Gay is the New Controversial

Whenever I catch someone invoking the Black Panthers, “separate but equal” or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a conversation about gay rights, my stomach turns. This ever-loudening logical trend is summarized by the conveniently trite and popular new saying, “Gay is the new black.” That’s not quite true. Were gay people ripped from their homes, cleaved from their families and herded like cattle (and worse) across the Atlantic? Nope. Were gay people slaughtered by the millions as an entirely expendable labor force in America? Not even close. Did gay people suffer 258 years before they were no longer another man’s property? No. Did gay people battle an additional hundred years just for the unfettered right to vote in the country of their birth? Not so much. Are you offended yet? I didn’t even mention segregation and lynching. On the other hand, what were the words on the jet black cover of a very recent issue of famous gay mag The Advocate? Go on, guess. GITNB, as I’ll refer to this phrase, is a purposefully bold statement that does a better job at encapsulating national queer frustration than being an accurate analogy. The passing of Proposition 8 (California’s gay-marriage ban, in case you haven’t heard) has frustrated gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Transgendered folk are perhaps even more frustrated, having very different, more laborious legal and political battles to fight. Where can one get married, if not in an alleged “blue state” like California? Taxachusetts and it’s only somewhat more livable neighbor, Connecticut. I am actually a proud Bay Stater and self-proclaimed Massachusetts liberal, but Americans should not have to uproot their lives for their rights. If you are gay, you cannot get all your constitutional rights, even in Massachusetts. Plenty of marriage benefits — among other things — are strictly federal. What many do not realize is that gay marriage is a fringe benefit in comparison to the bigger picture of what is, truly, a struggle for human rights. There is a darker side to the violation of rights for GLBT Americans than makes headline news every day. FBI statistics for the year 2006 show sexual minorities comprise more than 15 percent of the targets of reported hate crimes in the metropolitan United States, and that percentage is on the rise. The number of murders as part of the same reported, anti-gay hate crimes more than doubled from 2006 to 2007. 11 percent of victims who reported their cases to Human Rights First, an international human rights organization, said they were verbally abused when they told police about the anti-gay hate crime against them. An additional five percent reported being physically abused by police when submitting their complaint. Countless more anti-gay hate crimes go unreported out of shame and fear of retaliation, every day, all across the country. With no national legislation classifying sexual orientation or gender expression as protected minority status, only 11 states have hate crime laws that cover these aspects of identity. Discrimination alone is the tip of the iceberg. Protecting American citizens, human beings, from hatred-in-motion is considered a “states issue” in our country. So when “Gay is the new black” is thrown around by everyone from faceless media moguls to Joe the Advocate, it is conflicting for those who consider themselves advocates for GLBT rights and especially for GLBT people themselves. As much as I usually recoil when I hear black/gay parallels drawn, there is something appealing about those statements. When people say GITNB is wrong, the idea that strikes me with increasing frequency is that I should not believe that I am going too far, or being too vocal, or saying things that are too radical or too painful. To make a connection to the black civil rights movement, I wonder how many activists stopped to consider if their opponents were right, but then ultimately chose to continue because they were sure that their realities and beliefs held an ultimate truth. The truth is that there are some valuable comparisons to draw between the black rights movement and the gay rights movement, the paramount being the concept that people are born gay (as people are born black). One of the biggest weapons in the arsenals of the champions of hate is the idea that being gay is a lifestyle choice and a sexual preference. I promise: it is not. When one thinks of the death of Matthew Shepherd, a young man who was beaten to death for being gay in Wyoming ten years ago, one must ask himself who in the West or the South would ever really choose to be gay. Really, who on Earth would ever choose to be gay? And so, I encourage the practice of patience, compassion and understanding by all those who hear someone quoting Malcolm X in a fight about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or, better yet, your new favorite catchphrase, “Gay is the new black!” Dominic Dejesus is a three-year Upper from Lowell, Mass. and Director of Events for the Gay Straight Alliance.