Every year, February marks a particular focus on Black History, and June brings out the rainbow flags for Gay Pride month. This is a time where both minorities celebrate a little about themselves, their lives, and their history. Interestingly, the frustrated mantra from both anti-gay and white supremacy viewpoints is a stunted whine that there is no “straight pride” or “white history” month.
The mindset that drives these kinds of comments isn’t one of education or of genuine desire to celebrate “straight” or “white” history. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s an attitude that is driven by the assumption that to celebrate one thing, all others must be diminished. It doesn’t take a highly educated mind to realize that it’s an assumption that is rooted in a mirror of our own history of how we subjugate or eradicate those who are different.
Oh, I can hear some of my conservative friends now. “You’re just another liberal who wants us to feels guilty about being white or straight.” Frankly, there’s a huge difference between understanding how white Europeans have crushed others under our thumbs for centuries — and needing to feel guilty about it.
We don’t have to feel guilty about the way we’ve treated Native Americans in this country for the past four centuries to acknowledge that we have blood on our hands as a nation. We don’t have to feel guilty about the fact that we enslaved an entire population of human beings for more than three centuries to understand that African Americans were treated as three-fifths of a human being. Finally, we don’t have to feel guilty about imprisoning, executing, demonizing, or marginalizing homosexuals to understand that there’s good reason for the LGBT community to stand together with pride in who we are.
The cries and warnings from anti-gay and racist activists over the decades have been as shrill as they have been startling. “Blacks want to start a war with whites” (we’re still hearing that garbage today since there’s a black man in the White House). “Gays want to destroy the institution of marriage” (as if infidelity and divorce haven’t already done that far better than we homosexuals ever could).
Each month is of some significance. February was chosen in honor of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. June is recognized as gay pride month in honor of the Stonewall Inn riots that kicked off the modern gay rights movement.
But let’s explore some of the reasons why these particular months are so important. Black history Month doesn’t have a lot of controversy these days (except among the extreme right who are shunned into the oblivion of anonymity in most cases). First, there’s the aforementioned forced slavery. Then the reconstruction period where blacks “knew their place.” Then the fight over segregation. Now, there’s a subtle brand of racism that permeates our society where people with “ethnic sounding names” have a much higher unemployment rate than their white counterparts.
In short, Black History Month is a time when we learn about the heroes and important men and women who have contributed to our society over the centuries. Men like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King. Groundbreakers like Jackie Robinson. History makers like Rosa Parks. Civil rights martyrs like a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till. Soujourner Truth. George Washington Carver. Malcom X. Harriet Tubman. Sports heroes like Wilma Rudolph (who hailed from my hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee).
These are men and women who dared to stand up and have themselves counted in a world dominated by white men who would rather not see them participate, let alone succeed. But they did. And they soared like the champions of justice they were. And it is for them that we dedicate a month to learn of the impact that these men and women made on our nation, giving us a richer society as a whole.
Then we look to Gay Pride month, named in honor of the Stonewall riots, where a group of female impersonators finally had enough of police raids. At that time, in June of 1969, homosexual expression of any form was illegal throughout the country. Men and women were routinely dragged off to jail en masse when such “dens of iniquity” were discovered. If two men were kissing in a private bar (like the Stonewall Inn), they were hauled off.
But that’s tame compared to earlier laws in our country, where some states once had execution as the punishment for “buggery.” As Bruce Garrett wrote on Truth Wins Out:
No, we never rode the back of the bus. We rode the boat back to the mainland and to jail. We sat in the cells of all the 50 states where sodomy laws put us. As Neil Miller documented in his book, Sex-Crime Panic, in sentences of indefinite length in special wings in mental hospitals created specifically for homosexuals. As David Carter documented in his book Stonewall, bars and restaurants could have their licenses revoked if they served us. And as David K. Johnson documented in his book The Lavender Scare, we were relentlessly witch hunted in the 1950s because even more then the communist threat we were viewed by the Republican party as a useful tool to play wedge politics against the Democrats with.
Gays were routinely subjected to cruel electroshocks, psychiatric wards, and listed as “dangerous sex criminals.” All fifty states had sodomy laws. Bars and restaurants were once forbidden from serving known homosexuals. The second “red scare” included a massive witch hunt for homosexuals. Garrett’s article is excellent. I’ve recommended it before, and I do so again without hesitation. Go. Read. You’ll be glad you did.
No, gays weren’t enslaved en masse, nor were we forcibly removed from another country. Our struggles are different — yet have very similar roots. Oppression. Fear. Fear of losing control. One out of every 4 gay teens is kicked out of their home the day they come out. Churches treat gays with a contempt that was once reserved for Communists.
The notion that a “white history” or “straight pride” month should be implemented is completely bereft of any understanding of history. When were white Americans subjected to slavery? When were straight people hauled off to jail for having sex with their spouse? Or even holding hands? When were whites told they could not enter a diner, or for that matter, when were straights told they could not have a wedding cake?
We celebrate these things because of where we’ve come from, and where we still are. More and more, I’m convinced that the false outcry over gay pride and black history isn’t because they want to be “special” to have these months. It’s because they’re afraid that if gays or blacks ever gain the power that subjected these racial and sexual minorities to such cruelty, that they fully expect to be treated as horribly as they treated all of us.
The fear that is recognized as “homophobia” is very much the same kind of fear that has kept a thumb on black families for centuries. We have all sought equality. Yet those in power refuse it, because their fear is that we really want to take control.
How often have you heard that “homosexuals want to destroy America” or that “homosexuals want to wreck the institution of marriage”? Just as we’re told that our black president wants to kill millions by fringe conspiracy theorists, it’s all about an untold evil that the fringe radicals and the extreme anti-gay right fear the most:
That their evil will turn back on them.
This is part of the reason why Martin Luther King’s message of nonviolence was so important. His vision wasn’t black superiority; it was of a beloved community where everyone worked together. It’s the same vision that I share, and a vision that millions of gay activists work for every day.
These silly demands of “straight pride parades” and “white history month” don’t add anything to the conversation except to reveal those who clearly have not been educated on the reality of the histories that we all share. Plus, they betray a core bigotry that fears that they are becoming as irrelevant as they always hoped we’d be.
The goal of “gay pride” and “black history month” has never been to control, but to stand beside our brethren. We celebrate our differences, and we support those who support us. It’s how we grow in humanity, and it’s the only way that our future will truly belong to all of us.
DAVID W. SHELTON is a graphic designer, blogger, writer, activist, and author of The Rainbow Kingdom: Christianity & The Homosexual Reconciled. He lives in Clarksville, TN with his better half and their many, many pets.