Selma and Stonewall

Timothy Kincaid

January 21st, 2013

I was delighted to hear President Obama call for equality under the law for gay and lesbian Americans. But one part of his speech, even more than that call, struck me as a significant change in the language of our struggle.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

Repeatedly our opponents, especially those who are African-American preachers, insist that our quest for equal treatment before our civil government does not fit within the rubric of “civil rights”. Tony Evans, pastor of the 9,000-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas spoke with NPR last May:

Evans and others say the black family is in crisis — a majority of babies, for example, are born to single mothers — and that’s why black ministers are often the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage. Asked about the argument that this is a civil rights issue, Evans bristles.

“The issue of race is not an issue of choice. It’s an issue of birth,” he says.

Does that mean that homosexuality is a choice?

“The Bible is clear on that one, too. And that is, sexual relationships are to be between men and women within the context of marriage,” Evans says. “That’s not only related to the issue of homosexuality, but adultery, or fornication or bestiality. All of that is proscribed in the Bible.”

Though the tide has turned in the black community and though those who know the civil rights struggle for racial equality most intimately have championed our cause, there still remain those who think that gay people are stealing the rightful ownership of civil rights from those who fought for it. And even some who have come to support us still see our discrimination as secondary and less severe.

But this paragraph included in the President’s address casts the convention at Seneca Falls for women’s right, the marches from Selma to Montgomery for racial rights, and the riot at the Stonewall Inn for sexual orientation as one. And it was in the context of that quest for women’s, black, and gay equality that Obama quotes Dr. Martin Luther King. On this day set aside of honor Dr. King.

This was, for me, an unexpected statement, of which the implication is unmistakable. The quest for equality for our community is a civil rights battle. It always has been, but now the most influential and important African-American alive has spoke of it as so in one of his most important and broadly heard speeches.

The impact of that statement has the potential to be enormous in this country and beyond.

buster

January 21st, 2013

Etymologically speaking, “civil” rights merely means those rights enjoyed by citizens. Since members of the GLBT community are clearly citizens, our equality falls under the term.

Hunter

January 21st, 2013

I am so sick of these pastors and reverends and bishops and what-not decreeing that their Bible should determine the limits of my life. Just once, I’d like to see one of these interviewers come back with something like “Excuse me, Pastor Evans, but you’ve heard of the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause?”

Lucrece

January 21st, 2013

The civil rights movement started with jews and slave rebellions that far predated the African American movement. It’s not theirs alone, and it won’t be ours alone. Nobody gets to claim civil rights struggles for themselves.

Gene in L.A.

January 21st, 2013

For once, Timothy, I agree 100% with one of your pieces. The suddenness of that paragraph, in the midst of his speech, was surprising and deeply moving. For me it’s also significant that other than naming the three places he didn’t identify them as anything more than significant events in the progress of equality for all. For a day, at least, I can let myself feel optimistic.

StraightGrandmother

January 21st, 2013

Oh Gene in LA, why note be hopefully for two days, enjoy the afterglow.

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