Friday, December 12, 2008

Why I Can't Stand The 'Gay Is The New Black' Slogan

When I hear or see that 'Gay is the New Black' slogan, it just irks me, especially considering what I've observed over the last decade as a African-American transgender activist.

When we hear people say that, I and other African-Americans, both GLBT and non GLBT, see a movement comprised predominately with a leadership of white moneyed gay men who wish to compare themselves to the Civil Rights Movement but consistently ignore or fail to apply the fundamental lessons of that movement.

What are those lessons? Coalition building, composing civil rights law as broadly as possible to cover the most people, and doing so and dealing with others in a morally ethical manner.

Unfortunately some of our gay white brothers and sisters do that only when it is advantageous or critical for them to do so, like when an anti gay referendum is on the ballot, then they come calling.

Any other time, except when they need melanin in a photo op, they ignore us.

When I look at those documentaries, movies and photos of the Civil Rights Movement, I see most of the signs carried by marchers have something to do with jobs, equal rights, voting and stopping lynching, not marriage issues.

To be honest, short of the obvious one involving the trans Atlantic slave trade, the transgender community has more similarities with the African-American struggle at its inception than the gay one does.

How you may ask? Before y'all start tripping like one gay person did (so far) when I made this statement in a Bilerico comment thread, let me school y'all on some of the things I've observed, and if you disagree, that's what the comment thread at the end of this post is for.

*Once we transition, there's no hiding for us. We are reviled by some members of the general public simply for being who we are.

*At the time the major push of the Civil Rights Movement started in 1954, African-Americans had no elected political representation at the major city, county, and state government or legislative levels. There were only two congressmen, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr (D-NY) and William L. Dawson (D-IL) representing us at the federal level and zero senators of African-American heritage.

Transpeople have ZERO representatives at the federal level, have only one elected statewide rep in the person of Hawaii State Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto, no elected representatives in state legislatures or state governments, no elected county commissioners and no elected city council representatives in any major US city.

*We have an average of two people a month being killed simply for being transgender, and that's the ones we know about.

*Amnesty International has documented the abuse of transgender citizens at the hands of law enforcement.

*A transgender person's rights are still subject to judicial interpretation in the judicial system, are not codified yet at the federal level, and any attempts to do so at any governmental level are met with resistance by the same hostile white fundamentalist anti-civil rights coalition that dogged the Civil Rights Movement. Infuriatingly enough, sometimes that resistance as demonstrated by last year's ENDA debacle comes from our own erstwhile allies.

I agree with the assertion that all oppressions and 'isms' are linked. However, while there are some similarities and some convergence at certain points in our twin civil rights struggles as the life of Bayard Rustin and the late Coretta Scott King so eloquently pointed out, there are fundamental differences as well in how the two movements evolved.

The African-American civil rights movement at its core was a church based, church led one while the gay rights one at its core is secular in nature.

But the major reason why the 'Gay is the new Black' slogan raises African-American hackles is not because as some GLBT peeps have surmised the homophobia within our community's midst.

Many GLBT African-Americans like myself can't stand it because we see it as another example of our history being appropriated and trivialized for your own purposes while excluding or erasing the gay and straight African-Americans that helped make that history.


Renee said...

I have written ad nauseum about this issue. The failure to recognize the racial appropriation for what it is disgusts me to no end. When I hear white GLBT tell me it is because I am homophobic I just about blow a gasket. First off gay is not the new black erases members of the gay community that are black. That is racist. If gay is the new black what does that say about our struggle for recognition? It smacks of its my turn as though the problems of racism are solved. Further you know damn well that these people only want to own a black identity when it is convenient. Where the hell were they when Sean Bell was killed if gay is so damn black? As for the Bilerico I think I am about done with that blog. They continue to allow racist commentary without any intervention. If someone wrote a commentary that was homophobic or had the word faggot they would be all over it but somehow racism is tolerable. They make me sick, new black indeed. I only look over there for your work the rest of what they have to say is irrelevant until they deal with their own hypocrisy.

zenytania said...

