Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and its Significance to the LGBT Community

Stephanie DonaldRecently I have said that it’s important that the LGBT community lead the way in our own civil rights battle and I still maintain that we can’t stray from that course but as George Santayana stated in the 20th century: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

And we shall unless we learn from the next nearest cousin to our own civil rights issues; those of the African-Americans and their valiant battle for equality through the last several centuries. It culminated with the leadership of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate today, so it’s appropriate that we look at how Dr. King approached the issues of civil rights and years later; how his widow, Coretta Scott King,   adopted the mantle of civil rights for the LGBT community before her own death despite sharp criticism from the African-American community and even from her own children.

Although Dr. King never said or fought for LGBT civil rights, years after his murder, his widow, Coretta King, formed the Organization Soulforce with the single intention of fighting for the civil rights of the LGBTcoretta_scott_king community, a battle which she felt was the last, great thing to overcome in society and the world.

Before her death she stated in a speech before the Lambda Legal Defense luncheon on March 31, 1998:

"I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King, Jr., said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere' ... I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."

Mrs. King even fought her own children on this issue and drew sharp criticism from her daughter, Bernice, who thought her mother had lost sight of the importance of the struggle of the African-American people and that LGBT people were committing a “sin against God”, and that her father would have condemned homosexuals, not supported them.

While Bernice was outspoken and harsh, Coretta was soft in her responses about her daughter and determined in her fight for the LGBT community. Even after Coretta’s death on January 30, 2006, Soulforce continues to carry on her message and her work to gain LGBT equality and is backed by many of the same Christians ministers who worked with Dr. King to gain civil rights for the African-American community.

I should stop here in the middle of this essay and note that at times I haven’t been kind to many people in the African-American community regarding a majority of attitudes I’ve encountered about LGBT civil rights. I’ve particularly found the attitudes of the fundamentalist Christian black community to be pandering, ironic and completely off-base in their shock at comparing our civil rights struggle to theirs. I don’t enjoy having someone in scream in my face when I try to have simple discourse with to compare the analogies of the two struggles. That’s happened more times than I care to count with members of the African-American community and some were what I would regard as close friends but the subject was “forbidden fruit” with them regardless of Mrs. King’s endorsement of our struggle.

At the Opening Plenary Session, 13th annual Creating Change conference of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Atlanta, Georgia, November 9, 2000, Mrs. King made this moving appeal that I will never forget:
"We have a lot of work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say 'common struggle,' because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry & discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination."

Surely such a common appeal would appease the savage beast of the raging machine of homophobic bigotry contained in the quick-to-anger racially charged African-American community?

It seems ironic that for all the hate that’s been spewed at the African-American community for centuries, how the white fundamentalist Christians used the story of Cain and Able from the Bible as “proof” of God’s wraith against them as a race for so many decades, that the African-American’s would embrace those same wrong-thinking Biblical messages and fire them back at another minority group is almost unimaginable. It’s like the victim of a rape going out and raping someone else for revenge.

I’m sure that’s how Coretta Scott King viewed it and many of Dr. King’s contemporaries as well that signed onto the Soulforce project.

Former Ambassador Andrew YoungNames such as Dr. James Lawson, Andrew Young, Julian Bond and Mildred Loving, who went through holy hell with her husband Richard in the late 1960s in attempting to overcome one of the last barriers to the racial bigotry in the State of Virginia regarding inter-racial marriage. Mildred was one of the first people to sign-on to the Soulforce project and said:

“I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the familyMildred Loving that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."

If a person has an I.Q. over 90 then it has to make one pause and wonder why such people, who fought so hard, shed so many tears for so many years over their struggles, would come to our cause so easily and lend their names when many within their race would so quickly criticize them for doing so.

As Mrs. King implied during the last years of her long and fruitful life: Because it’s the right thing to do.

The other thing that leaves me dumb-founded is the fact while Coretta Scott King, Dr. Lawson, Andrew Young, Julian Bond and Mildred Loving were lending their names to chartering Soulforce and that organization is still fighting hard for LGBT rights, a huge majority of members of the LGBT sits on their collective asses and does nothing, cares about nothing and refuses to become involved in anything useful to gain our own civil rights.

The other day I spoke with Randy Wicker and he reminded me that even back during the Homophile Movement they would go down to Greenwich Village and march and stand outside a gay bar and yell, “Come out and join us!” No one would come out of the bar, but then that was a different time and I also reminded him that back then many people who got arrested in protests would lose their jobs and often times had married women and had children to hide the fact that they were gay. He conceded that was a point well taken and that no such excuse exists for most people nowadays.

The vast majority of people have no such excuse today. I just watched the documentary “Times of Harvey Milk” on DVD the other night and was reminded of Harvey Milk’s tactic in fighting John Briggs and the dreadful Harvey Milk in 1978Proposition 6 of 1978. Harvey had a simple but difficult request of everyone in California: Come out! He shouted to everyone who would listen and they responded to the despondent masses of gay and lesbian people. It ignited the LGBT movement in California and made San Francisco the center of the LGBT universe and defeated the hateful Proposition 6 that would have not only fired all gay and lesbian teachers in California but anyone who voiced support for the LGBT community. The outpouring of support and the defeat of this Draconian legislation surprised even Harvey Milk. Weeks later both he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone would be dead at the homophobic hands of disgraced former City Supervisor Dan White but not before Milk would have left a brilliant trail in his brief but brilliant career as the first openly gay elected politician in American history.

So as we sit in our homes or read this on our smart-phones then we need to pause and for a change consider what we, as individuals, can do to add our names to the list of distinguished historical characters who lived, fought, breathed, and died for the life you live today and what we need to do today, right here and now, to finish the job that needs to be done to secure our civil rights once and for all despite the adversity, despite the resistance and despite the homophobia you encounter every day of your life.

Don’t give me excuses. Write and tell me what you’ve done to make things “better”.

This is my contribution. I can name a dozen people I’ve talked to this week by phone, Facebook and internet that make things “better” every day. If I haven’t heard from you then I have to assume that either you need to tell me your story or that you haven’t done anything.

Which is it?

I’m waiting to hear from you!

By Stephanie Donald

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