Socially Speaking's Blog
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Similarities Don’t Mean the Same

The weekly socio-political commentary from activist, Perry Redd

The weekly socio-political commentary from activist, Perry Redd

I say in one of my songs, “If anyone tells you, ‘I know how you feel,’ then you know they ain’t real…”  I say that because we all go through trials, challenges and tribulations.  Many of those circumstances are the same: discrimination, unemployment, employment, loss of a loved one, violence or disappointment just to name a few.  Though the circumstances are the same, the details immersed within are uniquely different.  We need to recognize that our battles are not the same.

In  Arizona, they’ve taken a giant step backward into history. The Arizona state legislature passed a bill, SB1062, in both legislative houses to allow businesses to deny access and public accommodations to gays, lesbians and transgender persons if the owner of that business objected by citing their religious beliefs.  In short, SB1062 would amend the existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, allowing business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers as long as proprietors were acting solely on their religious beliefs.

While the circumstance of denying service to people because of a condition they can’t control is similar, the civil rights label of gay rights does not apply.  I make that assertion on both practical and political grounds.  Practically speaking, equating any form of discrimination with that experienced by African descendants in America is an affront on the years of suffering and struggle by my people.  Some people act offended when I take this stand.  They are wrong.  You definitely don’t get that type of resistance when Jews disallow the word holocaust to refer to anything other than Hitler’s attempt to eviscerate their people.

The term “civil rights” was uniquely formed and framed for the slave descendants who were under a 300-year attack by white Americans.  The word was later codified to address discrimination inflicted upon that specific class of people.  So now, you’ll say, “the word Black isn’t in the law.” You would be disingenuous.  The landmark legislation outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It legally ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (known as “public accommodations”). The law is indeed “colorblind” on its face.  Unfortunately, the face isn’t the whole body.

The bill, called for in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, was solely due to the protests of Blacks who had had enough.  He asked for legislation “giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public—hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments”, as well as “greater protection for the right to vote.”  That bill emulated the preceding Civil Rights Act of 1875 which again was designed to remedy the wrongs being inflicted upon Blacks after slavery.

My point here is that “civil rights” struggles, gains and legislation are specific to Black Americans.  Gays and lesbians have a battle that is indeed unique to them.  Some are immersed in the same person. The term “human rights” should be aptly applied here. Though the circumstances are indeed similar (denial of service), the details are different. 

The level of violence against one group is arguably disproportionate.  The longevity of the hate against each group is again, disproportionate.  The ability to exercise discrimination against the two groups has a different threshold.  Many gays and lesbians can go undetected within society. It is a rarity for a Black to “pass” as white in this society.  Though “passing” was well-documented throughout the racist legacy of the United States, it only occurred at the imbecility of the “smartest people in the room.”

This distinction I insist is smart politically as well. Language matters.  If one conflates the two; it diminishes the significance of the former.  This, like ambiguous, colorblind, race neutral language is a tactic of oppressors throughout history.  The battle gays and lesbians have is a “human rights” issue.  One’s humanity was under attack regarding the struggle of Black equality in America too.  But the primary focus was in changing the polity of this country in order to get to the humanity of the nation.

On the other hand, gays already have the political freedoms: voting, Bill of Rights protections, land ownership, etc.  They are in a battle for their humanity.  Now, I don’t enjoy espousing the “they versus us” dynamic in this conversation, but it does exist, and for the sake of argument, must be duly applied.  We cannot allow white separatist racists to diminish any battle already won.  They are vehemently trying to “take their country back.”  We can’t go back there; we must move forward.

I stand unequivocally for the rights of gays and lesbians to full and unfettered access to any and all liberties enjoyed by any other American—including those oppressive and discriminating white males.  Hiding behind the cloak of religion is cowardly and should be banned.  Though I can only imagine the painful feelings that gay and lesbian individuals experience when others want to deny their humanity, but it would be unreal of me to say that I know how you feel.


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