Our airwaves, front pages and social media feeds have been dominated by coverage of the presidential inauguration. From Michelle Obama's impeccable ensemble to Beyoncé Knowles' rendition of the national anthem, critics have been dissecting and distorting the events of the historic day, including President Barack Obama's reference to "Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall" in his inaugural speech.
For the first time in history, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community was referenced in a president's inauguration address. President Obama not only acknowledged LGBT Americans as a vital part of this nation's diverse and intricate fabric but declared that this country's various movements for equality are intrinsically linked by a core value: the conviction that all men and women are created equal. Instead of celebrating this truth, media outlets like The Wall Street Journal have insisted on bending outdated statements to perpetuate their bias and fuel racial divide.
In an opinion piece titled "Selma, Stonewall and Obama," Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason L. Riley purports, "President Obama's equating of gay rights and Black civil rights in his inaugural address Monday had left-wingers cheering -- MSNBC's Ed Schultz called the speech a 'progressive barn burner' -- but some of Mr. Obama's Black supporters might not appreciate the comparison."
How does this tired, overplayed and inaccurate narrative continue to make its way past editors' desks and into actual publications?
"Stonewall" is a reference to the gay bar in New York City that was raided by police in 1969, an event that is widely considered the start of the gay rights movement, and some gay rights advocates are eager to appropriate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and America's long struggle for racial equality. But Black liberals have complained about equating the current push for gay marriage with a Black civil rights struggle that included chattel slavery, lynchings and Jim Crow.
In his sloppy and lazy reporting, Riley proceeds to misrepresent a statement I made over a year ago by completely removing the context and not running the quotation in its entirety:
Even Black activists who work in the gay community don't like to draw such parallels. Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization that works to eradicate racism and discrimination in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, said last year in an interview with Loop21.com that gay history in the U.S. didn't involve getting "hosed down and dogs sicced on us." She added: "You can't compare the plight of the movement, the centuries of oppression that Black people in this country had to face."
Instead of reaching out to the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) for a current quotation specific to the president's reference, The Wall Street Journal and Riley inaccurately parsed my comments from one year ago to solidify his bias viewpoint.
My full statement to Loop21 read:
Do we (the LGBT community) get hosed down and dogs sicced on us? No. But we're comparing how our community is treated, from a so-called civil society -- the overt discrimination and bigotry. No one should be able to understand that better than Black people in this country, and that is the root of the comparison. But you can't compare the plight of the movement, the centuries of oppression that Black people in this country had to face.
Let me be clear: I stand 100-percent behind President Obama and his inaugural address. Yes, our struggles are different, but the core values are the same: No one should be discriminated against for who they are, whether that is on the basis of race, class, gender identity or sexual orientation.
As the radical right realizes that they're fighting a losing battle, they are scraping at whatever they can find to continue to pit "black" against "gay." But more and more, we see that our nation is coming together. We saw it in the fight for marriage equality in Maryland (a state with a significant black population), and we saw it with the reelection of the most pro-LGBT president in our history. We see it in our daily lives, in our families, churches and communities where black Americans are embracing their LGBT brothers and sisters.
According to national exit polls, 52 percent of black voters who turned out on Election Day said they support the freedom to marry in their states. The largest shift came from black women, 59 percent of whom now support gay marriage. Back in 2008 and 2009, the numbers were drastically different. A Pew Research Center survey showed that just 28 percent of African Americans supported marriage equality.
The national landscape is changing. It is time that media outlets like The Wall Street Journal and journalists like Jason L. Riley do the same.
This isn't about "black" vs. "gay." It's about the media searching for and fabricating a story where there isn't one and completely erasing a community that is living and loving at the intersection of our movements for racial justice and LGBT equality.
To a sea of cheering black, brown and white faces, President Obama said:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
Our movement is at a tipping point. The media's deceitful and sensational attempt to imply otherwise is unfair, inaccurate and exclusionary. The Wall Street Journal and Jason L. Riley, show some journalistic integrity and do better.
Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks serves as the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), which is a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. NBJC's mission is to eradicate racism and homophobia. For more information about NBJC, visit www.nbjc.org.