Gay Rights “Not a Civil Rights Issue”?

June 15, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) supplies high school LGBT rights groups around the United States with a wealth of useful information, tools, and event and activity guides. For the last few years, I’ve appreciated the planning guides GLSEN provides as a source of brainstorming and public-relations hints. But looking through a GLSEN binder of open forum topics and public speaking tips recently, I came across an unusual and off-putting suggestion:

“Do NOT compare the LGBT Rights movement to the Civil Rights movement.”

Wait, what? The battle for LGBT rights mirrors the Civil Rights movement in a variety of ways. The reactionary backlash and lack of logic behind opponents’ arguments read exactly the same, complete with desperate biblical references. Take for example this judge’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia, a pre-Civil-Rights case on interracial marriage:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Indeed, and Almighty God also created Adam and Eve, not, as the social conservatives say, Adam and Steve. The slow social acceptance and increase in violent hate crimes look much the same, too. So what differentiates Gay Rights from Civil Rights, again?

Well, nothing really. It just ruffles a lot of (black, evangelical) feathers to make the comparison. Apparently GLSEN doesn’t want to alienate anyone, even if it means sacrificing an excellent logical illustration.

I know a retired teacher who devoted much of his younger years to the Civil Rights Movement. When he began working in this district, he received a mass of racist phone calls and letters, which ranged from harassment to outright threat. He has personally experienced the effects of ignorant prejudice. Yet he recently appeared on a local Baptist TV program with the express purpose of attacking the Gay Rights push. He demonstrated particular outrage at the comparison between Civil and Gay Rights, of course. He found the claims of LGBT Rights activists “outrageous”, and then followed with the customary claim of how these two issues differ: gays bring intolerance upon themselves by choice, blacks do not. From there the program went into the standard association between homosexuality and disease, drug use, promiscuity, and premature death.

So herein lies GLSEN’s reasoning. A generally amicable organization, GLSEN and its chairs must think that any kind of negative sentiment they inspire will do their years of work harm. But the people who find the comparison insulting, like this teacher I know, find LGBT people and rights disgusting regardless of whether its proponents utter the “C” word or not.

I have to respectfully disagree with GLSEN’s stance. Regardless of what the ideologues and bigots find offensive, the true Civil Rights figures do sense similarity. Coretta Scott King, in the last decade of her life, became a major supporter of the LGBT Rights movement. To the Civil Rights leaders who rejected LGBT support, Mrs. King said, “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.” Mrs. King saw the strong parallels between racism and homophobism, and at the risk of pissing off some already pissed bigots, so do I.


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Category: American Culture, Culture, Current Events, Education, Media, Politics, Quotes, Sex

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    I see the parallel. The comparison to civil rights is a no-brainer to me. The only question I have is whether it might be a reasonable political strategy to downplay the comparison. If so, the next question is how much longer GLSEN should downplay this obvious comparison. These questions merge into this additonal question: given that homophobia currently demanizes large groups of people, is it moral to EVER downplay such an obviously applicable comparison? GLSEN seems to be employing an extremely cautious and a somewhat questionable political strategy, it seems.

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