Human Rights Campaign
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Gay Rights Movement Needs Own Voice
The LGBTI movement, which has been gaining momentum since the early ’80s, could very well seem to be the civil rights movement of our generation, since it shares of the same principles as the civil rights movement of the ’60s. However, there are many fundamental differences between the social movements of the late ’60s and today; although “fighting the good fight” seems objectively timeless, the pathology of protest has changed drastically and these two causes cannot be linked if either wishes to remain a relevant call for equality.
The term “civil rights” indicates the rights to personal liberty established by the U.S. Constitution. In this way, both the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the LGBTI movement of today are the same: Just as gays now seek the legal freedoms most people enjoy, blacks sought the same legal rights as whites during the ’60s. Both movements have been spearheaded by young adults on college and high school campuses. Both seek to end or reform unjust or unfair treatment, and both seek changes in legislation and public opinion as a remedy. Both focus on the idea of the personal and political quality of human life, and both have had a long history of the struggle to gain rights. Black people have suffered racial prejudice long before America was a country, and homosexuality has been persecuted for centuries and was considered a disease until 1973.
Yet although these similarities exist, the differences are just as numerous.
Some might say one group or the other has suffered more and therefore a comparison is inappropriate, but comparing the discrimination gays and blacks have suffered and would be like comparing apples and oranges. How can we say that either has suffered more? Having to sit in the back of the bus and being barred from adopting a child are both forms of discrimination, but beyond that, no obvious general ties can be drawn, so we can’t say if the suffering that resulted was equal or not. Also, by making a link between black rights and gay rights, in some ways we forget the many other groups that are discriminated against (the elderly, the handicapped, immigrants, unskilled workers, Native Americans and women, just to name a few.)
By linking two groups we run the risk of minimizing the hardships and hard-won freedoms of both. Not only that, but also by transforming a story of past courage into a lightning rod for current activism, how can we honor the goals accomplished by civil rights leaders? How can we respectfully remember the sacrifices of the civil rights movement if we are trying to relive our own version?
When all is said and done, I support any movement that seeks to provide all people with equal protection of the law. But every group is different, and even though the civil rights movements sought to change the legal situation (de jure), what really matters the most is the actual acceptance into mainstream society (de facto).
If either group wants to be accepted as a whole, they must find pride and strength in their individuality. No close analogy can be drawn between civil rights and gay rights, and it is inappropriate to generalize them by grouping them together; in reality gay rights and civil rights represent diverse people and goals.
The two causes can become blurred together and we may forget that each was a unique cause with a unique goal. If each embraces its identity, then it is more likely that the general public will too, and can ensure the groups are no longer discriminated against even after the legal battles have been won. In any sense, fighting prejudice is a continuing battle, and neither group has won total equality.
Just because I wish I was around for the March on Washington of 1963 doesn’t mean I should give the same support to LGBTI rights without first considering what supporting this cause means to me, to our country and to the people being discriminated against.
*Taylor Nye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freshman majoring in English, French and Spanish.