Photo: Sen Ruben Diaz
Not this again…
In response to New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent speech in support of marriage equality, New York State Senator Ruben Diaz issued a statement Thursday condemning the mayor for attempting to “trivialize” the suffering of the black community by comparing the struggle for marriage equality to the African-American civil rights movements.
During his speech, Bloomberg remarked on New York’s history of being at the forefront of efforts to expand civil liberties:
It’s fitting that the gay rights movement began in our City, because New Yorkers have always been at the forefront of movements to expand American freedoms – and guarantee American liberties. Long before our founding fathers wisely decided to separate church from state, leading citizens of our City petitioned their colonial rulers for religious freedom. Long before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, many New Yorkers – including the founder of this college, Peter Cooper – crusaded against slavery. Long before the nation adopted the 19th Amendment, New Yorkers helped lead the movement for women’s suffrage. And long before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, New Yorkers played a pivotal role in advancing a color-blind society.
Sen. Diaz rejected the comparison between the black struggle for civil rights and the ongoing struggle for marriage equality, calling homosexuality a “lifestyle”:
There is no just comparison between America’s struggle to overcome the evils of slavery and the promotion of the lifestyle of homosexuality. It is preposterous for Mayor Bloomberg to degrade and minimize the plight of African-Americans in this civil rights struggle by equating it with the effort to push to legalize homosexual marriage.
Black leaders should not allow Mayor Bloomberg or anyone else trivialize their suffering and their history!
Sen. Diaz’s statement should sound all too familiar to those who followed the unsuccessful push for marriage equality in Maryland earlier this year.
During the Maryland House floor debate in March, Delegate Emmett Burns used an almost identical line of argument to oppose a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state:
If same-sex marriage is to be equated with the movement that I know, then, if you will, show me your Birmingham, Alabama where high-pressure water hoses were turned on us so powerful that it knocked the bark off trees just because we wanted our right. If you want to compare same-sex marriage with civil rights as I know it, show me those who had their homes invaded by the Ku Klux Klan at night and burned down their homes and businesses and churches and lit firey crosses on your lawns because of same-sex marriage.
I am a black man, an African American. I cannot choose my color, nor do I wish to do so. Those who are gay can disguise their propensity.
This kind of infighting between racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBT community is exactly what anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) are working tirelessly to foment.
These groups know that it’s in their political interest to pit racial minority communities against the LGBT community in order to distract from the clear parallels that exist between the groups’ respective struggles for civil rights and equality.
That’s why NOM used the “race card” so brazenly in Maryland, and it’s precisely why they’re doing it again (somewhat effectively, unfortunately) in New York.
In this light, Sen. Diaz’s comments are extremely disheartening.
In the fight for LGBT equality, there’s no reason the African-American community can’t be one of the LGBT community’s closest and most vocal allies. As Alvin McEwen previously noted on his blog:
Whether folks want to admit it or not, the African-American community is linked to the lgbt community, and not just by those who us who belong to both groups. Our oppression is sometimes similar and the folks behind it are sometimes the same entities.
The majority white-led and populated religious right groups who exploit this tug of war between the African-American and lgbt communities are quick to be the so-called protectors of the civil right movement’s legacy but render themselves conveniently invisible when issues like socio-economic inequalities in minority health and education pop up.