Coretta Scott King on the ties between racism and homophobia

With the current discussion about the role of black churches in the loss of marriage in Maryland, I think it’s more important than ever to remind people of the words of Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s widow (see her extensive quotes, below). For reasons I can’t fathom, you don’t hear anyone quoting Coretta, ever, when dealing with the issue of homophobia in the black community, and the larger claim that somehow homophobia is less repugnant, less worthy of fixing, than racism.

I have my own thoughts – namely, that it’s exactly the same thing. Racism is the same thing as homophobia, and they’re the same thing as anti-Semitism, as bigotry against the Irish during the 1800s and beyond, as America’s appalling treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, of America’s appalling treatment of Muslim-Americans following September 11, and the Republicans appalling treatment of Latinos to this day.

It’s absurd for one group to make the claim that they suffered more than others, thus other claims for equal rights are somehow less valid.

[Maryland] Del. Emmett C. Burns saying “Those who want to ride on our coattails are historically incorrect; gay people had not endured the struggles of blacks, had not had crosses burned on their lawns or been thrown in a police wagon.”

Actually, gay people have been thrown in police wagons – some during Stonewall, and others fighting alongside Martin Luther King (Coretta mentions this fact below) – and had the bigot from Maryland bothered studying his civil rights history, he’d have known that. Not to mention… show of hands if your people were rounded up and thrown into camps by the Nazis during the Holocaust? I see gay hands up, and rightly so, but oops, not so fast, Delegate Burns. We each have our unique cross to bear. It doesn’t make any of us better than, or less human than, the other.

But there’s a larger logical fallacy to the bigot Burns’ ramblings. No one owns a patent on bigotry: Prejudice didn’t start in the 1960s, and slavery didn’t even start in the 1400s in Africa. In fact, slavery goes back at least to 1700BC. But you don’t find anyone claiming that Del. Burns is riding on the coattails of all the slave populations that came before his own, and rightly so. Because to do so would make you look like a bit of a bigoted ass.

Prejudice and bigotry is a bad thing. And it’s motivated by the same hatred, regardless of the skin color or sexual orientation of the perpetrator or the victim. So the next time you’re confronted by an anti-gay bigot like Delegate Burns, or anyone who claims that somehow racism is more evil than homophobia, quote the words of Coretta Scott King, when talking about racism and homophobia. And then tell them to STFU, unless they want to now claim that they know more about civil rights than Martin Luther King’s widow.

Here’s my earlier post about Coretta’s statements, reprinted below. Read it, save it, and use it.

This is an important post that every civil rights advocate should copy and keep handy.

I was at CNN yesterday, taping a segment for Howie Kurtz’s Sunday show (should be on around 10:15am-ish Eastern time Sunday morning). The segment was about all the recent gay marriage victories, and whether the media was giving them enough coverage. I was debating conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager.

Prager made several rather telling points, while complaining about the fact that the American people are rising up with pitchforks against the recent onslaught of civil rights. He complained that if you oppose gay civil rights you’re accused of being a bigot (I told him “that’s because you are”), he then said that gay civil rights advocates would even compare your opposition to gay civil rights to those who opposed the civil rights of blacks. Well, yes Dennis, they do. That’s because it’s the same thing. Don’t listen to me. Listen to Coretta Scott King, who I will quote extensively below. (And I researched all of these quotes myself – they’re real, you can do a Lexis search if you need to find the originals.)

The religious right is terrified that Americans might notice the obvious similarities between the African-American civil rights battle and the fight for equal rights by gay and lesbian Americans. Spokespeople for fundamentalist extremist groups often denounce anyone who might equate the two struggles, as the following recent press release from the bigoted men at the Concerned Women for America (CWA) illustrates:

“To compare rich, privileged homosexual lobby groups allied with transsexuals and sadomasochists to brave civil rights crusaders — who risked their lives to advance freedom — insults every black American who overcame real injustice and poverty,” said CWA President Sandy Rios… “It’s time for the homosexual lobby to stop co-opting the black civil rights struggle. The [National Gay and Lesbian] Task Force’s agenda of promoting perversion — including public homosexual sex, sadomasochism and bisexuality — would offend the vast majority of African-Americans who understand the difference between God-designed racial distinctions and changeable, immoral behavior.” – CWA press release, 9/9/02

Ah yes, those terrible rich and privileged Jews gays.

Of course, there’s a reason the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force links the issues of African-American civil rights and gay civil rights: Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s widow, told them to. In a remarkable address before the Task Force’s annual meeting, on November 9, 2000, Mrs. King gave a forceful statement on the importance of gay rights to the overall civil rights struggle (read Mrs. King’s entire speech here.)

And this was not the first time Martin Luther King’s widow made clear that groups like the Concerned Women for America have no idea what they’re talking about when they try to speak on behalf of African-Americans about civil rights. Excerpts of Mrs. King’s numerous public statements in favor of gay civil rights are posted below. Please feel free to cite any of the following quotations the next time a far-right extremist dares to speak on behalf of Martin Luther King and America’s African-American community. We need to continually jam these quotes down their throats:

Make Room At The Table for Lesbian and Gay People

Coretta Scott King, speaking four days before the 30th anniversary of her husband’s assassination, said Tuesday the civil rights leader’s memory demanded a strong stand for gay and lesbian rights. “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,” she said. “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 brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people,” she said. – Reuters, March 31, 1998.

Homophobia is Like Racism and Anti-Semitism

Speaking before nearly 600 people at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel, Coretta Scott King, the wife of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Tuesday called on the civil rights community to join in the struggle against homophobia and anti-gay bias. “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their
dignity and personhood,” King stated. “This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.” – Chicago Defender, April 1, 1998, front page.

MLK’s Struggle Parallels The Gay Rights Movement

Quoting a passage from her late husband’s writing, Coretta Scott King reaffirmed her stance on gay and lesbian rights Tuesday at a luncheon celebrating the 25 anniversary of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national gay rights organization. “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny . . . I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be,” she said, quoting her husband. “I’ve always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy,” King told 600 people at the Palmer House Hilton, days before the 30th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. She said the civil rights movement “thrives on unity and inclusion, not division and exclusion.” Her husband’s struggle parallels that of the gay rights movement, she said. – Chicago Sun Times, April 1, 1998, p.18.

Mrs. King is Outspoken Supporter of Gay and Lesbian People

“For many years now, I have been an outspoken supporter of civil and human rights for gay and lesbian people,” King said at the 25th Anniversary Luncheon for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund…. “Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.” – Chicago Tribune, April 1, 1998, sec.2, p.4.

Sexual Orientation is a Fundamental Human Rights

We have a lot more 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 and 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. – Coretta Scott King, remarks, Opening Plenary Session, 13th annual Creating Change conference of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Atlanta, Georgia, November 9, 2000.

We Need a National Campaign Against Homophobia

We have to launch a national campaign against homophobia in the black community,” said Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader. – Reuters, June 8, 2001.

Justice is Indivisible

For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law…. I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” On another occasion he said, “I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.” Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others. So I see this bill as a step forward for freedom and human rights in our country and a logical extension of the Bill of Rights and the civil rights reforms of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The great promise of American democracy is that no group of people will be forced to suffer discrimination and injustice. – Coretta Scott King, remarks, press conference on the introduction of ENDA, Washington, DC, June 23, 1994

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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