Friday, July 17, 2009

A Reader Writes: Granderson Is Right about Gays and Blacks

In response, I pointed the reader to the abundant material on Bilgrimage about women’s rights and women’s roles in the churches. I told the reader how to access that material, if he’s interested in reading my take about these issues.

This respondent is back—and that’s puzzling, since he tells me that my writing style is off-putting, he doesn’t agree with my positions, and he suggests (without even knowing me) that my positions can all be explained away by his psychobabble. Though my posting yesterday about Rowan Williams, the Episcopal Church USA, and the Anglican communion said nothing at all about African-American issues, the reader’s response to that posting takes me to task for suggesting (so he claims) that the gay community is disadvantaged by the black community.

The respondent also implies that I ignore the racism of some members of the LGBT community. He encourages me to read L.Z. Granderson’s commentary on the CNN website yesterday.

My reply to the suggestion thanks the reader for recommending Granderson’s article. It also notes that I’m perplexed that he chooses to comment on a posting about Rowan Williams and the Episcopal church with an attack on me for claiming that the black community disadvantages the gay community, when I didn’t even mention issues of race in the posting to which he’s responding.

I also note that Bilgrimage (and many other of my published books and articles) decry racism and its effects on our society. It was my commitment to challenging racism that led me to work for fifteen years in historically black colleges. As I’ve consistently noted on this blog, I’m deeply troubled by racism, whether it comes from the LGBT community or anywhere else, just as I’m troubled by homophobia in the African-American and other minority communities.

Why? It’s a question of commitment and integrity, in my view. I believe in human rights and in consistency in supporting human rights. It doesn’t make sense to me to support human rights selectively, to play the rights of one group against the rights of another group. From where I stand, we undermine our own case for human rights when we fail to make solidarity with anyone else unjustly experiencing oppression.

I find myself very much where John Aravosis at Americablog comes down, in response to Granderson’s CNN commentary. Aravosis notes that he doesn’t intend to respond to Granderson’s commentary, since for those of us committed to civil rights, period, it’s dysfunctional to play the my-pain-is-worse-than-yours game. Pain is pain is pain. And discrimination is discrimination is discrimination.

It’s not justifiable if it’s being inflicted by a gay person on a black person (or on another gay person). It’s not justifiable when it’s being inflicted by a black person on a gay person (or another person of color).

As John Aravosis notes, there are some powerful responses to Granderson from within the African-American community, and these suffice. One of these, Alvin McEwen’s at the Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters site, is a response to which I have already directed my reader’s attention yesterday.

I also find Pam Spaulding’s preface to McEwen’s commentary, which she has reproduced on her Pam’s House Blend blog, illuminating. Pam (who is also African American) states,

This Granderson argument is completely self-defeating. The problem with homophobes in the black community who want to render black LGBTs invisible so that it can keep its head in the sand, and white gays who recoil at the mention of racial discrimination in that community, is that it is increasingly difficult to ignore the voices of black LGBTs -- some of us are no longer going to let either group get away with it.

As Alvin McEwen notes, playing discrimination experienced by people of color against discrimination experienced by LGBT folks makes black gays and lesbians invisible. This game implies that there are no LGBT people of color who experience double discrimination in American society for two equally insupportable reasons that have everything to do with innate traits that should not be used to determine a human being’s worth:

Why is it so hard for folks to say that gay rights are African-American rights because lgbts of color are touched by both communities? Why is it so hard for folks to say that there are times in which the black and gay struggles intersect?

Pain is pain is pain. And injustice is injustice is injustice. As McEwen powerfully asks, “Or, if you want to be direct about it, did Mamie Till and Judy Shepard cry different tears when they learned about the death of their children?”

Stampp Corbin’s witness to the ongoing discrimination gay citizens experience is equally powerful. Corbin is the former co-chair of Obama’s LGBT Leadership Council, and is an African-American man.

Corbin counts the ways in which gays and lesbians and bisexual and transgendered citizens continue to experience disadvantage in American society, solely because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered:

1. In many work contexts, we cannot even declare our identities or our relationships, without fear of being fired—solely due to our sexual orientation.

2. In states with domestic partnership or civil union health care benefits for same-sex partners, those benefits are usually taxed as ordinary income, while the same benefits given to a spouse in a conventional marriage are not taxed.

3. In the military, LGBT partners receive none of the benefits provided for those in conventional marriages.

4. The surviving spouse in a conventional marriage can receive the estate of the deceased spouse tax-free, while partners in same-sex unions often pay heavy estate taxes to receive their partner’s estate.

5. Surviving partners of conventional marriages can receive the deceased spouse’s social security benefits. Same-sex partners cannot.

6. A conventionally married spouse cannot be turned away from seeing his/her spouse in the hospital and/or making medical decisions the spouse has legally empowered him/her to make. In the case of gay couples, these fundamental human rights can be denied.

7. The door is open for legal immigration of a foreign spouse in a conventional marriage. Not so for those in same-sex unions.

Corbin’s list is persuasive. It puts the lie to the argument of some Americans that the discrimination experienced by LGBT citizens is all in the imagination of those who are gay, and that such discrimination should be taken lightly. It challenges anyone who tries to play the real, ongoing discrimination experienced by LGBT citizens—which is not experienced with similar impunity by other protected minorities—against that experienced by other minority groups.

In my view, it’s time to put this self-defeating, divisive rhetoric about whose pain is greater behind us. It helps none of us who find ourselves in minority communities. This rhetoric originates with and serves the interests of the powerful heterosexual and heterosexual-posturing men, most of them white, who want to control our economic, political, social, and religious life for their own benefit.

As Mr. Obama noted yesterday in his speech to the NAACP, there’s plenty enough pain to go around in our society, due to unjust discrimination, and none of it is justified:

Racism, he said, is felt "by African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights."

For my part, I intend to keep challenging unjustifiable discrimination anyplace it occurs, and I intend to keep on making solidarity with members of any group experiencing such discrimination—even when they do not intend to support me in my own struggles. I also intend to keep calling the bluff of those—often, powerful heterosexual white men—who want to drive wedges between minority communities to consolidate the power of their own social group. And I intend to keep calling the president to accountability—to action—as he makes wonderful statements like the one he made yesterday to an organization whose leader recently side-stepped the question of whether his organization supports gay marriage.

Just as I intend to keep pushing, and pushing hard, against racism in the LGBT community . . . .