The Prop 8 conflict in California has elevated the debate about LGBT rights, and the specter of our conscious and unconscious homophobia. U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder recently caused some controversy by stating that the U.S. is, in many ways, "a nation of cowards" when it comes to discussing race, but our discussion of sexual identity is no easier, and while some of our problem is cowardice, just as much is ignorance and intolerance.
It is hard to confront conscious and unconscious bias. When we fail together as a society to explore our collective homophobia, we pay a steep price. Communities of color and low-income families suffer disproportionately from the health crisis caused by the HIV/AIDS epidemic...an epidemic that was ignored by many for too long because it was labeled “the gay plague.”
Distressing numbers of children are being raised in single parent households. We are increasingly polarized into an “us versus them” dynamic across religious divides. Instead of trying to restrict loving couples from marrying, it seems to me that making all kinds of strong new families is part of the solution, not part of the problem. That is why I was so blown away by the courage and message of a recent speech by Julian Bond at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) annual gala in Los Angeles. Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, took an historic stance in denouncing bigotry against LGBT people. Here is one of my favorite passages, among many:
The successful strategies of the modern movement for civil rights were litigation, organization, mobilization and coalition, all aimed at creating a national constituency for civil rights. Sometimes the simplest of ordinary change the way we think and act. That’s why when I am asked, “Are gay rights civil rights?” my answer is always, “Of course they are.” Civil rights are positive legal prerogatives –- the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by everyone; there is no one in the United States who does not –- or should not -– share in enjoying these rights. Gay and lesbian rights are not "special" rights in any way. It isn’t "special" to be free from discrimination –- it is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship. The right not to be discriminated against is a commonplace claim we all expect to enjoy under our laws and our founding document –- the Constitution. That many had to struggle to gain those rights makes them precious –- it does not make them "special" and it does not reserve them only for me or restrict them from others.
One of the fall-outs from Prop 8 is that the African American community has been specifically cited for supporting the measure. I think it is important for us not to single out any group of people and label them as being more homophobic than other groups. Many African Americans, like Bond, support gay rights. Many do not. This is true of almost any identity group. I understand, but do not defend, the logic of those who argue that they need to focus on securing the rights of their own group, especially when their needs and rights have gone undefended and unsecured for centuries. At the same time, my professional life has been premised upon an unshakable belief that our commonalities outnumber our differences and we are all in the same boat together. As Bond went on to say:
When others gain these rights, my rights are not diminished in any way. My rights are not diluted when my neighbor enjoys protection from discrimination –- he or she becomes my ally in defending the rights we all share.
I know that many people feel that LGBT rights should be restricted for religious reasons, but my entire life, I was raised in a Jewish religious tradition that rejected the eating of ham and pork products. In this belief, I am joined by my Hindu daughter-in-law, several Buddhist and Muslim friends, and many vegetarians. We do not eat ham. Should we demand that it be illegal for others to eat bacon? I simply don’t believe that laws or the Constitution should be used to mandate a religious code of living for others.
As Julian Bond states, “Sexual disposition parallels race -- I was born black and had no choice. I could not and would not change it if I could. Like race, our sexuality isn’t a preference -- is it immutable, unchangeable, and the Constitution protects us all against prejudices and discrimination based on immutable differences.” At the link below you can see his stirring speech and read more inspiring quote excerpts. It gives me goose bumps each time I watch it.