About BMC 277: Media and Diversity

This course asks students to critically examine the role of the media in facilitating and challenging the social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in U.S. culture.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Civil Rights, Gay Rights

By: Sarah Felty

The United States is currently going through one of the biggest Civil Rights movements of all time. The Gay Rights movement, which is the desire by those gay and straight to have equal rights among all. For those in their twenties, this may seem like the biggest Civil Rights revolution of all time. People may feel it is unique or that issues like these have never been examined before. Though this is true, the Gay Rights Movement is unique and does bring up new issues, it actually comes on the heals of a revolution and a rejection of the social norms that are exactly like the issues being brought up in the current debates and controversies.

The roots of the Gay Rights Movement are very similar to those of the Civil Rights movement in the 50’s. The aim was to give African Americans equality to the “norm,” which was white people. Likewise, the aim of the Gay Rights Movement is to make gay relationships equal to the “norm.” Currently, the norm could be either a heterosexual relationship, recognition of familial rights or marriage. The movement being so new it is not strictly defined yet, but the obvious aim is exactly the same a the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s, equality. Just like black people in the 50’s, gay people are treated as if its better not to address sexual orientation, almost ignore it. Black people were treated much the same way when it came to the color of their skin. The army stated “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would consider segregating gay soldiers from straight soldiers. This is similar to the segregation felt by African Americas during the 1950’s. The practices of “simple, inalienable rights” are denied to gay people, as well. For example, the privilege to marry is a struggle reflective of the earlier struggles by African American’s to vote.

The similarities between these two movements therefore, pose a very serious question, is gay the new black? Tyra Banks recently hosted an episode of her show that asked this question for the first time. The episode was appropriately titled, “Is Gay the New Black?” During the hour-long show, she compared the strides made by African American’s to achieve equality in the United States during the 50’s (and still) to the steps currently being made by those in the Gay Rights Movement. She points out the similarities between the two movements and between the opinions and viewpoints of those on either side of the issue.

The reports of gay bullying and homosexual related deaths that have come out recently, sparking the Trevor Project and “It Gets Better” campaigns, are reminiscent of the deaths in the African American community during the Civil Rights campaign. (Though no one was there to stick up for African Americans like the previous two campaigns are for the gay community.) For example, the death of Emmett Till in 1555, a young African American boy who was beaten because of the color of his skin, shot and killed, then dumped into a river. (NewWorldEncyclopedia.com)

Stereotypes, assumptions and fear have also played large roles in both movements. For example, the creation of the black sambo and popularity of “black face” prior to the 1950’s initiated the stereotype that blacks are stupid or uneducated. (black-face.com) The same thing is true in the gay community with the rise in popularity of Drag Queens and exceedingly gay characters on television/ film (Christian Siriano from Project Runway) Oppositionists begin to associate these things with the entire culture rather than individuals (in the case of homosexuality). However, they are by no means true for each or for anyone. (in the case of the black sambo)

The incorporation of a social norm and precedence of one group over another is also a key part of the arguments being made during the Gay Rights Movement and its similarity to the Civil Rights Movement. The idea that marriage is between a man and a woman expresses the idea that this is the norm and anyone deviating from this is abnormal. (Much like the idea that white people are the norm as compared to black people.)

This also brings into play the issue of religion. Many of the oppositionists to Gay Marriage use religion as their defense. Saying that being gay is a sin against God. Often quoting verses like: Leviticus 18:22 - "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." When African Americans sought freedom the bible was used against them as well. Turning stories like that of Noah and his son Canaan into a story supporting slavery and racism. (http://www.gci.org/)

The similarities between the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s is very similar to that of the Gay Rights Movement currently influencing our society. Though these two groups obviously had many different struggles and both are equally important and individual from the other, the basic structure for freedom is the same. One group is being oppressed by another, pain is felt (especially by the oppressed) and the issue of what is right or wrong must be established for an entire society of people who think very different things for very different reasons. In the end each movement has brought major issues into play such as religion, freedom, equality and the idea of a social norm. Though the Civil Rights Movement has seen its prime, the Gay Rights Movement is just getting started. It will be interesting to continue to analyze the similarities of the two movements and when the Gay Rights Movement has seen its prime, to find out what the outcome is and how the overall structure of the movement reflects that of the Civil Rights Movement. In fact the two movements have already become meshed and “The Civil Rights Movement” is now used interchangeably. Establishing that equality for Gay Rights and African Americans are part of a larger picture, that of equality for all, rather than for each group. When analyzing the words of Martin Luther’s famous “I have a dream” speech, it is hard not to hear his sentiments ring true all over again today for a whole new race with a very similar dream.

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