Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sylvia Rhue: Civil rights belong to every citizen, gays included

Story from the Buffalo News

By Dr. Sylvia Rhue

I am an African-American who participated in the civil rights movement. I learned the basics directly from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I continue to fight for the basic civil rights of African-Americans.

When my African ancestors were brought to these shores as slaves, many of those who purchased my ancestors pointed to the Bible and said, “Slaves, obey your master.”

Before too long, my people began to take in the whole Bible and heard a message of freedom and equality before God.

When Jay Tokasz quoted black ministers in his May 27 article, “Black clergy opposing gay marriage resent civil rights comparison,” I resonated with the sentiment that the horrors of slavery are unparalleled.

But that does not mean that African- Americans are the only people who have suffered or fought for civil and human rights.

Today, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of all races suffer discrimination, abuse and sometimes brutal death because of their identity.

Black civil rights work was a profound movement in history, emerging from the bottomless depths of suffering. The movement for black civil rights is not the same as the movement of gay civil rights, but it is based on the same Constitution.

Civil rights must belong to all groups, or no group is safe. Civil rights give each person the ability to participate freely in the political, economic and social life of the community.

Women could not vote in the United States until they fought a grand civil rights battle. Factory workers, farm workers and immigrants from many lands fought for basic human rights and the battle continues today.

The gay community of all races is striving for basic equality before the law and seeks a more perfect union that reflects the grand diversity of our country. This country is committed to establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare, to paraphrase the Constitution.

No one wants to be denied the right to pick his or her life partner, and no one wants to have to hide who he or she is to gain or keep a job.

Gay people are simply seeking the protections and obligations recognized by our government, no matter what others think of who they are or who they marry.

Civil rights are only “hijacked” when they are systematically denied.

Sylvia Rhue, Ph. D., is interim CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition in Washington, D. C.

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