Friday, November 14, 2008

New History Was Made - But Our Old History Lingers On

In his recent editorial in the Miami Herald, African-American columnist Leonard Pitts writes "we shall overcome." But it was not a declaration referring to his race, but rather to the millions of LGBT Americans discriminated against nationally.

Pitts wrote this column in regard to the recent outcomes of the gay marriage referenda in Florida, California, and Arizona. He points out that although black voters came out in record numbers to elect Barack Obama the first African-American President, they also supported a ban on gay marriage by a 2 to 1 margin.

Pitts acknowledges that the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in indeed different from the gay rights movement today, but writes:

"…that's not the same as saying blacks and gays have nothing in common. On the contrary, gay people, like black people, know what it's like to be left out, lied about, scapegoated, discriminated against, held up, beat down, denied a job, a loan or a life. And, too, they know how it feels to sit there and watch other people vote upon your very humanity, just as if those other people had a right. So beg pardon, but black people should know better. I feel the same when Jews are racist, or gays anti-Semitic. Those who bear scars from intolerance should be the last to practice it."

Although the civil rights movement is not over, and the chains of discrimination have not been fully lifted from the black community, a great deal of progress has been made over the past half century. Progress is equally likely - says Pitts - to come to the LGBT community as well.

Gay marriage is likely to become more accepted in the future, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act is likely to pass in the new Congress and signed by President Obama, and hate crime legislation is likely to be extended to LGBT individuals as well.

Yet, hate crimes have been part of the American judicial system for some time, and the violence still continues - as demonstrated by this disturbing video sent to us today.

Perhaps the saddest part of the story is how it is unsurprising. The anti-immigrant rhetoric mentioned by Ruben Navarrette is an obvious fuel for the fire. It is unsurprising because we've seen this movie before. As Bob Dylan wrote about the murder of Medgar Evers:

"A South politician preaches to the poor white man / "You got more than the blacks, don't complain / You're better than them / You been born with white skin," they explain / And the Negro's name / Is used it is plain / For the politician's gain / As he rises to fame / And the poor white remains / On the caboose of the train…

… He's taught in his school / From the start by the rule / That the laws are with him / To protect his white skin / To keep up his hate / So he never thinks straight…

… And he's taught how to walk in a pack / Shoot in the back / With his fist in a clinch / To hang and to lynch / To hide 'neath the hood / To kill with no pain / Like a dog on a chain…"

Dylan wrote "Only a Pawn in Their Game" over forty years ago - but today the words are still a reality to families like the Luceros. And the LGBT community, like the Latino community, has become a direct target of conservative politicians in recent years.

So even as the United States made history by electing its first black President, the old history of hate and discrimination sadly continues - and in new forms.

Or as Pitts writes, "Sometimes progress carries an asterisk."

No comments: