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I was among the 12,500 people at the march in Silverlake, a gay-friendly neighborhood on the east side of Los Angeles (not to be confused with East Los Angeles), on Saturday, November 8. Among the many different signs and slogans held by marchers, I was struck by the sight of people, white and black, holding signs which declared: “Gay is the new Black.”
I understand where this sentiment comes from, but I cannot say that I agree. I find this slogan problematic: it fosters the idea that racism against the African American community is a thing of the past and it appropriates the narrative of a struggle that is still very much going on, our President-elect notwithstanding. When I first read the reports of voter statistics and saw the overwhelming percentage of African Americans who voted for California Proposition 8, I was immediately concerned about the effect this would have within the LGBT movement; a wounded community would start looking for scapegoats. Seventy percent is a huge number, but people (specifically white gay men) have been far too quick to say “well it’s because of Obama,” as though gay rights were sacrificed for a step forward against racism. There seem to be people who are intent on blaming African American homophobia for Tuesday’s results instead of recognizing the fact that LGBT movement has largely ignored people of color and made queer people of color nearly invisible. As a queer Cambodian woman, I empathize with black gays’ & lesbians’ sense of being ignored and uninvolved by mainstream LGBT activism.
The repercussions of this invisibility and lack of outreach are becoming apparent. A UCLA student wrote to Rod 2.0 that someone at the protest in front of the Mormon temple in Westwood shouted at him: “YOU NIGGER. . . If your people want to call me a FAGGOT, I will call you a nigger.” It is appalling that white people would target black people who are actually participating in a protest against Prop 8 and, worse, that they seem to think that experiencing an act of discrimination is license to discriminate against others. This is not acceptable and only shows that the LGBT community needs to deal with the issue of racism as much as people of color must deal with homophobia.
I did not witness any blatantly racist behavior at the march on Saturday, but I was very aware that there were few black people in crowd. That in itself is symptomatic of the invisibility of black gays and lesbians in both communities. It’s arguable that the black gay community faces some of the most difficult challenges with homophobia, racism, and the inevitable clash of both.
One man at the march held a sign with the 7 of 10 statistic and the words “We supported ur rights.” I couldn’t articulate to him at the time why his sign made me so uncomfortable, but I realize now that it was because of the language. When I read “we supported your rights,” I immediately questioned who constitutes that “We”? The sign implies that racism isn’t a problem in the LGBT community and to say “your rights” is to suggest that there is a distinction between the rights of Black people and the rights of LGBT people–it divides the overlapping communities and plays King Solomon with Black gays and lesbians. The point of civil rights activism is that there are rights which belong to everyone and language like this isn’t going to help the cause gain allies.
Yes, civil rights for gays is the movement of the moment, but let us please not forget that the movement to end racism is far from over, and let us not further victimize each other in this process.