NOTE: All pages are meant to be read in the order in which they appear at the top of the site.

Before comparing the civil rights and LGBT movements, I would just like to briefly discuss what is seen as the start of the modern gays rights movement. Only June 27, 1969, a gay bar named the Stonewall in New York City was raided by police. During the raid, which lasted over many hours, the bar’s patrons fought back, throwing things and yelling at the police, who ultimately burned the bar. Even though the bar was lost, this Stonewall Rebellion was seen as the beginning of gays banding together to stop discrimination. However, while this is perhaps the most prominent event that really started things off, it’s important to know that raids and such were happening even before Stonewall. That much is clear from the clip below, in which black lesbians discuss their experiences with taunts, bars being burned down in Harlem and other areas, and the bars they had to go to as a result of their usual places being burnt down treating them poorly. This is just one example of how blacks in the LGBT community have historically been ignored by the larger community, something I will discuss in greater detail farther down.

While doing my research, I came across Odena R. Neal’s “The Limits of Legal Discourse: Learning from the Civil Rights Movement in the Quest for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights,” which is, as the title suggests, a look at how gay rights has taken inspiration from the civil rights movement, and how the movements are similar in other ways. As I found this article highly informative, I would like to paraphrase some key points from this article marking points of similarity, both good and bad.

Know your enemy:

One of the weaknesses of both the civil rights and LGBT movements have been, according to Neal, their failure to recognize the true enemy, instead gearing their energy toward elimination of discriminatory laws that were symptoms of the real issues. With the civil rights movement, blacks treated segregation as the enemy, feeling that an end to segregation would lead to equality, while in reality, the real enemy was racism (685, 9). Similarly, Neal asserts that the gay rights movement suffers from the same issues, stating that “the gay, lesbian, and bisexual movement must recognize that the enemies of its constituency are not sodomy laws, laws forbidding the enactment of anti-gay discrimination statutes, legal precedent which views homosexuals as unfit or lesser-fit parents, or bans on gay, lesbian, and bisexual participation in the armed forces” (689). As an example, she cites the battle against DADT, or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a recently repealed law that prevented homosexuals from disclosing their sexuality in the US armed forces. Rather than focusing on DADT, which would directly impact only a very small portion of the LGBT population, Neal suggests that the LGBT community instead should have been focusing on eradicating the social issue that led to DADT in the first place- homophobia (692). While racist and homophobic laws certainly do need to be weeded out, without changing the society to be more open to individuals of different races and sexualities, civil rights and gay rights movements can not attain the ultimate equality for which they search.

The pity factor (and the harmful impact of stereotypes):

In the course of working to eliminate the aforementioned prejudicial laws, Neal found that both the civil rights and gay rights movements used a tactic- not necessarily on purpose, but it is notable nonetheless- that is initially effective but turns around to bite them in the end, evoking pity as a means of garnering support. With the civil rights movement, pity was evoked via imagery and rhetoric describing the violences that blacks faced, including “young men and women having dogs set upon them, the almost tangible hostility that was aroused by nine black students’ entering Little Rock Central High School, as well as images of dismal living conditions in Southern rural areas” (695). Of course, that was the reality of life for black Americans at that point in history, but at the same time, using those images as a reason why blacks needed protection instead of appealing to a greater need for overall equality ultimately set blacks up for the situation in which they are in today: because some have become wildly successful (rappers, sports starts, and other highly visible, affluent persons), and because blacks are no longer oppressed in the blatantly discriminatory ways of the past, they are no longer pitiable and thus, no longer need assistance (696). Additionally, Neal notes that many issues that blacks face, such as drug use and incarceration, are issues seen by many white people as issues brought upon blacks by their own doing, thus negating the need for anyone to help them if they cannot help themselves and clean up their delinquent behavior (696). In the eyes of many white, blacks simply aren’t disadvantaged enough to warrant aid.

For gays, pity is evoked however purposefully or not, through one of the largest arguments that is used to combat claims of unnaturalness of homosexuality leveled against them. That is, through insisting that they can not help being gay- which, while I might believe it, there are many who don’t- they evoke pity from those who also believe being gay is something that can not be helped. In fact, “those who believe that homosexuality cannot be helped are more likely to be supportive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights” (696). So, while the argument is effective in garnering support initially, Neal notes that the gay community has to tread carefully in celebrating and championing their cause so they do not seem as if they are flaunting their sexual preference and lifestyle, which is, in a society where discussion of sex is still largely a topic for behind-closed-doors discussion, likely to make people feel as if the LGBT movement is “simply hedonistic” (697). How the group presents itself to society is highly important, and in the eyes of greater society, there is a thin line between asking for social (and legal) validation and shoving the gay lifestyle down peoples’ throats.

Erasure of difference:

Both the black community and the LGBT community are guilty of erasing differences within their ranks as a way of advancing the majority causes, which leaves some of the members in the dark while others reap the benefits. For the black community, the issue is created by having a sort of gold standard for blacks in the community, and those people then become the face of the group while the diversity that lies beneath is swept under the rug. In her analysis, Neal notes that the gold standard blacks were “situated within the paradigm of American normalcy,” including Martin Luther King Jr., who she suggests had success to the extent that he did because “he presented the picture of a respectable white man who happened to be black” (698). Blacks ashamed of blacks of lower class… Martin Luther King Jr. as an articulate white man who just so happened to be black. By erasing the differences within the African-American community to create a single face that can be shown to the public, there is no way to help everyone.

Within the LGBT community, there is also a tendency to hide differences within the group which is, according to Neal, understandable since division can harm movements (699). However, there is a price to be paid in the form of marginal groups within the larger movement, including queer persons of color, having their issues pushed aside. Similar to how blacks championed the paradigm of American normalcy as the face they wanted to present to the rest of the country, so is the LGBT community today. Certainly, it’s not as if homosexuals are not like other people (except for who they end up with at the end of the day), but trying to force everyone under the umbrella of the issues considered pressing by (again, predominantly white) lesbians and gays only helps those two groups and pushed transgendered individuals, bisexuals, persons of color, and other subgroups deeper into the shadows.