Is Gay the New Black? Why we Should be Allies Instead of Enemies
One of the most baffling things I have ever encountered is the prevalence of black homophobia. In my mind, that’s pretty much an oxymoron. It’s hard to understand how someone who is discriminated against daily, solely based on the colour of their skin, could be so dead set on hating another person who is discriminated against because of who they happen to love. Think of how bizarre it sounds to say, “You can’t hate me because I’m black! That’s wrong!” then moments later, spew hate-filled words at a pair of men in love.
The other day, someone asked my opinion on the comparison of the fight for black civil rights to the LGBQT community’s battle for equal marriage rights. Her argument was that it was disrespectful to compare years of institutionalized racism, brutality and slavery to the discrimination that gays face in today’s society. It was a comparison I had encountered before. If you do a quick Google search for “gay vs. black” or “gay is the new black” you get an overwhelming number of hits. This idea isn’t new, nor is the upset it has caused. To be fair, I can understand where the anger comes from, as many black people still hold images of lynchings, segregated schools and police brutality fresh in their minds. I have not forgotten. But my anger for the torment that my people have faced and continue to fight does not blind me to the discrimination and abuse that LGBQT persons face.
I know the two are not exactly the same. But it burns me when black people choose to be anti-gay and against gay marriage on the grounds that our suffering was more long-standing and brutal than theirs. I think we ought to bear two important things in mind when considering the comparison. Firstly, homophobia is far less brutal than it could be because of rules and regulations like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Charter of United Nations and other laws that demand that all people, gay straight and in-between, are equally protected. Remember that rules like this and watchful eyes like the UN did not exist in times of slavery to limit and punish the brutalization of black people. I strongly believe that without the advances we’ve made for equality, and the policies put into place to protect those advancements, gay people would face far more physical and overt attacks.
Secondly, those charters that protect us here in North America don’t exist in many placed around the world and gay people are dying horrible, inhumane deaths because of who they love. Engaging in same sex relations is illegal in many countries throughout Africa, Asia and South America, is punishable by life imprisonment in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania, Guyana, Saudi Arabia and India, and punishable by death in Iran, Maldives, Sudan, Mauritania and Nigeria and Somaliland, Yemen, Afghanistan. Obviously none of these countries are exactly supportive of same-sex marriage. I once saw a video of a man in Nigeria, I believe, being burned alive inside a tyre, while people stood by and watched, cheering and celebrating his death. His crime: he was gay. And we don’t even have to travel so far from home to hear stories of hate. Look up Mark Carson, shot and killed in New York, in May of last year, after being followed and taunted with anti-gay slurs by his murderer. This is just one of hundreds of stories of hate crime committed against LGBQT persons in America.
Are these stories not reason enough to stop using the difference between the two struggles as reason to negate or minimize what gay people here, and around the world are facing daily? Yes, it is certainly hard to compare anything to slavery, but racism, the institutionalized hatred of people of colour can very well be compared to the institutionalized hatred of any other group—sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc. As minority groups fighting for equality with those who have seized and held privilege over us for centuries, we do ourselves no favours by highlighting our differences instead of seeing the struggle we share. All hate on the basis of difference is wrong. The execution of that hatred may differ, even the consequences. But no one form negates the others. It is not a game of “the way they hate me is worse than the way they hate you.” That is a game that nobody wins. That is why, as a black woman, I see fit to support gays, the disabled and all people of colour. Gay isn't the new black. Nothing could ever be. I’m not asking black people to agree that gay people suffer as much as we do, or join the fight for gay marriage, or hold hands and sign Kumbaya with your gay neighbour. I am merely asking you to stop being a part of their problem, because if anyone should understand how it feels to be hated for things beyond our control, it’s black people.