Yet, personal beliefs about gays are often legislated
Certainly, King makes an important distinction. While she values “marriage between a man and woman” both “spiritually” and “psychologically,” as a Democratic nation, the proverbial power is (supposedly) in our hands as citizens to make our individual life decisions.
Where King misses the mark is her failure to note that valuing heteronormativity doesn’t grant you license to legislate that LGBT people be politically disenfranchised.
Does she have to be an outspoken advocate for every cause? No. King’s Atlanta magazine interview exposes the heavy burden of her inheritance as the daughter of a civil rights icon. King is “tasked with carrying on the legacy of a man known as the ‘conscience of America’”—a mighty feat, indeed.
Yet, her father, Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Remembering this piece of wisdom, as someone who has championed everything from gun control to education, it understandably raises eyebrows that Bernice King does not take a stand against injustices everywhere.
What we can learn from the Bernice Kings of the world
Though deeply problematic, King’s comments are revealing. It’s time for us as a nation to expand the conversation on gay rights, because we need to understand more deeply how personal preferences become socially mandated prejudices. While it’s happening on a grassroots level and in pockets of activism in the black community, it’s time we talk about more than marriage equality when we talk about gay and trans people, and how civil rights includes equal rights for the LGBT community.
Let’s also talk about the 29 states in which LGBT Americans can be fired because of who they love, or the 41 percent of black transgender men and women who have been homeless at some point in their lives. Let’s ask the Bernice Kings of the world how they feel about that.
What we find might surprise a lot of people. Research indicates that (gasp) black people are not monolithically homophobic. In fact, when it comes to issues like employment discrimination and anti-LGBT violence, African-Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of their LGBT brothers and sisters.
Creating space to respectfully disagree
How do we create safe spaces for people to respectfully disagree without granting them a pass to legally oppress people for being who they are?
Surely trying to change hearts, minds and public policy is bound to ruffle a few feathers. Hurling words like “homophobic” against King and others with her belief system will only end up doing the movement more harm than good. But it is also our jobs as advocates to confront extremists with virulent views, and to challenge people on the fence to do some soul-searching.
“We’re going to have to find a way to settle down and accept our shortcomings and our differences, period, and give people room to exist in that space,” King also shares in Atlanta magazine. “What I struggle with is when we disagree.”
King has a point there as well. But we have to remember that accepting differences without legal protections against discrimination is meaningless.
Bernice King was contacted for a statement for this article, but her office did not respond by publication time.
Kimberley McLeod is a D.C.-based media strategist and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocate. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of ELIXHER, an award-winning online destination for Black LGBT women. Follow her on Twitter @KimKMcLeod.