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By the time the supposed Black vs. gay war had been (re)launched following California’s passage of 2008 Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marrage in the state, I was well aware of oppression within oppressed groups (I ranted back in February about the problematic expression, “gay is the new black.”) In this post, I want to challenge the notion that being a minority automatically makes one empathetic toward other minority groups, and, further, that being a minority makes one immune to oppressing others.
Wow, Was I Naive Or What?
As a young biracial gay feminist aspiring-vegetarian activist, I understood the experience of a minority to include empathy for other minorities and explicit efforts to challenge all forms of oppression. In my case, being of color and gay meant being a feminist and actively challenging sexist oppression, as well as other forms of prejudice and discrimination. This mindset continued into college, particularly when I shifted toward a queer identity. I suppose it only took moving to Indiana and beginning my graduate studies to burst my naive bubble. It only took a few sexist and racist comments at the local gay bar and a growing awareness of the heteronormativity in Black communities (like any community) for me to begin to realize experience with one form of oppression doesn’t translate into advocacy against another. I began to recognize that being a queer man (now genderqueer-identified) did not make my objectification of women any less sexist.
“It’s Okay, I’m Gay”
My intention is to critique this misguided assumption in general, but I use queer folks as my example case here. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen gay men fondle women’s bodies at a bar or party, sometimes with the woman’s explicit consent or assumed consent through her laughter or silence. I’ve even heard such behavior justified by comments like, “it’s okay, I’m gay.” This logic implies that sexism and the objectification of women is merely something of heterosexual men (and I guess bisexual men, too). It has also been extended to justify racist prejudice. (I can’t tell you how furious I was when I met a white gay man who saw himself as a Black heterosexual woman because of his “ghetto”, sassy attitude.) Certainly, this logic may carry over to justify other forms of prejudice: ageism, ableism, classism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and so forth.
Gay Can Mean Anti-Racist and Anti-Sexist
Today, a gay identity is not merely about sexual behavior – it’s a sociopolitical sexual identity. That means that lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities incorporate an explicit challenge to heteronormativity, racism, sexism, classist oppression, etc. LGBT and queer people, like any other minority, can begin to build coalitions (again) with other minority groups to challenge the status quo. Such coalitions have existed in the past, and I’m certain that a number exist today. But, like the Prop 8 fiasco, it seems that the “divide and conquer” strategy of pitting Blacks against gays against feminists against immigrants is still alive, well, and successful. Not only is coalition-building across minority groups possible, it is necessary now as it was in the 1960s and 70s. Although our President is of color for a change, white heterosexual middle-class able-bodied men still rule the country, yet they’re a numerical minority! But, one could say that people of color, feminists, queers, working-class people, immigrants, and other minorities banded together to vote President Barack Obama into office. Real and effective alliances are possible!