Drawing parallels between the movement for LGBT equality and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s is a common occurrence. Profound lessons can be learned from this comparison, but first it is necessary to address the complexities of using racial analogies.
Many people find the comparison of these two movements frustrating and strongly resent this approach. In Virtual Equality, Urvashi Vaid explains, “prejudice against us as gay people differs significantly from prejudice against people because of race.” She argues that this approach makes “a largely white gay movement [sound] opportunistic.” Furthermore, some believe that these parallels are used to evoke empathy from white people who feel guilty about the way black people were treated. Vaid continues, “if we believe our analogies, we must act as if we cared about racial discrimination as much as about homophobia.” In addition, the fact that racism still persists despite the best efforts to eradicate it also fuels black resentment of gay activists’ use of racial comparisons. Lastly, Vaid emphasises that “By pursuing the path of civil rights, we consciously chose legal reform, political access, visibility, and legitimation over the long-term goals of cultural acceptance, social transformation, understanding, and liberation.” That being said, it becomes clear why we must strive not to equate these two movements even while comparing them so as not to miss out on the important insights that history provides.
On the other hand, Yoruba Richen, a documentary filmmaker who identifies as a member of both the African American and LGBT communities gave a TED talk in which she stresses the intersection of the LGBT equality and Black Civil Rights movements. She laments the fact that these movements have been pitted against each other and expresses her anger that these two minority groups are competing with each other instead of supporting each other.
Keeping these different opinions in mind, I hope that examining the similarities between the LGBT equality and Black Civil Rights movements (without equating the two) will help us become equipped with the perspective and understanding we need to not repeat our collective mistakes.