05/20/2014 09:35 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2014

African-American Vs. Gay Civil Rights Is A False Choice

A coalition of black pastors filed an amicus brief in Michigan's gay marriage trial last Wednesday.

The group of 110 religious leaders hope to defeat efforts to make same-sex marriage legal in Michigan and in the brief they particularly rejected comparisons between the gay civil rights movement and the struggle for African Americans in this country.

I disagree with the decision that these pastors have made regarding same-sex equality, but I agree with them that any facile comparison between gay civil rights and black civil rights is ahistorical and bound to create more problems that offer solutions.

The history of the treatment of African Americans in the United States is unique in its brutality, injustice, and deprivation. Black history has its own narrative of suffering along with an inspiring, ongoing struggle towards dignity and freedom. Black American history should not and cannot be co-opted by any other group -- including the LGBT community.

That's not to say that the LGBT community should not study the African-American community's struggle for justice, work on its behalf, and draw inspiration from it. Some of the most difficult and important lessons I have learned in my life have been from African-American professors at Union Seminary such as Dr. James Cone and Dr. James Washington, along with Starr King's Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé, and pastor friends, and colleagues who schooled me on the reality of black history and the reality of living in America as a black person today.

Those lessons helped me evolve as an American citizen, a person of faith, and as human being and I am grateful. I want my life to be about combating the ongoing racism that exists in this country and adding my voice in support of efforts towards equality for all. My education in black history has showed me that the struggles of black Americans and LGBT Americans are not the same, and it serves nobody to lump them together. That said, the struggles for freedom embodied by Dr. King, Rep. John Lewis, Rosa Parks and others can provide inspiration for justice struggles of other communities including those of the LGBT community.

LGBT history in America and globally has its own very particular history of oppression, being named as sinful, sick and dangerous -- and are now even being condemned to death in some countries. While in America a black person can be targeted for the color of their skin, I can be targeted if I do not conform to gender norms or reach to show any affection for the one I love. They are not the same, but both examples of targeting are demeaning, horrific, and both must end.

Also, in contrasting the struggle for same-sex marriage with the African American civil rights movement, the pastors in Michigan are forgetting the thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans who belong to both the gay and black communities. If we think of three of the highest profile 'coming out' stories of the past year, they are Robin Roberts, Jason Collins and Michael Sam -- all part of the African American community and LGBT community. And it is worthwhile remembering that one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s teachers in non-violence and strategy was Bayard Rustin, who was both black and gay.

It is time for dignity for all, no matter race, religion, culture, or gender identity or whom you love. Instead of pitting ourselves against one another, let's listen to one another's stories and support one another in our efforts to create a more perfect union where all are known to be made in God's image; worthy and deserving of love.

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