Why White Gay Men Should Be Supporting Black Lives Matter
Occasionally, I like to write about current events. While most of my blog articles are designed to be “evergreen content” on helping LGBT people in general, and gay men in particular, about the issues I help them with daily in my long (28 years) career as a gay men’s specialist psychotherapist and life/career/relationship coach, once in a while an item in the news moves me enough to comment.
The recent (alleged) murder of a young black male jogger in Brunswick, Georgia is one such case. His name was Ahmaud Arbery, 25. The incident was captured on video by a random driver behind the scene, and both Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris have made statements of outrage about the vigilante incident by two White men who shot and killed the young Black man who had merely “looked inside the window” of a vacant home under construction, then continued his jogging, but “looked like” (according to the (alleged) perpetrators) someone who was wanted for a local burglary. The suspects chased Arbery down in their pickup truck and screamed they “wanted to talk to him”, pulling guns. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also made a statement calling for “answers to Georgians.” One of the (alleged) perpetrators is an ex-cop who had had his photo taken while wearing a Trump hat and t-shirt with Governor Kemp. The case will be presented to a grand jury when the courts reopen in Georgia, probably in June.
This case, along with so many others – Trayvon Martin, etc. – were what led NFL player Colin Kaepernick to famously “take a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem at games, to publicly call attention and protest the repeated and widespread police brutality nationwide and the murder of numerous unarmed Black men, and the resulting popularity of the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter.
#BlackLivesMatter is brilliant in its efficiency in summing up the notion that we (all fair-minded people) must challenge this idea that the lives of Black Americans are somehow disposable or not equal to the lives of White Americans, as evidenced by many groundless “defenses” that mask, frankly, (alleged) murders. It harkens back to the Three-Fifths Compromise, where Black Americans would only be counted as “three-fifths” of a White American for political representation. It’s tragic that anyone needs “reminding” of what the value of a human life is, but apparently, this is what it’s come to, a situation made worse that we are so far away in time from the days of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and even half a century past the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and yet systemic, institutional, and cultural racism persists, generation after generation after slavery, long after it should have died out (or, actually, never been so in the first place).
I’ve taken to using the hashtag, #WhitesforBlackLivesMatter, even when I don’t even know if that’s a “thing” or not, because of the simple idea that I don’t believe that the notion that Black Americans should be treated with fairness, dignity, and equality, like everyone else, is something that is limited to African-Americans. In a similar vein, I don’t think fighting for LGBT rights and equality is limited to LGBT people; indeed, we have a lot of visibility and a lot of gratitude for our straight allies who also believe that LGBT people should be treated under the Law and society with fairness, dignity, and equality. And gentiles for Jews. Feminist men for women. Native citizens for immigrants. Uterus-free men for pro-choice. Middle and upper classes for working classes. Traditionally-abled for the differently-abled. Younger people for elderly people. You get the idea.
A saying from the civil rights era says that, “as long as one of us is oppressed, none of us is free.” Exactly. We all have a collective stake in the advancement of society to see that social justice is promoted, and that the enemies to broad social justice are challenged – virulently.
The tyranny of the majority, or the dominant paradigm that promotes the idea that only straight, White, cisgender, Protestant, married, parenting, middle-class-or-higher, and traditionally-abled men have legitimacy or are entitled to power in society must be challenged. But part of the tyranny of the Ruling Class (as usually manifested in the Republican Party) involves maintaining that these straight WASPs control our politics, institutions, and culture, and divide everyone else into infighting and chaos so that they never really threaten the dominant paradigm. And that needs to change. As a child of the 60’s and 70’s, I get frustrated that “we were doing so well”, there, for a while, and then Reagan, the Bushes, and certainly Trump have brought out the extremes of racism not really seen since the 50’s roaring back, at least in terms of visibility of “deplorables” out from under their collective rock.
