New hate crimes act links African-American and LGBT struggles

OPINION - The LGBT struggle is a Civil Rights struggle yet, in the black community, fear of homosexuality (in others and in ourselves) prevents us from advancing this cause as our own...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

In a grainy, black and white video, a cluster of men shifts from one end of the screen to another. They could be laughing, roughhousing, or hugging.

In seconds, the blur of bodies separates, and three distinct individuals appear. That they are neither laughing, nor hugging, nor roughhousing is clear and becomes clearer as one of them flees. But then, he is caught. He is trapped. Blow after blow lands against his head, his face, his body. He struggles up and is beaten down. Beaten down again and again and again.

A car passes along the cross street at the top of the video. More blows. Another car passes. The blows don’t stop. The video records time. One minute. Two minutes. Finally, the two attackers turn to leave. A car flashes past them. The two attackers do not run. When the car is gone they return to their victim, to the man now prone on the otherwise empty street. They beat him again. They touch his body. They feel him below the belt.

Finally, they leave him. The man struggles on the street. He cannot rise, and he could be hit, run over by a car, if he passes out there. He could die. He does not pass out, though, not yet. He struggles, fumbles, meanders, falls, makes it to the sidewalk and falls again. Eventually, he wanders off screen.

The victim has a name: Jack Price. He has a home not far from this Queens, New York street, the street where he is nearly killed. He has a story. The two who beat him called him “f——”, “stupid f——” and “dumb f——-.” They have names, too. Daniel Rodriguez and Daniel Aleman, just 21 and 26. They targeted him. Jack Price fell into a medically-induced coma because his neighbors beat him. Because he is gay.

The level of homophobia in American society is horrifying. The LGBT struggle is a Civil Rights struggle yet, in the black community, fear of homosexuality (in others and in ourselves) prevents us from advancing this cause as our own. Meanwhile, the nation has taken one step forward. On October 22nd, the US Senate expanded the Federal Hate Crimes Bill to include gender and disability as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. Today President Obama will sign the bill into law.

Aptly named The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, this legislation links the struggles for LGBT and African-American liberation. Freedom from physical assault because of race or sexual orientation helps form one cause for Civil Rights across the socially-constructed lines of race and sexual orientation that would divide and conquer marginalized peoples.

Fear of LGBT rights is dangerous because there is little difference between that and fear of African-American advancement. The fear of both comes from the same place: hate. And the hate comes from the same place, too: ignorance.

But, some say, gays have not endured our pain. No other people were forcibly stolen from their homelands, carried across the physical and emotional space of the Middle Passage, and subjected to centuries – generations after generations after generations – of the brutality experienced by Africans in the Americas. How could anyone compare?

It makes no sense to compare pain. To compare any group experience to the African experience in the West is dangerous. No other people – none – have suffered over the centuries as Black people have.

Yet Native Americans do have a unique experience of suffering: genocide. Jews have a unique experience of suffering: anti-Semitism. And some of our gay brothers have so many: racism, classism and homophobia. And, for our lesbian sisters add sexism, too. The LGBT folk in the Black community are among the most suffering Americans, with -isms on top of -phobia weighing them down.

All oppressed groups deserve the right to full participation in the public sphere. This right to civil justice crosses group boundaries and forms important links that connect us all to the righteous cause of rebellion and resistance.

Yes, to compare and rank one group’s pain over another’s is folly but, to explore certain aspects of their experiences along with certain aspects of the black experience makes perfect sense. Because, in the end, we are more alike as we slosh about in the great pool of humanity than we are different. To explore the manifestations of homophobia in America is to journey the Civil Rights trail.

The complex and deeply nuanced urge to serve in the nation’s armed services is one similar experience that the African-American and the LGBT communities share. How to articulate the impulse to protect the very country that denies full black citizenship and inclusion in our participatory democracy? That is a question those silenced under ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ still have.

We share so much more that can be quantified. Isn’t preoccupation with LGBT physicality – their walk, their gestures, their homosexual bodies just like the preoccupation with black physicality – our walk, our gestures, our African bodies?

What of the exaggerated features and pickaninny stereotypes that still haunt black America? What of the exaggerated features and faggotty stereotypes that still haunt LGBT America?

And some ghosts are real. Ask Dwan Prince, a Brooklyn brother who is still partially paralyzed following the 2005 beating he received for flirting with another man. He is haunted by his attacker and, perhaps, haunted by the ghost of young Emmett Till, the child beaten to death for allegedly flirting with a white woman in 1955.

Now, during this LGBT movement, we need to do what so many whites did during Abolition and Civil Rights. We need to selflessly advocate on behalf of others, give them and the world a kind of advocacy that we will never benefit from.