In the blogsphere there has been some uproar about comparing the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s to the Gay Rights Movement (which is moving forward with their victory in New York last week.) Apparently, many people find it “appalling” that this comparison is being made. Here are my thoughts:
Just to say it sharply, I think the comparison is both valid and necessary. In the study and interrogation of race, politics, and history in the U.S., one will find that the struggle for freedom and equality is not singular. That is to say, when one movement that is fighting for equal rights makes progress, this progress cannot be seen as exclusive. This would contradict the very mission that these movements set out to complete. To compare Civil Rights with Gay Rights is legitimate because of an overarching parallel of liberty, dignity, equality, and freedom. The same core values that are set in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. As our country still struggles to fulfill the promises of all men (and women) created equal, we could learn something from the ideology of “Universality.” Individuals are quick to see how things are different instead of seeing how they are similar, people far too hastily find the conflicts in movements before they care to build community between movements, and our society too often would rather exalt hateful ideas above choosing the love that defeats bias. For these reasons, I choose to not ignore the differences within these two movements, but highlight the similarities.
Martin Luther King Jr. Said: “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” One must begin to view various movements as a cascading process. We cannot afford to think with capitalistic and individualistic mindsets when our movements hold their foundation on the wings of the common good. So for example, if I am truly fighting for equality in a racial context, I am simultaneously fighting for women’s rights, educational rights, gay rights, workers rights, and more. If one honestly believes that unfairness to one is unfairness to us all, we must begin to build bridges between movements and end our competitive paradigms.
However, this is not to ignore the contradictions that existed or currently exist in movements like the Civil Rights or Gay Rights. We need to call out the problematic patterns that occur inside any movement, regardless if it hurts that movement, the goal is protect the value of being human. In the Civil Rights movement there was a plethora of contradictions both with homophobia and sexual harassment. It seemed many people wanted you to choose to be black before you can be safe as a women or openly gay. And one can still find contradictions built into the fabric of the Gays Rights movements by looking at systemic and blatant racism and transphobia that consistently gets ignored.
There seems to always be levels of double marginalization that exists within every movement for equality. I think the hope that we have should be found in the ideas of Universality.
In the fight for equal education in South Africa, it was made clear by one of the leaders of this new movement, that they are not fighting for equality in their school systems so they can build their countries economy and compete with other countries. This fight for equal education is an international battle, a struggle for students and learners everywhere that are denied equal opportunity because of differences in resources, wealth, and property.
Any social movement that is built, should not be built by finding the differences in past movements, but it should be built on the idea that if something is not fair or just it is a threat to our humanity and our dignity. And that threat must be defeated non-violently and immediately. We all have the right to be human and we have to bring movements together and defend that right.