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Leonard Pitts on why gay rights matter

I know also that some folks are touchy about anything seeming to equate the black civil rights movement with the gay one. And no, gay people were not kidnapped from Gay Land and sold into slavery, nor lynched by the thousands. On the other hand, they do know something about housing discrimination, they do know job discrimination, they do know murder for the sin of existence, they do know the denial of civil rights and they do know what it is like to be used as scapegoat and bogeyman by demagogues and political opportunists.

The man gets it. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. has been receiving gay-baiting letters from knuckle-dragging readers who can’t understand why he writes columns about gay issues. Alas, it’s the common theme we’ve seen many times here on the Blend.

Gay issues simply aren’t on many straight folks’ radar — but they should be.

The most concise answer I can give is cribbed from what a white kid said 40 or so years ago, as white college students were risking their lives to travel South and register black people to vote. Somebody asked why. He said he acted from an understanding that his freedom was bound up with the freedom of every other man.

You have to wonder if it’s a sign of the ego-centric times we’re living in that if there’s no obvious benefit to the non-oppressed group, too many simply tune out. It wasn’t always the case when it came to issues of civil equality.

People generally seem to have lost the ability (or, perhaps, motivation) to walk in another’s shoes — it generally requires a personal connection to an issue for it to hold any significance.  Take Darth Cheney for example. Pitt points out that this otherwise socially conservative pol is able to have a blind spot of tolerance that accommodates his lesbian daughter — it’s likely that he wouldn’t hold a supportive position on any aspect of her rights without that personal, loving connection.

It is a fine thing to love your daughter. I would argue, however, that it is also a fine thing and in some ways, a finer thing, to love your neighbor’s daughter, no matter her sexual orientation, religion, race, creed or economic status — and to want her freedom as eagerly as you want your own.

You could extend this observation to the issue of homophobia in the religious black community. For those who have endured the sting of racism to deny civil equality to gays for some of the same reasons whites oppressed blacks reveals a lot about the character — and short memories — of these people. Pitts’s words ring true:

It seems to me if I abhor intolerance, discrimination and hatred when they affect people who look like me, I must also abhor them when they affect people who do not. For that matter, I must abhor them even when they benefit me. Otherwise, what I claim as moral authority is really just self-interest in disguise.

As long as black gays and lesbians remain in the closet to their fellow parishioners, families and co-workers, they allow the bigots in their community (and in the pulpit) a pass — those who would demonize them can continue believing that gays are “the other,” the boogeyman, or, the simply ridiculous statement that homosexuality is a “white man’s disease.”

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Pam Spaulding

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