Offensive Condescension

ImageWhat the hell are we afraid of? Especially those of us who are affected by Prop 8? Looks like the two biggest things are religion and black Americans.

As soon as Prop 8 passed and protestors took to the streets, a debate came up which raged long before Prop 8 and may likely go on forever.  Does the battle for gay rights compare to the black civil rights movement? A new phrase popped up before Prop 8’s passing, but became particularly prominent after the votes were counted, "Gay Is The New Black". It’s been on countless protest signs, discussed in the media and adorned the cover page of a recent edition of The Advocate.  Then it came out that the vast majority of black voters in California voted Yes on 8. There was a lot of misunderstanding that followed, often blaming a host of reasons while neglecting the religious aspect. Then, as before, debates sprung up about whether the gay civil rights movement has a valid comparison to the black civil rights movement.


I’ve had this conversation many times over the years, but I remember one particular incident a year or two ago at a local bar with a friend of mine who is black. During a conversation about gay rights (we’re both gay) I brought in the black civil rights movement as comparison. He hit the roof. It was a total shock to me. I’d heard my argument disputed, even condemned, in the past, but at that point I didn’t expect it.  His aggressive rebuke and my surprise made me feel guilty at first. Maybe I had behaved in a racist manner without realizing it. It only took me a couple of minutes to realize that was not the case, and I moved back to stand my ground.

His beef was pretty much the same one I’ve heard from black Americans who object to the comparison between the two struggles. You can’t compare the hell that blacks in America have endured to what gays have gone through. The problem is that the comparison has very little to do with what each group endured, at least as it relates to physical and emotional abuse. The comparison rests on the rational behind the forces against us. Both groups have been physically and verbally abused, abandoned, shut out, belittled, murdered. But of course, there’s no question black Americans have suffered the most appalling treatment, hands down. That’s not, however, the point of the comparison. The comparison is about arguments used against us.

 Arguments against the legalization of interracial marriage included "abominable" and "unnatural", the same as with gay marriage.  It was said that interracial marriage "necessarily involves degradation" of traditional marriage, as with gay marriage. Interracial marriage was labeled as "illicit sex", as with gay marriage, and called "contrary to God’s will", as with gay marriage. With all other areas of equal gay rights such as employment, housing, etc, through the years, the arguments have been identical to those used against black Americans.

To younger Americans, it may seem crazy to imagine a time when blacks couldn’t marry whites, when blacks couldn’t go to certain schools, when people would leap out of a swimming pool if a black child dared get in the water.  Someday, many years after gay marriage and equal rights for gays becomes a reality, the same will be true. Young people will find it hard to imagine a time when gays were second class citizens. Time and distance do a lot toward the fading of the pervasiveness of prejudice that soaks  American history.

And in the decades that follow the final, national granting of equality to LGBT Americans, it will become difficult for some to imagine a time when gays were restricted because of their biology. But even with equal rights, LGBT Americans will still be the victims of beatings, even killings, and certainly rejection, just as those circumstances effect black, as well as all other minority groups of Americans today. Many speaking out today continue to repeat that the problem is ignorance, or some misunderstanding, but  not hatred, which moves the opposition. It may not be a pleasant fact, but it’s a fact. They simply don’t like us, and to use energy working to get those voting against us to "like us" seems pretty pointless to me.  

Why do so many black Americans become incensed by a comparison between the civil rights battles of LGBT Americans with black Americans? Why do so many white LGBT activists condescend to an irrational rebuttal? I’ve seen a lot of articles recently explaining  why the comparison is valid, but I’ve also seen a number of articles denying the legitimacy of  the comparison, as if it feels racist, just as I initially felt in that conversation a couple of years ago. To water down the point in deference to possible offense is counterproductive to truth and evolution.

The same thing has been happening with respect to religious Americans who oppose equal gay rights. This at first seems like a no brainer. In America we have this thing called "religious freedom", which has from the start been used by conservative religious Americans in ways that are in direct opposition to what was intended. Religious freedom means we understand there are many religions and that it’s personal and important. As a nation we allow (yes, "allow". Many countries do not allow it) the practice of religion for all American, as well as respect those who believe nothing supernatural. It does not mean, as the religious right wields it, that religion can dictate the foundations of equality and freedom. It does not mean, as religious Americans have used it, that religion can decide what is right and wrong for others. Religious freedom in America is actually about tolerance of religious beliefs, without allowing it to form government policy and laws. It was put in place so religion has no influential power in government or the rights of others. And as Christians are prone to forgetting, there are "others" out there who don’t believe as they do.

Why has religion, which, taken as a whole, is fraught with corruption and hypocrisy, been allowed to restrict others for so long? Why are we still going to war shouting "God’s will"? Why did the Catholic church, revealed to have protected pedophiles in their ranks for who knows how long, get off with a slap on the wrist and a fine? Why do we condescend, at all costs, to religion in America?

As an atheist (I’m trying to evolve that into "rationalist", but that still sounds a little pretentious to me…) it’s easy for me to understand how it works. I couldn’t call myself an atheist, out loud, until I was around 30, even though I’d been one much longer. (For the record, I was a Christian when I was younger, did the Youth For Christ thing, went to church, believed in God, etc. So don’t try that "you don’t know what you’re talking about" BS with me…) That was 17 years ago, when it was much harder to say it in public. There are still situations I might not volunteer it to this day. If I was asked, I’d tell, but I might not volunteer. Even around close friends I occasionally feel that "disapproval" vibe we’ve all felt as gay people when I mention I don’t believe in any God. But I also know there are a lot of people out there who just don’t talk about it, but likely are, at the very least, unsure of the presence of God.

American Christians have historically shared another charming trait, believing that despite the various religions throughout the world, Christianity is the only "real" truth. Recently I heard an analogy I now use frequently in any debate on the topic of opposing religions. Simply stated, why do most people born into a Christian country end up Christian? Why do most those born into a Muslim country end up being Muslim adults. You can go on and on. If you’re a strong believer, as an American, in a Christian God and the Christian bible, think about that. If you were born in India, what would you believe? If you were born in Iraq what would you believe? For the vast majority of the world, it’s little more than your surroundings and what those around you teach you. The fact that religion comes with a nice fuzzy comfort just makes it easier on the programmer.

That being said, I have no desire to start a campaign to restrict religion, not any further than our founding documents have already done. The constitution makes it clear that religion is to be kept clear of the rights and freedoms of others. So how did so much go wrong in our past to allow a belief in a God and a book to cause so much harm to others? To allow the owning of slaves? To deny women equal rights, and so on. We’ve got a fairly tainted past when it comes to civil rights. The problem is, courts in America have always been filled with Americans, and "morality" and God took precedent over logic and equality. God is so powerful in America that for most of our history, even the legal system couldn’t separate the two.  

Still, the California Supreme Court did it last May when they finally made same sex marriage legal. Unfortunately, they also allowed the public to vote on their decision. Applied to any other civil right, outside of LGBT Americans, that would never happen. At the moment, I have a feeling they’ll overturn Prop 8, but I’ve seen equality, logic and fairness fail a lot in my lifetime. Religion, so far, has been very successful at restricting others. It’s a lesson we can’t quite seem to learn. Religion is BELIEF, not FACT, and therefore has no basis in determining the equal rights of other Americans.

I envision a day when LGBT activists who stand up against civil rights restriction will not even mention a God in their speeches. No more countering the bigot’s God with an accepting God. No more asides about their own belief in God to try to connect with those who vote against us. Magical "Gods" shouldn’t be anywhere in the debate. We will never win that way. It has NOTHING to do with the argument.

Until we stop worrying about offending those who restrict us or condescending to those who throw back arguments, we will not have equal rights. Please, no more "moments of silence" unless it’s for someone who died.  If you’re going to stand up for equal rights, you better be willing to piss someone off.  




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