Thursday, June 5, 2008

Question for the Day: Gay Rights as Barometer of Human Rights

Just now catching up on my daily internet news reading.

I find H. Alexander Robinson’s “A Cause of Celebration: Reflections on Our Progress” at today’s Bilerico blogsite fascinating.

Robinson focuses on Bayard Rustin, African-American gay Quaker activist and associate of Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to Robinson, “A year before his death in 1987, Rustin said, ‘The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated.’

Does this remain true, I wonder? Twenty years down the road, is the gay community the community most easily mistreated in our society?

What does “most easily mistreated” mean? What does that phrase translate into, in terms of concrete attitudes and actions towards gay human beings?

It’s interesting that this insight comes from a man who writes about spending time on two crosses—the cross of racism, and the cross of homophobia. He writes, in other words, out of the experience of double discrimination (as does H. Alexander Robinson, who is also a black gay man).

Interestingly enough, earlier today I had read the tributes to Robert Kennedy by his children in the NY Times, and learned of the website “Speak Truth to Power” that Kerry Kennedy has set up to commemorate her father and continue his work for human rights.

The website has a human rights statement that made me stop and think ( The statement insists that those who struggle against oppression for their own human rights have an obligation to struggle for the same rights for anyone who is oppressed. It states:

Another definition for human rights is those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity. To violate someone's human rights is to treat that person as though she or he were not a human being. To advocate human rights is to demand that the human dignity of all people be respected. In claiming these human rights, everyone also accepts the responsibility not to infringe on the rights of others and to support those whose rights are abused or denied.

Is that statement true, I wonder? Does any group that experiences oppression have an obligation to struggle on behalf of others who also experience oppression? Do I, as a gay man, have an obligation to work for justice for people of color? For women?

I have always thought so. I believe so. I believe that my own claim to human rights cannot be taken seriously if I do not extend that claim to every other group that is unjustly marginalized.

Bayard Rustin’s thought stresses the obligation of African Americans to stand in solidarity with LGBT persons.

Is there such an obligation? Is Rustin correct, I wonder?

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