Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: Weddings and funerals: The awkward juxtaposition of two civil rights movements

It’s tempting to think we’ve just survived the part of a wedding where the officiate asks whether anyone knows any reason LGBT Americans should not wed, and everyone has forever held their peace.

However, as close as we feel to being able to say, “I do,” we’re actually at a much earlier stage in this process: awaiting parental approval. Now that a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices have given their blessings to same-sex unions, it is time to win over the rest of the family.

Many folks share our joy, even if some of them whisper their misgivings in private company, while others are readying to lie in the wedding aisle to prevent us from exchanging vows. There are many people whose own grief and frustration leave them in no mood to celebrate, and LGBT Americans ought not let tears of joy blind us to the tears and blood flowing from those who we claim as kin in the struggle for human rights.

We were mercifully spared the unseemly juxtaposition of LGBT folks celebrating a marriage equality victory on Thursday, June 18, as Americans mourned the terrorist attack carried out by a white supremacist against worshipers at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Our movement is wont to highlight the similarities between our crusade and the plight of African-Americans, but the unfortunate timing of recent episodes show that the two are, not only different, but headed in opposite directions.

On June 26, 2013, we cheered the Supreme Court killing the Defense of Marriage Act, a day after the justices gutted the Voting Rights Act—many of us either unaware of, or untroubled by, the incongruity of outcomes for the broad civil rights alliance in which we profess membership.

Our anticipation of the April 28 oral arguments in the marriage case currently before the Supreme Court, Obergefell v. Hodges, remained enthusiastic, even while Baltimore smoldered after yet another black man received a death sentence for a petty offense. Some of us didn’t settle for simply being obtuse, instead chastising black rioters without any recognition that our own movement began when LGBT people started throwing bricks at New York police officers, locked them inside the Stonewall Inn and set the joint ablaze.

It’s encouraging that many LGBT groups issue press releases to express solidarity during African-American crises, although when an organization’s internal review concludes that it is a “white men’s club,” as with the Human Rights Campaign’s recent case of self-awareness, it’s clear that LGBT America is not apart from the awakening and redemption that is demanded of our nation on the issues of color and culture.

If we fancy ourselves as being concerned with social justice, we must engage in such conversations beyond when our civil rights are being discussed. Those who feel overwhelmed by powerlessness to change the racial ills of our society might want to draw upon their own minority experience and remember that the indifference of friends can be as hurtful as antagonism from opponents.

Perhaps our victory in marriage will make plain to us that the election of President Obama ushered in a “post-racial” society as much as Reconstruction did. We would be righteously offended if someone suggested that marriage equality meant homophobia and transphobia were suddenly extinct, and we would take exception to a new group coming along and anointing itself as “the new civil rights movement,” as we have so recklessly done.

Hate endures, as evidenced by the organization that was founded in defense of slavery, the Southern Baptist Convention, dusting off its bigoted bayonet to declare spiritual warfare against LGBT Americans. Our commitment to defending ourselves and our allies from injustice must be sincere and tireless.