When you consider the numeric membership of all the combined “minority” groups in America, suddenly they aren’t so “minority” anymore. Sure, I totally own that I have White, cisgender, male, traditionally-abled, class, and education privilege. It’s so easy, I realize, for others to say, “what the hell would he know about oppression?” And they would be correct, except to say that I do not have heterosexual privilege, nor HIV-negative privilege, nor youth privilege, nor appearance privilege, nor class privilege above the middle class. This is not to say “poor me”, because I realize that’s ludicrous in the face of considerable privilege. My point is that in my typical-Libra, social worker, child-of-the-sixties passion for social justice, I have the empathy to think outside of my own demographic “box” categories to take into consideration how others fare in our society, particularly in America, as a place we all share, and should have equal access to; e pluribus, unum. As a proud social work clinician and academic, I promote the idea that “social workers are the agents of social change.” Or, in other words, when I see injustice, I’ll tell your ass off.
Why is supporting social justice for other groups important for the LGBT community in general and gay men in particular? Because of the idea that we are all inter-connected. We can achieve more together than we can individually as separate, even rival, minority groups. The Democratic Party, in general, has banked on this. Democrats tend to win political races when coalitions of minority groups, along with some WASPs and others, join together to fight the inherent racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, able-ism, anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-Semitism, etc. that are so rampant in the Republican party. But in the Republican reasonably-recent distant past (70’s) and certainly in the pseudo-Fascist Theocratic Oligarchy it has become today (especially under Trump, but also under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hopefully soon ousted by gender-non-conforming challenger, Amy McGrath) it has become distilled into a Haven for Hate. The LGBT community would do well to deliberately look for ways to form mutually-beneficial coalitions with other minority groups, supporting strength in numbers and fighting a common enemy.
A diverse coalition of minority groups, working individually and collectively for justice, campaigning and voting together, tends to elect Democrats who then go on to do good things in the form of new black-letter law and policy. President Barack Obama provided leadership under whose terms we saw the end of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and nationwide marriage equality (in part due to his appointments of progressives to the Supreme Court). Obama also was behind a very long list of other LGBT and gender protections by executive order or judicial appointments (many of which were targeted for immediate reversal by Trump and his cabinet, such as protections for trans students and students with disabilities being stripped by one of the most vile embodiments of pure hate on the American political stage today, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, an unqualified, vicious opponent and saboteur of quality public education, but a big Republican donor with ties to conservative extremist groups and policies). The passage of the Affordable Care Act has supported everyone, but especially helped in access to care for minority groups. A Democratic Secretary of Education helps fund diversity in public school curricula that promote tolerance. A Democratic Secretary of Labor fights for workers’ rights, especially for working minorities. A Democratic Attorney General helps support laws that prosecute discrimination and hate crimes. A Democratic Secretary of Health and Human Services helps improve health outcomes for minority groups. A Democratic Secretary of State will help support social justice abroad, such as fighting “kill the gays” bills and tying federal foreign aid to human rights. And a Democratic President can appoint federal district judges and Supreme Court judges who render “minority-friendly” decisions for many groups.
I strongly believe that if gay men, as well as others within the LGBT community, and other minority communities that include women, immigrants, Latinx, Armenian, Asian, Jewish, etc. (and I realize these groups overlap with the LGBT community) band together as one, we can achieve more strides in social justice in each of our factions than we can by going it alone.
This is true even within the LGBT community. Many older gay men today like to (understandably) remind today’s younger generation of gay men how instrumental lesbian nurses were during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s. Heroically, they stood up and did the work of caretaking for very sick young gay men, when many others (disgustingly) refused to be in the same hospital room with them, let alone touch them or provide care. Gay men and lesbians would do well to support our trans brothers, sisters, and non-binary colleagues in the greater LGBT rights movement. And gay bars and clubs really need to do a better job of confronting the obvious racism seen there, when people of color (especially Black and Latinx) are not represented in the proportions they are in the general population (Los Angeles/West Hollywood is a huge example of this). Even resorts catering to gay men are conspicuously White, which is both a race and class issue.
