Contrary to the conventional wisdom, gays and blacks are working together.
This week in Jackson Heights, Queens in New York City, gay rights groups protested the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, which targets mostly black and Latino men. Civil rights and civil liberties groups such as the NYCLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights claim the practice is racially discriminatory. Last year, New York’s finest targeted nearly 700,000 people for the stop-and-frisk policy, resulting in no arrests for 80 percent of those subjected to the practice. And the LGBT community is concerned that transgender Latinos and others are targeted as well.
Despite some complaints among blacks over the years regarding the lack of support they received from the LGBT community, the Jackson Heights protest is proof to the contrary. And at a time when black homophobia and the rift between gays and African-Americans has received much attention — and much has been made of the disconnect between the two groups on civil rights issues — this provides a blueprint for future collaborations.
As for the LGBT community, this latest move against heavy-handed police tactics makes sense, particularly if you take a look at the history of their movement. The Stonewall rebellion marked the birth of the LGBT movement, 43 years ago. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.
The routine raid, in which transvestites were arrested and customers harassed, erupted in violence as customers decided to fight back. The NYPD officers responded by beating and arresting patrons. Throughout the city, protests continued for days. Stonewall was a turning point because it enabled gay and lesbian groups to organize around their rights. After all, like black demonstrators who had faced water hoses, police dogs and batons throughout that decade, they were being targeted as a group by the legal system and by the majority society because of what they were.
But like any social movement, the LGBT movement has experienced conflicts along race, class and gender lines, with domination by privileged white gay men. Meanwhile, black gays and lesbians were left feeling as if their multi-issue concerns over racism, economic injustice and sexual exploitation were not welcome in the movement because they were not “gay” issues. Meanwhile, members of the gay community have felt as if straight groups have done little to fight homophobia, which strains community and family relationships, and makes it more difficult to fight the HIV/AIDS crisis. Further, the black church has come under fire for its perceived homophobia and failure to address sexuality head on, even as black LGBT churchgoers sit in the pews or sing in the choir, and anti-gay clergy are accused of living in the closet.
However, there are hopeful signs of progress between traditional African-American civil rights groups and gay rights organizations. As Steven Thrasher writes in the Village Voice, a new alliance between black and LGBT rights groups around stop and frisk is a smart political move for the gay rights establishment. Stop and frisk is an important issue to New York’s communities of color, as it implicates marijuana arrests and the war on drugs. Aside from the reality that gay young men are affected by heavy-handed police tactics, focusing on police abuse challenges the image of gay men living a wealthy, white Will and Grace existence.