Black, Gay And Woke: DeRay Mckesson, Black Lives Matter & The Importance Of Intersectionality In Civil Rights Movements

July 14, 2016  |  

AP Images

AP Images

“When loving myself only looks one way, when protests are in the street or not at all, this puts constraints on the way that we express ourselves and the way that we can get free,” said DeRay Mckesson in his five-minute speech on stage at a gala hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in San Francisco.

In November of 2015, the activist opened up about the difficulties of being Black and gay in the Black Lives Matter movement during the GLAAD event. In the course of his speech, he introduced us to the “either/or” mentality where being gay is seen as being of a completely different species. You can’t be Black and gay, you have to choose your struggle. It’s either you’re going to support the gay rights agenda or the Black agenda, but it can’t be both. Sadly, this is a mentality that has washed quite a few in our community. And it’s especially sad considering that the Black Lives Matter Movement was founded by three Black women who also identify as queer. They, along with Mckesson, have been adamant about including the Black LGBT community in their mission because intersectionality is important.

But this past weekend, homophobia reared it’s ugly head after Mckesson was arrested during a protest in Baton Rouge and a Black man tweeted that he wouldn’t support the civil rights activist because of his sexuality — regardless of what Mckesson’s mission was. This sparked a debate and divide among Black Twitter as users rushed to his defense, highlighting some famous Black men in civil rights history who also identified with the LGBT community, including Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin and even Langston Hughes.

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It got me to thinking about inclusion and why being intersectional is important. To fight for Black lives is to fight for all Black lives. If you’re going to pull up a seat to the table to advocate and fight for social justice for Black people, that means you fight for the civil rights of Black women and Black men, no matter if they’re Black lesbians, Black trans, Black disabled, etc. If you’re in the fight, it doesn’t make sense to try and choose who you will support and who you won’t if our missions are in line with each other.

Intersectionality is important because it acknowledges the several forms of discrimination and oppression that a single individual faces who belongs to multiple subgroups (i.e., Black, female, lesbian). To exclude one part of a person’s struggle is to completely ignore their humanity. It’s saying, “Hey, we can fight this race agenda together, but you gotta take your woman problems and all that gay stuff somewhere else.”

The erasure of intersectionality isn’t at all surprising or uncommon and as previously stated, it isn’t exclusive to Black women in the Black Lives Matter movement, but also to Black gay men who experience such oppression differently.

One reader weighed in with her thoughts on the need for intersectionality in civil rights movements in response to the tweet that discredited Mckesson because of his sexuality. She said, “Black homosexual men experience oppression differently than black heterosexual men and this is evident in the ways in which people have responded historically to the efforts of activists and leaders who identify as anything other than heterosexual.”

As we told you earlier this week, among those outraged by that young man’s tweet include Crissle, media personality and half of the podcast The Read. She took to Twitter to express her anger at how straight Black men often forget the ones at the forefront advocating on their behalf. Those people, according to her, are often Black women and homosexual Black men.

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I stand and applaud Crissle for her honesty in this case. Not to be petty, nor to be divisive, but to show how seriously the disunity is within our community. We rise up together during times like these, but it feels as though uniting often comes with conditions. Mckesson is just one of many examples of how quickly we forget all that a person has done to make strides in our community when something that for some reason is still as taboo as being gay is a part of their identity.

As another Twitter commenter put it, “It makes no sense for an already oppressed group to oppress another. LGBT rights are civil rights, BLM is civil rights. Our fight at times overlaps and one doesn’t negate the other.”

Intersectionality matters, especially during civil rights movements. As people we are complex, we are layered, we are multi-dimensional — and so are the things that oppress us.

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