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African-American Community Should Embrace Gay Rights

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Whenever there is a discussion about gay rights and the African-American community, someone can be depended upon to offer the juvenile critique that the cause of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is not the same as the historical Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s.

It's not uncommon to hear African-American pastors suggest "my skin cannot be compared with their sin" as a way to poetically justify their homophobia.

This argument assumes a collective understanding of what the Civil Rights Movement is and what the LGBT movement is not.

If one views the civil rights movement and the current LGBT struggle through the linear paradigm of race and sex, I would agree there is little that connects the two.

If, however, one understands the civil rights movement as something that helped America get closer to the democratic values to which it committed itself in 1776, along with the preamble of the Constitution that reads: "We the people of the United States in order form a more perfect union," then I would suggest the LGBT struggle is very much an extension in the ongoing civil rights struggle.

As Dr. Sylvia Rhue, director of religious affairs for the National Black Justice Coalition stated: "Challenging homophobia is the unfinished business of civil rights."

One of the great challenges of the American experiment is the ongoing examination of who exactly comprises the "we."

Former Congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, during the Watergate hearings eloquently stated:

"'We, the people.' It is a very eloquent beginning. But when the document was completed on the 17th of September 1787 I was not included in that 'We, the people.' I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation and court decision I have finally been included in 'We, the people.'"

It is fair to say that when the Constitution was ratified, not only was Jordan not included, but also many Americans today, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, let alone orientation, would have found themselves outside of the inclusive jurisdiction of the "we."

"Who are the we?" has been arguably the most tension-filled question in America's brief history. It has fueled demonstrations and violence. The country even went to war against itself, in part, because of the inability to answer the "we" question definitively.

It was the question that African slaves and their descendants raised in their quest for equality. It was the question for women during the suffrage movement. And it is the question that so many in the LGBT movement rightly have today.

The ironic aspect to this dubious legacy is when those newly admitted develop amnesia about their particular struggle for justice when volunteering for gate duty as others attempt to enter through the door marked, "Equal Protection Under the Law. "

On March 28, the National Black Justice Coalition will hold its fourth annual Black Church Summit along with a national town hall meeting at Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco, beginning at 9 a.m. There will be a number of clergy, theologians and activists assembled in the ongoing attempt answer the "we" question as it relates to the African-American LGBT community.

NBJC is a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering the LGBT community. According to Rhue, "NBJC envisions a world where all people are fully empowered to participate safely, openly and honestly in family, faith and community, regardless of race, gender-identity or sexual orientation."

In order to meet this lofty goal, NBJC recognizes the importance of fostering dialogue with the historical black church that has played a vital role in the African-American community. The black church has consistently been a nexus of hope for people once condemned to the outskirts of second-class citizenship.

But far too many segments of the black church today prefer to hide behind the same rationale that justified Jim Crow segregation than to welcome their LGBT brothers and sisters.

When will we learn the door to equality does not remain cracked selectively?