The Huffington Post reports that at the Father’s Day Stop and Frisk March in New York on Sunday, American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten, made the claim that the march was the first time LGBT groups marched with the Black community for the same cause. There were no quotes around that statement, so I think it’s fair she have a chance to clarify that statement.
But, I’m prone to ranting. It’s an occupational hazard of racial justice activists. And so I will.
Weingarten’s supposed proclamation, (not to mention the challenges put forward by liberal media pundits who’ve reacted to President Obama’s recent statement on same sex marriage by asking LGBT groups to stand up with African Americans) deserves a response. That response is, get a grip on your history.
In less than 30 seconds of searching the web, I found this story about an LGBT contingent in the Million Man March. That contingent was organized by the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum in 1995. And it wasn’t the first time that LGBT people were a visible presence at civil rights marches.
In 1990, I was an organizer for a group opposing vigilante white supremacist violence. We organized the largest civil rights march in the Pacific Northwest up until that time. LGBT groups like the Lesbian Community Project, the Lesbian Avengers, Queer Nation, and ACT-UP were at our side on that day, as were the Coalition of Black Men, the NAACP, and the Black United Front. Despite bomb threats and police intimidation, LGBT groups and African American groups marched side by side in Portland, Oregon 22 years ago.
As a former organizer of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, I know that some LGBT national groups have been a presence at marches and rallies alongside African American groups for a while now and vice versa. And national LGBT groups are part of the coalition that makes up the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, a group founded by A. Philip Randolph.
The NAACP chapter in North Carolina marched alongside LGBT groups in opposition to Amendment 1, the measure that outlaws same sex marriage. They are among many African American groups that have sided with LGBT rights over the years.
It’s important to know this history because denying it marginalizes the efforts of a committed minority of people of all races in the LGBT community that has been there, fighting on these issues. They are the pioneers of this moment in LGBT history.
LGBT people of color have played critical roles among that human rights minority. We’ve been the ones advocating for LGBT rights in communities of color, and for racial equity in the LGBT community. The bridge that groups crossed Sunday in order to march together was constructed on our backs. I won’t allow statements that step on that legacy to go unchallenged.
But groups like Weingarten’s own union and the mainstream media outlets through which liberal pundits have been putting forth challenges have rarely, if ever, paid attention to LGBT people of color, much less to the multi-issue human rights minority in the LGBT movement. By playing only to power and political expediency, they contribute to the myth that the LGBT community can be summed up in terms of its least controversial and most influential groups. The same groups that tend to marginalize issues of concern to LGBT people of color.
I get that the primarily white LGBT community hasn’t been present enough on racial justice. I became an organizer in the LGBT movement because I wanted to advocate for racial justice in the LGBT community.
I left the national LGBT movement in the late 1990s because I felt that in order to close the gap between people of color and primarily white national LGBT groups, LGBT people of color would have to come to the national movement through broad-based people of color organizations. Power, I realized, only concedes to power.
But flawed as they are, to say that LGBT groups haven’t been present – to claim that the first time LGBT groups marched alongside African Americans on an issue of racial justice was in 2012 – is ridiculous. If she really said it, she needs to take it back. Such statements rewrite history in a way that make us vulnerable to our own prejudices and to the revisionists of the other side.