In a very powerful, eloquent rhetorical piece marking the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Obama opined about how far we’ve come in this country and how far we have yet to go. In one section of the speech, he attempted to bring all Americans into one unified character through a prolonged description of the diverse (almost schizophrenic) American experience. One part of it in particular has raised the rancor of many black pastors:
We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.
First off, what exactly is Obama talking about? Where have homosexuals in San Francisco and New York faced systemic, violent opposition and a deprival of basic human rights by the civil government? Specifically, Obama is referring to the Stonewall Raids (and riots) in New York and the assassination of Harvey Milk in San Francisco. But there were significant elements in both of these narratives that indicate something other than pure homophobia.
Concerning the Stonewall Riots, the United States had singled out homosexuals as subversive, left-leaning provocateurs during the Cold War. Hollywood figures were similarly singled out. As were Jews, for that matter. It wasn’t so much their identity or race first, but the connections and reputations of their sub-culture that precipitated this response. McCarthyism was misguided, tyrannical, and intrusive. But it was not the same as systemic racism, segregation, slavery, or anything on that level.
And Harvey Milk was assassinated for political reasons, not homophobia. He was the second assassination in San Francisco that day, following the assassination of straight mayor George Moscone. Both Milk and Moscone were shot by Dan White, and for the same reason—White wanted his old job back, and Moscone and Milk had been responsible for keeping it from him.
The fact is that very few homosexuals have died for being homosexual. Even the most representative cause célèbre, the killing of Matthew Shepard, actually turns out to be a case of a homosexual meth head being killed by other meth heads, one of whom was a former lover. Not so much a hate crime, per se.
It’s obvious that treating black people as criminals on the basis of their skin is ridiculous. Because skin is not a behavior. Sex, on the other hand, is a behavior. To say that homosexual behavior is a sin, or a crime, makes a whole lot more sense, whatever your beliefs are. To say that someone’s skin is a crime is an absurd statement, on the face of it.
Anyway, many black pastors also see the absurdity of this connection. And they feel that the real and sustained abuses that black people have suffered for hundreds of years are trivialized by a connection to the extremely trivial and mostly self-inflicted abuses that homosexuals have endured. According to William Owens of the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP):
President Obama is a disgrace to the black community. He is rewriting history. We didn’t suffer and die for gay marriage. We marched for opportunity, equality, justice, freedom from oppression. We are the true heirs of the civil rights movement.
Perhaps some homosexuals could say that they too are marching for “opportunity, equality, justice, freedom from oppression.” But is it right for homosexuals to act like their struggles and cause are on par with the Civil Rights Movement? I don’t think so. And I’m not the only one.