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June 13th, 2007 Julie Sabatier | News Stories
 

Rights of Passage

As Juneteenth and Gay Pride converge, a comparison of the civil rights and gay rights movements.

     
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THE EXCLAMATION PROCLAMATION: WW asked Darryl! Moch to compare gay rights now with the civil rights movement 50 years ago.
IMAGE: chrisryanphoto.com
Opponents of Oregon's new laws protecting gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people from discrimination label the protections "special rights," echoing opponents of civil-rights laws for African-Americans 50 years ago.

At the same time, some African-American civil-rights and church leaders—such as Rev. Jesse Jackson—resent the juxtaposition between the gay-rights movement and the civil-rights struggle. They feel it exploits and diminishes the latter.

On the eve of both the Gay Pride celebration this weekend in Portland and Juneteenth (a.k.a. Emancipation Day nationwide on Tuesday, June 19), WW asked 38-year-old Darryl! Moch to compare the two movements. Moch, who identifies as gay/bisexual, is executive director of Brother to Brother, a 13-year-old advocacy organization for gay, bisexual and transgendered African-American men in Portland.

Similarities:

1.Opponents' use of the Bible: Arguments for segregation, and against interracial marriage, mirror many of the arguments that religious figures and organizations use now against same-sex unions and anti-discrimination legislation. "In order to control the masses of people, you say, 'Well, this is what the Bible says, therefore this is what God says," Moch explains. "Therefore, how can you argue with God?'"

2.Ironic exclusions: "In the civil-rights movement of old, gay people were significantly instrumental, but...were relegated to not being visibly known and talked about," he says. One example: Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man who was a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Similarly, Moch says, the gay movement has "neglected to recognize people of color in their development and in their structure."

3.Equality: Both movements deal with human dignity and equality, says Moch. Though some people still see sexuality as a choice, "Your sexuality is like any other natural part of who you are, a part of your genetic makeup," says Moch.

Differences:

1.Economics: Because many African-Americans were poor, much of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s centered on rights for the poor. Moch says the gay-rights movement is primarily well-off, white males who can "help fund and fuel the movement."

2.Leadership: While the civil-rights movement started in the South, the gay-rights movement began with a much more decentralized, national focus. "In the gay movement...you have people spread out; a lot more organizations and more groups trying to organize," says Moch. "Whoever's version of what needs to happen next gets the most media attention.... So, there is very little agreement across the board on how we need to proceed." This makes for a less consistent movement.

3.Visible/invisible: Moch is obviously African-American. But you won't know that he's gay/bisexual unless he decides to tell you. This key difference, according to Moch, often makes it harder to evoke empathy. "When the media saw the firehoses and the dogs turned on black people, people who were not black could understand," he says. "I think the [gay] movement has to find a way to make itself human so that other people who don't experience it can understand."

 
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