During the 90’s, my best friend was a straight, cisgender, Jewish woman. I would accompany her to pro-choice rallies for NOW (National Organization for Women), and she would accompany me to gay rights rallies (often by Human Rights Campaign). When her straight female friends would ask, “But you’re not a lesbian; why bother?” she would say, in her characteristic, booming, Bette-Midler-When-She’s-Pissed voice, “Because, I’ll tell you something: as soon as they finish coming after them, they’re coming after me!” This was a reference (perhaps unknowingly) to the famous German Pastor Martin Niemoller quote from 1946:
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
While Niemoller has been controversial for his anti-Semitic remarks in other contexts, he later recanted these, and his famous poem/quote is featured in Holocaust memorials around the world. His point is that groups who are outside the persecuted group should not sit idly by “calmly” when injustice is being meted out to others. Intolerance and oppression are a slippery slope, and you never know who’s next for being singled out for oppression, until everyone is, except a certain privileged elite.
It is also important to remember that in contrast to the “Me Generation” issue, the “selfish Millennials,” the (racist, White, straight, heterosexual) “America First/MAGA” Republicans, and others, it is a sign of Emotional Intelligence, adult maturity, and the absence of personality disorders (such as Narcissistic or Antisocial) to show empathy for others. It is not, as some might defend, “cultural appropriation” to defend the rights of groups that one is not a part of. I say the words “joie de vivre” and I am not French; I say “schadenfreude” and I am not German; I say “mazel tov” and a host of other Yiddish phrases, and I am not Jewish. I speak Spanish and I am not Latinx. I crave Asian food daily and I am not Asian. I’m an urban, gay liberal who consciously develops an appreciation for a diversity of historical and cultural influences that spans the globe, and history. E pluribus, unum.
The more snarky among queens could easily lob the “criticism” (?) that I defend #BlackLivesMatter because I probably have a penchant for Black men (or “BBC”) and have a bad ole’ case of “Gurl, she got Jungle Fever.” OK, so, maybe a little “guilty” of that one, in that many of the past Mr. Olympia winners have been African-American men and I stand in awe of their achievement, among countless other African-American heroes in many fields, and wouldn’t throw Billy Brown, Rome Flynn, Dyllon Burnside, or Michael B. Jordan out of bed, but it goes beyond this catty dismissal. When I work with gay Black men in my practice, I hear how objectification of them for any reason — positive (sexualized objects) or negative — are just different sides of the same coin, objects as opposed to three-dimensional grown men with equal ambitions and rights. With the exception of February as Black History Month, the recognition of the contributions of African-Americans to the current and historical fabric of America really needs some work.
I’m not perfect; I don’t claim to be. But my point is that if we strive to look outside of our own (insular) groups, if we lend some of our passion and energy toward working for political and social justice for groups outside of the ones we belong to, we create a more unified and just world.
I am the first one to criticize Black Americans who are homophobic due to the influence of anti-LGBT religious teachings, and take issue with many Black churches who decry bigotry against them but have no problem dishing it out to others, such as the LGBT community. I find it rich that double-minorities like African-American women, one of whom I encountered when I was volunteering on Election Day in 2008 for No on Prop 8, would viciously attack and use the power of their vote against the notion that LGBT people should actually have equal legal civil rights under the Law of the Land, when the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., himself, Coretta Scott King, was famously pro-LGBT. But even for the hostile voter that election day, I still don’t want to see her son killed for walking down the street eating Skittles or, as Senator Kamala Harris said about Ahmaud Arbery, “exercising while Black”.
The organization AwareLA.org, which is White People 4 Black Lives, states, “We believe change happens when we build with millions of other people to change culture, policies and practices. We need a mass movement to make change.” I agree with this. I lend my voice, and any influence I can (social media, comments, conversations) to the notion that a mass movement of collaborative minorities or “out groups” will begin to address some very deeply-entrenched, historical problems in social justice in our country.
We as gay men can start, and say that while equal rights, dignity, and justice for LGBT people might be my favorite cause, I will not be unsympathetic to others. Because as soon as they finish coming after them, they’re coming after us. The Spirit of Stonewall was a diverse coalition banding together, at long last, to create an enduring justice. We can continue that spirit today. Rise Up.