Repeating what has been a rallying cry of gay activism for years, the cover of the December 16, 2008 issue of The Advocate announced, “Gay is the New Black: The Last Great Civil Rights Struggle.” Last week, on May 19th, headlines across the nation announced, “NAACP endorses gay marriage as ‘civil right.’” So, is gay the new black?
There are prominent black leaders who say yes, including Congressman John Lewis, who was active in the early Civil Rights movement. There are other prominent black leaders who say no, like Timothy F. Johnson, founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation.
For a number of reasons, I concur with Johnson and others who say that gay is not the new black.
1. There is no true comparison between skin color and behavior. Although gays and lesbians emphasize identity rather than behavior, homosexuality is ultimately defined by romantic attraction and sexual behavior. How can this be equated with the color of someone’s skin?
Skin color has no intrinsic moral quality, and there is no moral difference between being black or white (or yellow or red). In contrast, romantic attractions and sexual behaviors often have moral (or immoral) qualities, and there is no constitutional “right” to fulfill one’s sexual and romantic desires.
Also, skin color cannot be hidden, whereas a person’s sexual orientation is, generally speaking, not outwardly recognizable (unless it is willfully displayed). Put another way, blacks do not have to “come out,” since their identity is self-evident, whereas gays and lesbians have to come out (or act out) for their identity to be clearly known.
2. The very real hardships endured by many gays and lesbians cannot fairly be compared with the monstrous suffering endured by African Americans. Conservative gay journalist Charles Winecoff wrote, “Newsflash: blacks in America didn’t start out as hip-hop fashion designers; they were slaves. There’s a big difference between being able to enjoy a civil union with the same sex partner of your choice – and not being able to drink out of a water fountain, eat at a lunch counter, or use a rest room because you don’t have the right skin color.”
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.