Saturday, October 17, 2009

The National Equality March And LGBTs Of Color

Last Sunday, the National Equality March was held in Washington, DC. It drew gays, lesbians, and our supporters from all fifty states to our nation's capital to call for an end to our current status as second-class-citizens. We came to seek the legalization of gay marriage, an end to the homophobic official policy of our military, commonly known as Don't Ask Don't Tell, and to call for the enactment of federal-level legislation to end widespread discrimination against our LGBT community in housing and employment. But for the LGBT community of color, this March had an even deeper meanings: the chilling fact that 46% of gay men of color are HIV positive, that LGBTs of color face even greater social ostracism based on their orientation than do gay or lesbian whites, and that most of our prominent black gay figures were conspicuous by their absence. Let me say that last part again: the gay and lesbian notables from our community were conspicuous by their absence.

I also didn't see very many black and brown faces among the 150,000+ marchers last week. Certainly not in any real proportion to the actual size of our community. I kept hearing the usual exzcuses from those I know, about why they couldn't make it: "I'm not political" [why not?], "I don't have the time" [it was a Sunday, on a holiday weekend], "It's too costly" [there were plenty of free buses], "I've got a party to go to" [there will be other parties, this was a lifetime event]. I hate to say it, but this is sad. We as a community need to show our faces and our numbers to the world at every opportunity. You're not political? If not now, when? There are laws against us being able to marry, laws that permit us to get fired or refused work solely because we are gay or lesbian, laws that prohibit us from defending our country for the same reason, and a prevailing attitude among our leaders and our neighbors that we are "less than". If you're not ready to speak up today, you might find yourself alone, with no one left to speak up for you. People of color didn't find excuses not to march during the 1960s, when Jim Crow was the law of the land all across the South. People of color didn't watch in silence and absence as others braved the evil Bull Connor's firehoses and police dogs in Birmingham. Just as was necessary then, it's necessary now, to stand up and be seen when we are faced with such gross injustces and such pervasive homophobia as we see today. No number of excuses will change that.

Today, a man of color occupies the White House as the leader of the Free World. As both a national and black leader, he understands the power of organized protest. But if we don't participate in the struggle, how can we ever hope to truly claim the benefits won for us by those who do? As I marched through the streets of DC, and past the White House on my way to the Capitol rally, I saw a few people of color here and there, but nothing like the numbers of us I know are out there. I didn't see our entertainment, literary, or political figures there in great numbers, either. Just from New York City alone, I know many gay and lesbian actors, musicians, writers, and journalists of color, and out of all of them, I saw only TWO who made the trip and marched with us. That's pitiful!

If you are reading this, and you marched in DC last Sunday, consider yourself on the right side of history. If you didn't, ask yourself this: how much longer are you willing to tolerate second-class life? How much longer should you sit back and take it, knowing all the while that others (particularly many in our government) ridicule you for being LGBT and even legislate against you? These are sober questions. It's up to us to end the suffering we endure and the persecution we continue to face. We'll never truly join the rainbow if we don't. Just something to think about.

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