Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eric Deggans on Martin Luther King's Legacy: Why Do the Media Still Give Time to Anti-Gay Spokespersons?

A day late, but Eric Deggans' commentary on Martin Luther King's legacy in light of the  contemporary struggle for LGBT rights deserves wide readership.  Deggans asks--an extremely important question--why major mainstream media outlets like CNN, which wouldn't dream of pretending to offer "balanced" coverage to issues like racism or segregation by inviting rabid racists onto their programs, still think it's legitimate (and necessary) to give air time to rabid homophobes whose only arguments against gay rights are that they themselves find gay and lesbian persons distasteful.

Deggans writes:

Back in Dr. King's time, when debates over issues of civil rights were covered by the media, they also dutifully included those who favored segregation or denying black people the vote or banning interracial marriage. But eventually, the news media concluded that such views were prejudiced and stopped presenting them as equal arguments -- reasoning that treating racists like equal participants in such debates only granted them a power they should not have.

So when will media take similar action with anti-gay activists?

I think the answer to Deggans' question is obvious--and it should be painful to anyone in American society who supports the full human rights of all citizens, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, age, sexual orientation, etc.: gay and lesbian human beings remain, in American society, a group uniquely singled out for abuse.  In the U.S., LGBT persons continue to be one among several minority groups (illegal immigrants and Islamic citizens are others) that one may single out, target, and speak hatefully about without significant reprisal.  And without any strong public censure for one's prejudice and hatred.

In the past several days, I've watched recent movies that casually refer to objectionable decisions or behavior as "so gay."  I've seen on my Facebook page conversations at the pages of younger relatives of mine, in which the "you're so gay" epithet is casually thrown around, with no objections from any quarters. 

I routinely hear the particular minority group to which I belong, a group still susceptible to astonishing levels of violence in the nation in which I live, a group whose teenaged members still routinely commit suicide because they see no way to live with any dignity or peace, casually referred to in ugly ways and with prejudice-laden references that the culture at large would not dream of permitting any more, if the group being discussed were people of color, Jews, ethnic minority groups, or women.  And so I applaud Eric Deggans for reminding us as we commemorate Martin Luther King that he and some other African American leaders get the connection between racial oppression and the oppression of sexual minorities, and that the civil rights struggle of gay and lesbian persons deserves recognition as a bona fide civil rights struggle.

This is an important reminder from a minority community as religious leaders, including leaders of my own Catholic church, speak of the human rights of gay and lesbian persons as "alleged rights," and as these same religious leaders claim that they are defending human rights in the very actions in which they bash gay and lesbian human beings and seek to block our human rights at every turn.

(And--once again, because it has to be said--as all of this unfolds within the world in which we live, the intellectual elite that sets the standards for the theological conversation of the Catholic mainstream in the U.S. continues to talk on and on about recovering pertinence for American Catholic theology, while it never says a single word about these issues.  And while some of the loudest proponents of "pertinence" ally themselves with movements that continue to deny rights to gay and lesbian persons, even as they dare to speak about creating a welcoming church to stem the tide of those now leaving the Catholic church in droves.)

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