Bose (in collaboration with Mike) here…

The Washington Blade has begun a series “examining similarities and differences between the African-American civil rights movement and the gay rights movement.” The first installment is titled Pro-gay blacks a ‘disgrace’ to civil rights movement? Comparing two movements draws ire of some.

It draws out thoughtful quotes from folks with diverse perspectives. From Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson:

But today Peterson, 55, considers some former leaders of the civil rights movement — including Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta and Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow — “a disgrace to blacks, whites and Jews who died [during that time].”

Pat Hussain:

“These [movements] are similar to me, but many people in the gay community make the mistake of saying they’re the same,” said Pat Hussain, a self-described “pissed-off black dyke from Georgia” who attended segregated schools in Atlanta during the 1950s.

And Evan Wolfson:

“Certainly the African-American experience in the United States is unparalleled in its violence, discrimination and indignity, so we shouldn’t make sloppy comparisons, nor can we say that our experience of discrimination is ‘the same,'” Wolfson said. “But that’s really asking the wrong question. No group’s experience with discrimination is the same as the others.” …

Protection of choice and difference — in religion, in opinion, in identity, in expression and in intimate association — is the true moral vision of our American Constitution

Historical understanding of civil rights issues is crucial here. Clearly, the obstacles faced by women, by non-white folks, by non-straight people, by immigrants, have not all been the same.

But, there is no shortage of complexity hovering barely beneath the surface of any of these civil rights struggles. People have been marginalized because of obvious and immutable factors — skin color and features — but also because of their their deeply-ingrained choices — religion, culture, and personal expression. Discrimination against African-Americans has not been solely based on skin color, it has been experienced by anyone who acted too far outside the bounds of mainstream, white, middle-class culture.

Evan Wolfson clearly named self-identification as a choice, but maybe beyond-gay David Morrison missed it:

…contrary to Wolfson’s conscious or unconscious obfuscation of the matter, people living with same sex attraction absolutely choose (and are capable of choosing) one course of actions over another. Yes, we might live with a degree of same sex attraction, but how we choose to live our lives with that attraction, whether or not we choose to act on it, is entirely our choice as we are human beings and creatures in the field subject to estrus cycles etc.

In fact, Wolfson did acknowledge the nature of choice. So who is engaging in obfuscation? The issue is civil rights, not the nature of sexual orientation vs. behavior. Instead of directly addressing the topic, Morrison regrettably changes the subject — and his analysis of choice is a bit superficial.

In the years leading up to and during World War II, a small number of European Jews hid in plain sight by changing their speech and their names, denying their heritage and their beliefs. In today’s world, they could also have used cosmetic surgery to mask traits that might link them to their heritage. Similarly, some ex-gays may be tempted to pretend not to be attracted to the same gender in order to earn respect or qualify for employment in antigay ministries. Some ex-gays in the midst of extended sexually active phases have even pretended not to be. And to qualify for housing, employment, or numerous government benefits, gay people can likewise conform to traditional gender norms and lie to their co-workers and bosses, concealing their families and hiding simple truths about themselves during water-cooler conversations.

Discrimination differs in tactic, scope and severity depending on the target. Yet the goals of disadvantaged groups remain similar. They seek to be productive citizens, free of harassment, free of pretense, and free of the costly, unhealthy and sometimes unsafe steps required to conform to other people’s bigotries.

Complications arise for society in deciding what forms of discrimination are just — when is discrimination ethical or tolerable from private individuals or companies, and when is it ethical or tolerable from a government of, by, and for all the people.

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