The MLK holiday, and a heated debate about gay marriage on my Facebook page, has me wondering if Martin Luther King, Jr. would support the gay rights movement if he was alive. I’ve been questioning that and myself, deciding whether to be for or against its legalization. The thought leaves me straddling my church bred upbringing in Jersey and the progressive attitudes I’ve attained as a woman working and living in gay friendly NYC. This internal conflict brings back memories.
I remember my days as a child at New Hope Baptist Church. Wearing my pleated skirt, white tights, and black patent leather shoes, I’d sit in a pew swinging my legs, waiting for the children’s choir director to begin rehearsal for Sunday service. While the other kids ran around the sanctuary, I’d flip through a Bible, randomly reading verses that didn’t make much sense at the time. That is until I found the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis. It told of two cities destroyed by God because of their wicked (often explained as homosexual) ways. I was reminded of the verses of Sodom and Gomorrah in high school, on a covert trip to New York City, when I saw a brother kiss another man. Coming from a strict household, spending hours inside watching TV, I’d never witnessed anything like that. The sight traumatized me as the spit stretched horizontally from lip to lip. And the memory returns when I wonder, and shiver, over how I’ll explain love between people of the same sex to my precocious 5-year-old who asks questions with the verbal speed of an auctioneer.
But then the worldly, liberal side of my brain kicks in ─ the part that enjoys going to NYC’s Gay Pride Parade. I’m reminded of a time when I was sexually curious, befriending lesbians, going to gay bars, and wondering if I’d be comfortable indulging in the alternative lifestyle. I think about my beautiful gay male friends of the past and present. Their sensitive yet manly emotions allowing me to not only gossip and get fashion tips like giggling girlfriends, but to also gain advice on a deeper understanding of the men in my life. And then the church bell rings in my head and I hear an echo saying, “Thou shall not judge.” It’s from the book of Luke 6:37. “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” Every time I think of it, I’m reminded that it’s not my place to peer into someone’s bedroom and dictate how and who they love. Judging morality is meant for God. Who am I to question a person who wants to indulge in holy matrimony with the same rights given to a man and woman? Hypocritical politicians call for separation of church and state and then act like The Almighty, injecting their religious beliefs into the policies they make.
But just as I’m finally coming to a supportive decision in favor of gay marriage, I turn on the radio and hear a gay rights activist mention how slaves freed from 400 years of bondage immediately married. He then transitions into talk of same sex marriage and dares to equate the black fight for civil rights to the homosexual movement for gay marriage. And I become livid. I couldn’t believe that anyone would have the audacity to connect a struggle against racial prejudice, ignited by Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s, to a fight against conservative religious beliefs. Yes, we African-Americans gained the right to sit where we please on a bus, and drink from whatever water-fountain we choose. But the key point of difference between our fight and the gay battle is that I cannot hide my blackness. The minute I walk into Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton or some high-end store, I am watched, judged, and my financial and criminal status are assumed and quietly criticized because of my skin color. In contrast, gay men and women can hide their sexuality. Yes, some males may walk with a feminine twist and aggressive lesbians may unconsciously assume a thuggish stance, but it still will only leave some to whisper and think, not fully know, that person’s true sexuality. Of course, that’s until they come out publically or someone catches them with a lover at the Gay Pride Parade. This ability to walk hidden among the masses, is the reason why so many men can stay on the down low for years, hiding their homosexuality from family, friends, and coworkers.
I sympathize with the gay rights movement and can’t stand to hear of bashings because of people’s closeted issues. The judgments are idiotic. The violence is fruitless. And everyone deserves a right to happiness and equality. I’m for anyone who can organize nationwide to gain what they want. I found myself a bit envious and inspired after watching Sean Penn in the movie Milk. It made me wish black folks had the same longstanding fire power that Harvey Milk ignited into an unstoppable quest for gay equal rights.
And if Martin hadn’t been assassinated, I do believe that he would have put judgments aside and marched with Milk. He’d have faced crazy opposition from Christians, but would have known to empower the civil rights movement by joining forces with other oppressed people, including homosexuals. He’d have understood their fight for equality, but would’ve also known that it’s not the same as the African American struggle. The difference is that Jews have won respect, acknowledgement, and money after years of murderous abuse. Women gained the right to vote despite imprisonment and assorted violence. And at some point, the LGBT community will also gain the respect and rights they crave. That’ll come thanks to an unbeatable passion and Hollywood’s saturation of gay friendly programming that sympathetically gives comfort and familiarity to adults and children watching. But the black struggle? We’re still demanding our rights. That’ll continue to build on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr., denying the constitution’s 3/5 of a human clause, and battling the generationally ingrained virus of racism for decades to come, incomparable to any other fight for rights in the history of this country.