On Monday, Jan. 15, we celebrated what would have been the 78th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. This civil rights leader’s sweeping influence on America is not only significant to the African-American community but to struggles for equality around the world including that of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
Martin Luther King Jr. had only been dead 14 months when members of the gay community poured out the doors of The Stonewall onto the streets of New York beginning the movement that would go on to transform not just the way the world perceived the gay community but how we perceived ourselves as well.
King’s own experience with the LGBT community was primarily through his relationship with Bayard Rustin, a colleague and principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. But many gays and lesbians joined in the fight for racial equality partly because they were not ready to fight for their own equality. Martin Luther King Jr. was most important to everyone who believed we were born to build a revolution for equality and set the moral tone for the entire movement. Many who were at Stonewall said that it was the inspiration of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement which made the gay revolution possible.
Despite having many from the LGBT community work in the civil rights movements and finding inspiration in the life of Martin Luther King Jr., statements equating gay rights to civil rights remain a contentious issue. Spokespeople for fundamentalist extremist groups often denounce anyone, including Dr. King’s widow Coretta Scott King, who might equate the two struggles.
Speaking four days before the 30th anniversary of her husband’s assassination, Mrs. King said the civil rights leader’s memory demanded a strong stand for gay and lesbian rights.
Civil rights belong to an individual by virtue of citizenship, especially the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and by subsequent acts of Congress, including civil liberties, due process, equal protection of the laws, and freedom from discrimination.
LGBT activists refer to basic human rights like the freedom of speech and association, liberty, and equal treatment in court as civil rights, because they are fundamental rights that each and every citizen should not be denied on the basis of their sex, race, or religious belief.
King had a dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
It sounds like we are talking about one and the same thing but in America nothing, especially equality is that simple.
Our country, our state and, yes, even our LGBT community continues to be divided by race. This hurdle has kept us from achieving true civil rights for all Americans and will continue to do so until we look racism in its ugly face and say enough – say it not just with our words but our actions, convictions, beliefs and hearts.
But we don’t seem quite ready to do this – not really. Our communities continue to have the “Eight Mile” divide. Members of the white LGBT community announce new all inclusive names, and continued dialogues while members of the African American LGBT community protest and seek change to institutionalized racism.
Michigan is home to a culture of inequity pitting young against old, gay against straight and black against white for a piece of an American pie that was never meant to be all inclusive despite all of it’s glowing proclamations.
The LGBT community continues to be second class citizens unable to marry, not protected in the workplace still struggling for equality. While diversity is the buzz word across corporate America, Affirmative Action is dead in Michigan and under attack across the country ending opportunities for women and minorities to attain parity in education, employment and opportunities.
12.4 percent of all Americans live in poverty. Thousands in Michigan are under-employed, uninsured and are unable to enjoy the basic human rights of a roof over their head and food in their stomach.
What would Dr. King say if he were here to celebrate his 78th birthday? Probably the same thing he said in 1963 “I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
But he would probably add that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”
Let us honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr. with song and celebration but also rekindle the light, the dream – so that deep in our hearts we truly believe that “we shall over come someday” – in peace, love and equality.