The reaction to the mistrial in the Michael Dunn case on the first-degree murder charge for the 2012 killing Jordan Davis was predictable in a lot of ways. Another unarmed black teenager shot dead for the silliest of reasons. In this case it was loud music. But Frenchie Davis had a reaction that demands exploration.
The actress and singer, who is a veteran of “The Voice” and “American Idol,” posted a blunt message to the white gay community on her Facebook page the day after the Dunn verdict.
I need the gay community to STOP comparing our struggle to the Black Civil Rights Movement. You DON’T get to draw that comparison and then remain SILENT when the civil rights of Black teens are being violated. I mean, where the f— are y’all?!?! Yay! For Ellen Page coming out at an lgbt youth conference. I was there. I sang right after. But THAT should not have been our focus yesterday. How in the hell are we having conferences to inspire our youth to live their truths and then have absolutely nothing to offer to THIS conversation???? Dear White Gays, I am HEARTBROKEN by your continued silence on these issues and I DO NOT give you permission to high jack [sic] the Civil Rights Movement while simultaneously IGNORING the inequalites [sic] that youth of color face every f—ing day. It is culturally insensitive to do so and we are either fighting for EQUALITY for ALL or we aren’t. As an LGBT woman of color, I am having an extremely difficult time grasping WHY Matthew Shephard’s life is so much more valuable than Trayvon’s or Jordan’s????!?!?! Help me understand, y’all! Help me understand.
And with that broad brush, Davis exposed a simmering frustration many African Americans have with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The pursuit for LGBT rights has been called “a defining civil rights challenge of our time” by none other than Attorney General Eric Holder. He is among the four straight black men at the highest reaches of the U.S. government who have led on LGBT rights. And don’t forget that the closet doors in basketball and football were flung open by black men.
Still, a lot of black folks chafe at the comparison of the two communities’ shared struggle for civil rights. Nevermind that what links the two struggles is the quest for equality, dignity and equal protection under the law. Gay rights are civil rights. It’s that simple. Still, Davis asks a valid question of the LGBT community: where are you?
There was that wonderful moment in 2012 when 23 LGBT organizations signed an open letter to the parents of Trayvon Martin. “We stand in solidarity with Trayvon’s family and friends as they seek justice for his killing,” the letter read. “In the timeless words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But on issues of importance to the African American community — voting rights, criminal justice and basic dignity — the gays generally speaking have been largely silent.
Robert Raben, an influential Washington lobbyist and Democratic strategist who is also openly gay, was so bugged by this dynamic that he penned a powerful opinion piece last November that presented the gays with a cold truth.
In the midst of marriage equality victories, [black and Latino] communities are enduring policy and political attacks that resemble communal hate crimes and most of their white gay brothers and sisters respond by doing little more than signing online petitions.
Trayvon Martin is Matthew Shepherd, both killed because of who they were and how they looked…
Being part of the civil rights movement isn’t just an honor or a rhetorical cloak, it is an obligation. Step up.
Gay leaders have persuaded so many in black and Latino leadership that the gay fight is “our” fight. That means the black and Latino fights are our fight too. Sadly, for the LGBT community thus far it’s been flight, not fight.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey, one of the signatories of that open letter to the Martin Family, shared Raben’s concern when I showed her the Frenchie Davis post.
Jordan Davis. Trayvon Martin. The numerous other daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, moms and dads: how many more victims of violence stemming from racism and racial profiling are we going to read about? How many more times are we going to hear someone stating that race was not a factor in a case? Really, when is race not a factor? How much more pain are we going to have to endure until our nation is rid of the scourges racism, injustice, and discrimination?….
For those of us in the LGBT community, especially white people, specifically white people, we must ask ourselves: What are we doing to end this? Are we doing enough in our work and our lives to combat racism; to use our privileges to create change? Are we standing in solidarity enough with Blacks, Latinos and other people of color through our actions, not just our words? And, are we as white people demonstrating a deep understanding that LGBT people of color face layers and layers of discrimination that can’t be separated out into being black one day, a young person the next day, and gay the next? The safety, the humanity, the basic civil rights of people of color – including LGBT young people of color – are under systemic attack and our core morality calls upon us not to turn away.
“Gay, particularly ‘elite’ white gay men, get all up in arms about marriage, movie stars coming out, etc., etc., and try to claim that the LGBT ‘Civil Rights’ movement is akin to the Black CR Movement of the 60’s and beyond, but when a black teenager is murdered in Florida, we remain silent,” my friend Scott wrote in a message alerting me to the Frenchie Davis Facebook post. The white gay New Yorker went on to say that there is “none of the outrage that occurs when a gay is murdered in Greenwich Village. [Davis] is saying that we can’t have it both ways. If we want to stand side by side other minorities in unison we have to stand up for inequities in the black community as well.”
To be fair, there are plenty of white LGBTs who step up and speak out on behalf of the rights and dignity of African Americans. But more need to join the fight. As Raben said, “Being part of the civil rights movement isn’t just an honor or a rhetorical cloak, it is an obligation.” One that more need to take seriously and openly if the struggle for civil rights between blacks and gays is to be truly shared.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj