legacy and dream of Martin Luther King Jr. lives on today, but for so
many African-American gay and lesbian loving people that dream has been
deferred. However, it’s a new year and it’s time for black
gays to reclaim their dreams and celebrate King’s legacy.
When Martin Luther King Jr. marched in the ’60s for the civil rights
of African-Americans, he wasn’t marching for the civil rights of
some, he marched for all blacks. Side by side, straight blacks marched
with gay blacks and it’s important that the contributions of gays
to this movement do not continue to be downplayed and overlooked.
The gay rights movement has been compared to the ’60s Civil Rights
Movement repeatedly and questions surrounding King’s views on homosexuality
are constantly being asked. We will never know for sure what King thought
about homosexuality, but we do know that he apparently had no issue with
working with gays because one of his closest personal and political advisors
was an openly gay man, Bayard Rustin. Rustin is best known for being one
of the driving forces behind the march on Washington in 1963.
The fact that King worked with and trusted an openly gay man during this
critical moment in African-American history says a lot. King must not have
found Rustin’s sexual orientation to be a hindrance to the movement
and he didn’t allow the fact that Rustin was gay to supersede his
being black and having an active role in the movement.
At a time when there were very few voices for their own cause willing to
stand up, Rustin and other black gays and lesbians had to put aside gay
rights issues for the good of the greater civil rights movement and their
contributions should not be forgotten or go unnoticed.
When blacks were drinking out of colored only water fountains and forced
to use separate bathrooms from whites, the signs didn’t read “Straight
Colored Only” and “Gay Colored Only.” No. They simply
read “Colored Only.” Black gays and lesbians suffered the same
mistreatment of blacks in general and still had no voices of their own.
Flash forward 40 years to the vision of the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. leading a march in Atlanta to denounce marriage rights
for gay couples. Attempting to further divide the black community on the
issue of homosexuality, Rev. Bernice King blatantly ignored the contributions
of thousands of black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to
the civil rights movement. If that wasn’t enough, Rev. King and mega-church
pastor Bishop Eddie Long purposely chose Dr. King’s gravesite to
bring attention to the march and their hateful message. It’s unfortunate
that there are those in the black community who find bigotry acceptable
towards gays and use misguided ideologies to convey their message.
However, today is a new day and King’s dream lives in all of us,
straight or gay. King’s dream will no longer be deferred for black
gays. We will continue to fight discrimination, homophobia and bigotry
in our own communities, whether it be the black or gay community. The gay
rights movement does share common ground with the civil rights movement:
discrimination. Blacks suffered discrimination at the hands of whites because
of their skin color while gays continue to be discriminated against because
of their sexual orientation and identity.
Gone are the days of silence in the black community around issues of sexuality,
we played that game and it cost some of us our lives.
We will never know for certain what Dr. King thought about same-gender-loving
people. The closest person to him, his wife, has already publicly stated
that King would have supported gay rights if that were any indication on
what his views might have been. But you know, I am not so much worried
about what King would have thought about me being a black lesbian as I
am about the direction of our community on this issue. Our community has
far more important issues that need our attention and resources than discrimination.
I dream that one day I will be able to legally marry my girlfriend and
have our union protected by the 1,049 federal benefits and privileges afforded
to heterosexual couples. I have a dream that one day gay youth will no
longer be kicked out of their homes and displaced from their families simply
because they are attracted to the same sex. I have a dream that our community
will address the issues of HIV/AIDS head on and stop this disease from
claiming another precious life. I have a dream that one day my same-gender-loving
brothers and sisters will be able to free themselves from the chains of
internalized homophobia and that our community can move past the issue
of homosexuality to focus on the more pressing issues of today like the
never-ending war, access to education, jobs, healthcare and social security.
I have a dream that will no longer be deferred thanks to the vision and
effort of Dr. King, Bayard Rustin and the few gay and lesbian voices that
dared to stand up back when they could find no one to stand up for their
own rights. That’s what we should be celebrating on King’s
holiday, not only the man, but the dream and that it does live on.