President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren to lead a prayer during his inauguration next month continues to inspire much controversy.
"By inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table," wrote Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a letter to the incoming president.
In a news conference Thursday, Obama said he is a "fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans." But he said he hopes to promote better dialogue between people of opposing views, and wants his inaugural to reflect that goal.
"That dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign's been all about: That we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere when we — where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans," he said.
I admire Obama for his leadership in trying to bring some of the extremely divergent views held in his country together for his inauguration. Obama has always gone out of his way to be inclusive, including in his election night victory speech when he said, "It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."
Obama thinks he's already got the LGBT community in his back pocket (and he's mostly right). So his choice of Rick Warren is meant to send an inclusive signal to the American Right which did not support him. I can see the sense in this. Obama is first and foremost a talented politician. No politician could ever get elected today President of the United States supporting full marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Of all the states in the union, it appears only a handful of states in New England have little problem with the concept.
While Obama is no doubt an ally of the queer community at least in words, we have yet to see tangible proof his words will transcend into real action. The Human Rights Campaign have issued a five-point 'Blueprint for Positive Change' they hope Obama will adopt in the first months of his administration. They also have a petition on their site and I urge everyone to sign it.
All of this coincides with a new round of debate on the question, 'Is Gay the new Black?' Outrage continues over the recent referenda which confirmed that full equality under the law is a long way away for gays and lesbians in America.
But I agree with many that comparisons between the centuries-long struggle for civil rights for black people and the gay community's relatively recent struggle for equality are problematic.
Even stating that 'Gay is the new Black' seems to expose a stunning ignorance of the history of violent oppression suffered by black people. Nothing like slavery ever happened to LGBT people. Homosexuality was only explicitly banned in law in the western world in the last 125 years or so.
The only reasonable historical comparisons that can be made between the black and gay struggles for equality can be made in the last 40 to 50 years, long after slavery was eradicated. I do think that intellectual comparisons between segregation and failures to ban racial discrimination can be made to similar attacks on gay peoples' rights. But the comparison remains intellectual, similar to comparisons to the fight for women's rights and other rights.
On the other hand, in the gay marriage debate, many who reject the 'Gay is the new Black' mantra as false seem to conveniently forget that LGBT people aren't protected from discrimination in many American states. They forget that it's still legal to fire someone for being gay in many parts of the rest of the world. Homosexual acts can lead to execution in many countries, and certainly might include jail sentences. Institutional homophobia is alive and well in most parts of the world (by institutional, I mean written into the law books.) Such institutional racism is long gone in America, and many parts of the world.
Others continue to say that gays and lesbians can choose to hide their orientations if they choose, and thus homophobia isn't as painful an experience as facing full-on racism, which people of colour can't hide from. I've always found this argument troubling because 1) many queer people CAN'T hide their queerness no matter how hard they try, and 2) why should anyone be forced to hide who they are?
The argument is similar to those who discount anti-Semitism because some Jewish people can "pass" as average white Christians.
Of course, whether based on race, or gender, or religion, or sexual orientation, all forms of oppression are wrong. Any such oppression offends the universal principle of human rights: equal dignity and value for every human life. When you discriminate based on race, you violate this principle. When you discriminate based on sexual orientation by banning same sex marriage, you also violate this universal principle.
For some great insight on this issue, check out these two great pieces.
Is Gay the new Black? I don't think so. If nothing else, the fiery debate caused by the passage of Proposition 8 in California has helped to better inform all of us on the challenges we face and how to better strategize to get where we want to go.
There are many still who violently argue that homosexuals aren't part of the human family and deserve no recognition for their love and relationships. They hope to drive a wedge between the black civil rights movement and the gay rights movement, mostly because they know such tensions will only act to delay the drive to full equality for all. We ought not let such bigots get away with it.