September 28, 2007

Fallout From Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Causing Split in African-American Community

Sadly, here is a situation where I think almost everyone gets it wrong. From the Miami Herald:

Inside Fort Lauderdale City Hall, a contingent of gay white men squared off against black ministers this month, arguing over civil rights.

Outraged over the ministers' decision to announce their support of Mayor Jim Naugle's crusade against homosexuals on Sept. 4, about 20 gay activists wearing red shirts and AIDS pins condemned the clergymen the next day for not being sympathetic to their cause -- one they say mirrors the African-American struggle.

The ministers did not agree.

''You didn't have to drink from separate fountains. Our struggle is not the same . . . you can't equate race and sexuality,'' O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center, told one activist. ``Slavery was not a choice.''

''Yours is a message of hate, minister . . . You don't speak on behalf of freedom,'' answered Michael Rajner of the Campaign to End AIDS, a nonprofit group.

Now the debate over gay rights threatens to drive a wedge between members of South Florida's black community. Despite the support that many black ministers showed for Naugle, the local NAACP took a public stand against the mayor, calling his crusade a ``hate campaign.''

''I'm not here to condone or condemn gay sex,'' Marsha Ellison, head of the Broward NAACP, told The Miami Herald. ``This is a hate campaign against gays launched by the mayor.''

She said the branch's position -- adopted after a unanimous vote of its 22-member executive committee as well as branch members -- echoes the national NAACP's position. ''Anytime any group is discriminated against it becomes a civil rights issue,'' she said.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond made national headlines with his recent endorsement of gay marriage -- a step several prominent black ministers publicly criticized.

While Bond has noted that ''no parallel between movements for rights is exact,'' his position differs with ministers and others who suggest that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. He wrote last year: ``Like race, our sexuality isn't a preference -- it is inborn, and the Constitution protects us all against discrimination based on immutable differences.''

Clearly, Mayor Naugle is a bigot who has used the rest-room sex issue to get on his anti-gay soapbox. Enough said about that.

Minister O'Neal Dozier, supporting anti-gay views, is missing the boat and falling into judgement toward the GLBT community.

Those who try to closely tie the GLBT civil rights struggle with the African-American one also miss the boat, big time. There is truth to what Minister Dozier said. Although there are acts of discrimination and violence perpetrated against GLBT people in today's society, they barely scratch the surface of what African-Americans had to go through in the 1950's and 1960's (and many, many years before) to get where they are today, which is still not an environment bereft of prejudice.

I think GLBT activists, especially African-American ones, need to blaze their own trail and not act like they are walking the one of generations past. When gay men and lesbians are required to drink from different fountains, sleep in different hotels, use different restrooms, and sit in restricted sections at sporting events, then they've got a fair comparison. Until then, just focus on claiming equality going forward--fight this new battle, don't try to reenact previous ones.


  1. Y'know what? Sure, gays never had to drink from separate water fountains - but show me the black man in the 1950's whose parents threw him out of his home for being black; who couldn't legally marry somebody he cared for (not just couldn't marry a white woman, but any woman at all); whose church condemned him to hell as an abomination in the eyes of the Lord; who had to live in fear of his employer discovering he was black and thus ending the employment his family depended on; who lost his house when his wife died because the tax laws viewed them as strangers because of their race; whose right to be a parent was regularly debated in terms of his likelihood to rape his own daughter; show me the 1950's black man whose fundamental humanity was doubted even by those who should have known and loved him most.

    Yes, the Jim Crow laws were horrible, and segregation continues to have its echoes to this day... but I'm sick of African Americans saying that nobody but them has ever suffered, that their suffering is the pinnacle. It's not. And it's about blasted time somebody reminded these ministers that suffering is redeemed when it gives you compassion for the suffering of others. Until that happens, you're just a victim.

  2. What we have to remember here is those are two extreme viewpoints. I don't want the fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians to turn into a "who's suffered more" contest between blacks and gays. There's a reason the comparison are *only analogies.* As the NAACP spokesperson said, no comparison is exact.

    I think most people can rationally say that blacks and gays have/are fighting for equal rights, but in different arenas.

    And we should ignore those who say otherwise. If we start playing their game, we are going to end up alienating and offending each other when we could be working together.