike.

Racism has played a central role in American history; homophobia has not. Racism has an enduring economic impact on its victims; homophobia does not. Plenty of gays are impoverished, but most of them are people of color. Homosexuals have never been legally segregated or denied the right to vote. The enormous strides made by the LGBT movement in only three decades demand that we ask ourselves a difficult question: Is homophobia as intractable as racism? In the United States, I think it's not.

I'm not saying that queers don't suffer from great injustice or that we don't deserve to be included in civil rights laws. But racism is unique in its practice and impact. We need to acknowledge that.

I write as a gay white man and as a member of a group--Jews--whose "whiteness" was not always taken for granted. I'm offended when the AIDS crisis is compared to the Holocaust. Why shouldn't people of color be appalled when the gay struggle is linked to theirs?

There's a feeling among some white gays that blacks ought to be tolerant of stigmatized sexualities merely because they are black. And there's a belief in some black-nationalist circles that homosexuality is essentially a white perversion. Racism underlies both convictions, and for that reason they won't be easy to overcome. But we have to give it a shot, not just because it's right but because it's necessary to our progress.

Just because we're popular in prime time doesn't mean we're on our way to liberation. The sexual backlash is enormously powerful now, and we need the support of other minorities. African-Americans speak with special authority when it comes to the (rarely observed) ideal of equality. Those on the right are using homophobia to lure black churches over to their side. If they succeed, we will be seriously wounded in our fight.

If we're to take the wind out of the sails of the black ministers who rail against sodomites, we have to immerse ourselves in the battle against racism. And we have to acknowledge the profundity of this sin in American life.

White queers don't have dibs on the black struggle, but we do have a claim on the legacy of the civil rights movement. Its achievements are a model for our aspirations. And we can ask for solidarity from African-Americans not because homophobia is comparable to racism but because our joint cause involves the creation of a just society.

It may be hard to believe these days, but that goal is still worth fighting for.

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Richard Goldstein