Saturday, April 22, 2006

Well, are they civil or aren’t they?

From time to time, I’m told that it’s wrong to compare the gay rights movement with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. I have a lot of trouble with this. While it is certainly true that I will never understand what it is to be African American, it is equally that a heterosexual African American male cannot know what it is to be female or gay.

What is most disheartening is that this “gay rights aren’t civil rights” argument has been co-opted -- if not created -- by right-wing demagogues who seek to divide groups that should otherwise be working together. After all, extreme right-wing hate-mongers see African Americans, gays and lesbians, Jews and Muslims in about the same light.

In any event, just what does the term “civil rights” mean, and can it truly be applied to our struggle?

According to (I’m too lazy to get up and go use a real dictionary), “civil rights” means the following:

civil rights

The rights belonging to an individual by virtue of citizenship, especially the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and by subsequent acts of Congress, including civil liberties, due process, equal protection of the laws, and freedom from discrimination.

adj. or civ·il-rights

  1. Of or relating to such rights or privileges: civil rights legislation.
  2. Of or relating to a political movement, especially during the 1950s and 1960s, devoted to securing equal opportunity and treatment for members of minority groups.

If these definitions are correct, then the term does, indeed, apply. Putting aside the issue that seem to freak everyone out – sex and marriage – consider the following

  • In most American jurisdictions, I can be fired from my job – any job – because I’m a lesbian.
  • In most American jurisdictions, I can be refused service at restaurants, hotels, and other businesses because I am a lesbian.
  • In most American jurisdictions, I can be denied housing because I’m a lesbian.
  • In many states, I cannot adopt a child because I am a lesbian.
  • If my child becomes the subject of a custody dispute, she can be taken away from me because I am a lesbian.
  • I cannot serve in the military because I am a lesbian.
  • In many American communities, I put myself in physical danger if I am open about being a lesbian. Therefore, I must be careful what I say and what I read in public
  • Of the 14 victims of hate-motivated murders reported by the FBI in 2003, 6 were gay – more than any other group. Of 5 rape victims, 3 were lesbian or gay (leaving aside, of course, the fact that all rapes are hate crimes).

Dunno. Sounds pretty damned civil to me. Coretta Scott King thought so, too.


  1. If the Christian reconstructionists succeed in their lofty goals, they may come after you first but I'll be on their list as well.

    You're right of course. Divide and conquer. Set the people of color against the Hispanics and Jews. Set hetero against GLBT. Catholic against Protestant and atheist/agnostic against people like me who don't necessarily believe the Bible as literal truth but try to live the teachings of Jesus.

    They want it all and their goals are frightening. They want a bloodbath.

    Ranting - sorry. For your sake and my son's (and eventually mine and other people like me), I wish it could be different. Even in this "liberal" blue state, we're constantly battling the fundies.

    My son hasn't been physically attacked but he has been called names and insulted.

    Just what you needed a depressing comment. Usually I'm much more hopeful that sanity will prevail and maybe I'm just tired.


  2. Excellent points. Being transgender, all of what you said applies to me too. At some point folks will figure out that the privileged groups encourage the oppressed groups to splittered and seperate and fight the "I'm more oppressed than you" battle. Keeps the privileged privileged and the oppressed oppressed.

  3. One thing I would like to mention (and I could write a book on this) is that, if one takes this country's founding documents to heart, one would realize that we are granted by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. That, in order for government to work, we must cede certain of these rights and consent to be governed. All rights not ceded to the sovereign are retained by, first, the states, and ,then the people. Civil rights are not granted by the Constitution, they are guaranteed protection from government interference.

    If one day, it becomes out of style to be a minority white, male, Christian heterosexual, who do you think will be yelling to apply the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to protect them from discrimination?

    Intolerance in any form is, itself, intolerable.

  4. You're absolutely right. Yes, they are civil rights.

  5. You might like this story (and poem)

    Sub-Comandante Marcos is a Zapatista leader in southern Mexico. A few years ago, the Mexican government tried to discredit him by putting forward the idea that we was homosexual in a region where there are strong ideas about heterosexual “masculinity.” He responded with the poem.

    “Yes, Marcos is gay.

    Marcos is gay in San Francisco,

    Black in South Africa,

    an Asian in Europe,

    a Chicano in San Ysidro,

    an Anarchist in Spain,

    a Palestinian in Israel,

    a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal,

    a Jew in Germany,

    a Gypsy in Poland,

    a Mohawk in Quebec,

    A pacifist in Bosnia,

    A single woman on the Metro at 10pm,

    a peasant without land,

    a gang member in the slums,

    an unemployed worker,

    an unhappy student,

    and, of course,

    a Zapatista in the mountains.

    Marcos is all the exploited, marginalized, oppressed minorities resisting and saying “Enough.”

    He is every untolerated group searching for a way to speak.

    Everything that makes power and the good consciences of those in power uncomfortable- this is Marcos.”

  6. Two words for all such squawkers:

    Bayard Rustin.

  7. coeli8:09 PM

    I was part of the Soulforce protests at the United Methodist General Conference in 2000. I wish I had the text of the speech Yolanda King gave at our rally, in which she said, "There are no civil rights movements. There is one Civil Rights Movement." Arun Gandhi spoke eloquently to the same point, as did Soulforce founder Mel White.