Moving out from ‘Gay Street’ to ‘Main Street’

Posted on 04 Jun 2009 at 5:19pm
By Linus Spiller Special Contributor

To continue making progress in the battle for LGBT equality, LGBT advocates must move beyond their comfort zones into mainstream

Like other LGBT citizens across the country, I was shocked after California voters passed Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage last November, and I was incredulous when the California Supreme Court recently upheld the ban.

The Supreme Court justices are legal scholars, but I can’t help but believe they were asleep in their law classes dealing with constitutional law. But they have left a gaping legal loophole in allowing the marriages of 18,000 already married same-sex couples to remain valid.

As was the case in Hernandez v. Texas, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Mexican-Americans and other racial groups are entitled to equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, I am certain the same standard will apply when this issue reaches that level.

What has me now dumbfounded, however, are the recent protests by LGBT protesters in our own communities. This may seem silly or irrational to you, but for me it has resurrected a question that has been lying dormant now for 14 years:
"Why do we only feel comfortable being LGBT in our own hood?"
If we are so "proud" of our sexuality, why do we keep it "closeted" within the confines of our gayborhoods?

I asked myself that same question in 1995 when I and six other African-American men participated in the annual Gay Pride Parade.

As we marched holding our eight-foot banner representing our organization, The Men’s Gathering," down Cedar Springs Road (Dallas’ acknowledged "Gay Street"), we were greeted with enthusiastic applause from parade watchers. I later learned the reason was we were the first all-black male group to participate in this local LGBT tradition.

But as I walked and waved to well-wishers, that nagging question persisted in my head, along with others, like "Why aren’t we marching in downtown Dallas?" And, "Would we as a black gay group be comfortable marching in South Dallas in the annual MLK Day parade alongside black straight groups?"

Therein lies the true test of how the LGBT community should proceed in what I consider to be one of two of the greatest cultural challenges facing America in the 21st century — gay rights and poverty. Will we be courageous enough to be who we are wherever we may be, or will we remain content in our isolated enclaves outside of mainstream society?

I was reminded of this after reading the Dallas Voice account of a Prop 8 march and protest in the Oak Lawn community. The story started off with a reference to and statements by an African-American lesbian activist who participated several months ago in a local rally in the plaza at Dallas City Hall in support of then President-elect Barack Obama.

In the aftermath of the Prop 8 decision, this same individual demanded passionately (in the comfort of the established gay community, I might add) that the new president do something about equal rights for all Americans.

Other than a few segments on local television stations, I wonder how many people who really needed to hear that message heard it? In my estimation, she and other protesters were simply preaching to the choir.

The history of the African-American struggle for equality suggests the fight for equal rights wasn’t that simple. Worth noting is that black Americans and their supporters didn’t conduct their protests, sit-ins and marches in the segregated black community. They put their message out in the public square literally where it could be seen, processed and challenged.

Their activities were many, including the Montgomery and Tallahassee bus boycotts; Washington, D.C. Prayer Pilgrimage; Woolworth’s department store lunch counter protests in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee; retail stores in Georgia; freedom rides in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia; college student sit-ins in Louisiana; the infamous "Bloody Sunday" march in Alabama; the Children’s Crusade "D-Day" youth march — and the list goes on.
Did it come at a cost? Yes.

Two weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous "I Have A Dream" speech, four black girls lost their lives in a church bombing and less than three months later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated right here in Dallas. Many others lost their lives also as they sought to secure voting rights and equality.

So, Earth to the LGBT community: Freedom really isn’t free and courage belongs to the outwardly timid yet inwardly resolved.

In the coming months (and years), as a community let’s strive to make ourselves more visible outside of our LGBT comfort zone. Our family members, neighbors and co-workers need to see we aren’t the caricatures they believe us to be, not the images the media — and we — sometimes perpetuate.

We are Americans and human beings just like them, plain and simple, deserving of all benefits as guaranteed by the Constitution.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 5, 2009.

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