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Gay Rights Groups Should Support Black Lives Matter

Jonathan Tolliver |
December 29, 2014 | 9:10 p.m. PST


This was a good year for gay rights activists. Same-sex marriage is now legal in most American states thanks to a combination of court decisions and state legislature votes, and  President Obama signed an executive order over the summer banning workplace discrimination against millions of LGBT-identified federal employees.  

USC Anti-Brutality Protester (Neon Tommy/Flickr Creative Commons)
USC Anti-Brutality Protester (Neon Tommy/Flickr Creative Commons)

Now is the perfect time for the same activists behind these victories to join the fight against racism and police brutality.

READ MORE: What The Hell Is Going On With Gay Marriage?

Major American cities are reeling from protests in response to grand jury rulings that allowed police who killed unarmed black men in Missouri and New York to avoid trial. Black Americans were particularly roiled by these rulings, and organizers across the country are carrying out massive demonstrations in response.

The modern gay rights movement began as a response to police brutality, too.

Police regularly raided gay bars and clubs in New York City throughout the 1960’s. One raid in 1969 ignited the Stonewall Riots, six straight days of violent protest that eventually led to the formation of a number of gay rights organizations. 

The riots coincided with the height of the civil rights movement. Marginalized groups across the country were organizing against and all-out fighting with local, state and federal governments. 

Protesters today express the same resentment toward police who use excessive or lethal force on unarmed residents. 

READ MORE: Power To The Protester: A Suggested Primer On Civil Unrest

Some gay rights activists have taken to the streets to show support for anti-brutality protesters. Some black LGBT faith leaders have also spoken out. Major organizations, however, have been silent. 

Gay rights activists would make invaluable allies to black Americans by bringing a massive donor and lobbyist network to the anti-brutality cause. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign have mastered the art of organizing state-by-state for concrete policy reforms, and there’s no better time for them to bring that weight to bear on this issue. 

Bitterness might be a reason they’ve been silent thus far.

The media made waves over the role blacks played in passing Proposition 8, California’s short-lived 2008 constitutional same-sex marriage ban.

Rally against Proposition 8. (Neon Tommy/Flickr Creative Commons)
Rally against Proposition 8. (Neon Tommy/Flickr Creative Commons)

Seventy percent of black voters in California supported the ban. 

Proposition 8 was a major setback for same-sex marriage advocates. The same black electorate that denied gays the right to marry voted overwhelmingly for the country’s first black president. This was a big election.

There’s been a dramatic shift since then.

Forty-two percent of black Americans currently support same-sex marriage, according to Pew Research Center polling data. That's double the percentage from just ten years ago.

Gay rights groups joining the fight to end police brutality could also make life easier for gay black Americans. 

A 2012 Gallup survey showed that black people are the most likely racial demographic to self-identify as gay. Gay people also tend be disproportionately low-income, according to the survey. 

These same black, low-income Americans are also more likely to be victims of police violence and racial profiling.

The modern gay rights movement will always be intertwined with the fight for racial equality. Both matured in the 1960s, faced intense challenges throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and achieved major victories in the past several years. 

While gay Americans have seen rapid changes in public policy and opinion, black Americans have won largely symbolic victories. Americans increasingly deny the existence of anti-black racism, and state and federal legislators continue to fight against fair housing, wage and health care legislation. 

It’s time for gay rights activists to speak up and act out against police brutality and any other government action that hurts marginalized Americans. 

Contact Contributor Jonathan Tolliver here. Tweet at him here.



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