Well said Monica! Well said indeed. I hope you keep up the struggle for equality and recognition for all of us as you have been.

Megan said...

Thank you so much for posting this! As a gay, white woman, I just wanted to say that I read so many things on your blog that I would not otherwise be aware of. I can't believe the Advocate had that on their cover! That unbelievable and unacceptable.

Keep on keeping on and keep writing!

cora d said...

Thank you for this post! My stomach turned when I saw the cover of that Advocate issue (and every time I've thought of it since) but haven't been able to verbalize it.

pinko said...

PLEASE stop buying into this divide and conquer strategy of the right. What about queer people of color? What about straight allies of color who fight for lgbt rights... or queer, white anti-racist activists?

The advocate (run by rich, white, privileged, cisgender men) SUCKS for running this. I mean, it would be one thing if they did it as a means of criticizing and pointing out the strategy of pitting oppressed groups against each other, and started a dialogue about solidarity. But that's not what this is. They stupidly played right into the divisive politics.

I think, however, that this post is kind of doing the same thing by asserting that white, cisgender gays & queers only have to worry about marriage- that the rest of their problems are solved and there are no "real" struggles, like housing, employment discrimination, fear of physical harm or death, etc. Of course, they have it easier in some ways, but they are also among our homeless youth, our suicide victims, our hate-crime corpses.

Consequently, this is also what the HRC and the 'no on 8' movement are implying by focusing all their efforts and money and activism on marriage! What? Did we already solve those other problems, and I missed it? The time for solidarity is now. Let the assholes who keep playing the "it's the black voters' fault" bullshit on the news channels know that this tactic will not work.

And for chrissake can we focus on the real issues now? How about starting with a discussion of racism within our queer communities (and transphobia and sexism and classism and ageism and ableism for that matter)? enough already. damn.

Monica Roberts said...

Pinko, You're late..

Even if the right-wingers were trying and up until the Sunday after the election failing to split the gay community from the African-American one, the actions of some white gays prior to that Cali election and elsewhere were setting this in motion.

You demand respect and rights for yourselves, but when you are in a position to help a more downtrodden group (transgender people) you arrogantly tell them to 'wait their turn', accept 'half a civil rights loaf' or publicly cut them out of legislation (ENDA) that even Stevie Wonder can see they need.

People were watching your amoral actions, and now that the karmic wheel has turned, y'all feel our pain and ain't liking it.

Some white gay people have told transgender people in essence to go to Hades, told AA GLBT people that we aren't needed in YOUR movement, repeatedly disrespected us, and now y'all wanna discuss racism in the movement when we warned y'all decades ago to address the problem or else.

And no, this post is part of that discussion. If I don't tell you why the slogan pisses me and other AA GLBT people off, you aren't going to know.

But then again, some of you don't wanna know and don't care whether we verbalize it or not.

Unknown said...

Can I get an AMEN! Thank you for speaking out on this completely offensive Advocate cover. It speaks volumes about who the Advocate really represents, who their target demographic really is.

eileen said...


I don't think they heard ya girl.

Your blogs are so on point. Thanks so much for expressing these views.

BTW, have you ever read Malidoma Some's Guardians of the Gates?

journal said...

This may be due to my not being black, but I don't really see what the problem is. I've made the comparison between the current struggle for gay rights and the civil rights movement before becase I see certain similarities between them and because racism is easily as irrational as any anti-gay sentiment you care to name. Surely that's not an overly controversial idea?

Monica Roberts said...

And obviously Journal,you didn't even read the post before commenting.

Phillip T. Alden said...

As a white gay man I agree that the struggles of POC are not the same, and I recognize the "white privilege" that divided my community from the communities of color that surrounded my "white city."

Personally, I don't care about "gay marriage." It's been my opinion that the GLBT community has much more important issues to tackle. Also, by calling it "gay marriage" those advocates set themselves up in opposition to religious types.

I agree that "gay is not the new black," and The Advocate is often full of crap.

I also enjoy reading your blog and I'm glad someone pointed me to it.

I wish you the best of luck, and I look forward to reading your stuff in the future.