July 29, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 30

Tuesday, Mar 01, 2016 02:08
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On Marriage Equality and Race:
On Marriage Equality and Race:
by Ken Thompson

Last month we began a series of columns on how we must be diligent in our discussion of marriage equality not to appropriate the language of the Civil Rights movement. Doing so, as we discussed, simply plays into our opponents' hands as they seek to sow distrust between communities of color and the LGBT community.

This month, we continue to look at ways we must be thoughtful and smart when making our arguments about marriage equality. Upon reflection, this is also an opportunity for whites, such as myself, to more deeply look at our underlying assumptions about communities of color. For many of us, the strong desire to compare our current struggles to the Civil Rights efforts of the 60's (and the struggles for racial equality that continue today) has opened up an opportunity for us to look more deeply at the beliefs we might hold.

Our guide this week, again, is Diane Finnerty. What follows is a nearly verbatim excerpt from her paper "An Open Letter to My White Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Sisters and Brothers."

In addition to warning us about piggybacking on the civil rights struggles of communities of color, she also cautions us about these five actions:

o Making statements that diminish the impact of racism or imply racial discrimination no longer exists: "Gays are the last oppressed minority." "Gay rights are the last bastion of civil rights for this country." "Gay rights are the civil rights issue of the day."

o Engaging in acontextual shaming tactics with a person of color who expresses views about marriage rights for same-sex couples that are different than your own: "Of all people who should understand discrimination, I'm surprised that you, as a person of color, wouldn't understand this is a civil rights issue."

o Playing the "tit for tat" activist game: "They want me to support racial diversity efforts? Well, as soon as their definition of 'diversity' includes sexual identity, I'll work with them. Not until."

o Talking about sexual identity to claim it as a badge of victimization or making statements that if you were free from this one form of discrimination everything would be okay.

o Saying under our breath to each other or merely holding on to the unchecked belief that communities of color are essentially more homophobic than white communities, with no exploration of the sources of homophobia in different communities nor interest in engaging in meaningful dialogue to have our beliefs challenged.

Finnerty goes on to write, "As a white Lesbian, I need to do my homework on the histories of communities of color and understand how others' experiences differ from my fourth generation Northern European immigrant views of the world before I can enter any dialogue about the complex views of sexuality and same sex relationships within communities of color."

Amen to that. Finnerty does not suggest that this is easy work, nor do I. One way to start this work is to simply entertain some questions about what it might be like to be someone other than yourself. Examine what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, by asking yourself these questions from Finnerty:

o How does the experience of historic and contemporary genocide among Latino, Indigenous, Asian, and African peoples affect views within their communities on the roles of men and women, sexuality, families?

o How might heterosexuality be protected in a community in which children are stolen from families, men routinely castrated, and women raped and forced to bear the fruit of their colonizer?

o What strength does the Church take on if the congregation is an oasis where community leadership is developed and honored?

o What if cultural values deem overt conversations about sexuality, in general, as disrespectful?

o What would it mean to be "out" in this context?

Big questions, with complex answers. Appreciating the complexities is part of understanding, for those who have, relatively, more privilege than others.
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