We’ve Come A Long Way … With Miles To Go

As I went through my files last night, I came across a letter sent to me by Dick Leitsch, one-time president of the Mattachine Society. I had asked him about people of color during the time of Stonewall. He wrote:

It was gay men, white, middle-class gay men, who were the target of society’s fury. It was we who were harassed, entrapped, arrested, beaten up, jailed, fired, denounced. No one seemed much to care what Hispanics and Blacks did in their ghettos – which is apparently why they were not abused as white gay me were – and why their bathhouse was allowed to remain open after all of ours had been closed down. “Who cares if they all give one another AIDS?” seemed to be the attitude of homophobes and racists.

Also, until after the mid-1960s and early 1970s, “Third World” people were more oppressed because of their skin color, language and ethnicity, than because of their sexual preference. One could hide being gay, but other things are less concealable. Thus they were more likely to worry about their status in a racist, xenophobic society than about their sexuality – which might be as much a problem in their own community (or ghetto) as it was in the general community.

Beyond doubt, the LGBT movement has come a long way and we are slowly but surely securing our place in society while gaining piecemeal rights and privileges which most Americans take for granted. Gay white middle-class males have gone the farthest, no longer easily or readily harassed, entrapped, arrested, beaten up, jailed, fired, or denounced like Dick and other out men were in the sixties, seventies and eighties.

However, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders of color continue to lag behind. They are still disadvantaged by their skin color, language, ethnicity and sexual orientation. As Human Rights Campaign’s recent report pointed out:

An overwhelming number (97 percent) of LGBT people of color say basic kitchen table issues such as affordable healthcare, jobs and the economy are important, but just as significant are racial and ethnic equality (97 percent) and prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS (96 percent). Also important is education (95 percent), affordable housing (94 percent), crime and violence (94 percent) and equality for LGBT people (93 percent).

So while many white gay men now struggle for marriage equality, for LGBTs of color, the “most pressing issues centered around the daily challenge of making ends meet, frustrations over trying to get ahead, and concern for neighborhood safety.”

Image from Sociological Images

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