Culture Ethics LGBT Faith LGBT, race and religion Politics

The long history of sexual baiting in America’s effort to extend civil rights (COMMENTARY)

U.S. President Barack Obama (L), U.S. Congressman John Lewis (C) and former U.S. President George W. Bush hold hands during a prayer in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 2015. Obama delivered remarks at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tami Chappell *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BARBER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 9, 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama (L), U.S. Congressman John Lewis (C) and former U.S. President George W. Bush hold hands during a prayer in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 2015. Obama delivered remarks at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tami Chappell *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BARBER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 9, 2015.

Left to right, President Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former President George W. Bush hold hands during a prayer in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 2015. Obama delivered remarks at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tami Chappell
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-BARBER-COLUMN, originally transmitted on April 9, 2015.

(RNS) From Ava DuVernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grass-roots leaders, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history.

Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.

Many able commentators have pointed out the problem of laws that purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate other people’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle from which the 14th Amendment was born — a struggle that played out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s statehouses today.

We cannot understand the new religious freedom law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was part and parcel of America’s first Reconstruction, guaranteeing for the first time that people who had been legally codified as three-fifths persons would enjoy equal protection under the law in this country.

The very notion of equal protection for black Americans was so offensive it inspired an immediate backlash.

White preachers led the charge, calling themselves “redeemers” and framing equal justice for black Americans as a moral danger. At the same time, the threat was explicitly sexualized. Black men were portrayed in respectable newspapers as “ravishing beasts,” eager to rape white women.

In our native North Carolina, white vigilantes were armed and encouraged to defend their women, leading to the “Wilmington Race Riot” of 1898. Violent demonstrations of white men’s sexual fear led to lynchings throughout the South and Midwest.

When the civil rights movement — a Second Reconstruction — was finally able to draw national attention to the vicious patterns of Jim Crow in the 1960s, the challenge to white power was again conflated with sexual fear. Civil rights workers were consistently accused of wanting interracial sex and/or having homosexual tendencies.

We remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “How Long? Not Long” speech from the Alabama state Capitol at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march. But we often forget that the members of the Alabama Legislature responded with Act 159, citing evidence of “much fornication” among marchers and claiming “young women are returning to their respective states apparently as unwed expectant mothers.” When Sheriff Jim Clark of Selma published his popular memoir the next year, he pointedly titled it “The Jim Clark Story: I Saw Selma Raped.”

The pattern is clear: Whenever established power brokers have felt threatened in America’s history, they have responded by stirring up sexual fears.

We who know this history can see that public expressions of concern about the “gay lifestyle” are not about religious freedom. They are about dividing an increasingly diverse electorate that has twice elected a black president. Fear of gay rights has proved to be the most effective strategy for extremists determined take over America’s statehouses.

As Southern preachers, we say to our fellow ministers: Religious freedom laws are an immoral ploy to stir up old fears. As people of faith, we must oppose them.

But in light of this ugly history, we also say to our progressive sisters and brothers: It’s not enough to simply stand with the LGBT community. We who are concerned about LGBT sisters and brothers must also see that the attack against them is also an attack on voting rights. While it is heartening to see business leaders and even the NCAA challenge Indiana’s law, we need the same forces to stand together against ID laws and redistricting plans aimed at restricting voting rights.

Right here in North Carolina, the proposed “religious freedom” bill goes so far as to say that government employees could choose not to carry out their duties because of a religious objection.

The Rev. William J. Barber II, right, is the president of the North Carolina NAACP. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, left, is author of “Strangers at My Door.” He lives in Durham, N.C., where he founded the Rutba House, a house of hospitality. Hartgrove photo by Pilar Timpane, Barber file photo

The Rev. William J. Barber II, right, is president of the North Carolina NAACP. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, left, is author of “Strangers at My Door.” He lives in Durham, N.C., where he founded the Rutba House, a house of hospitality. Hartgrove photo by Pilar Timpane, Barber file photo

While conservatives’ concern today may be a religious objection to issuing a marriage license to gay couples, we remember well the religious reasons our neighbors in the South gave for segregation, the subjugation of women and race-based slavery. Freedom of religion, a bedrock of American democracy, cannot mean a license to condemn others.

Fifty years ago, thousands marched in Selma as part of a faith-rooted, moral campaign to secure an expansion of voting rights. Extremists who couldn’t deny their cause sought to distract and divide the country by using moral and religious language to stir up old sexual fears. The mystery money and secretive organizing behind today’s “religious freedom” bills seek to do the same.

We who preach the good news of “freedom to captives” must make clear that religion serves the common good when it cries out against injustice, not when it fuels culture wars by dictating personal morality. We would do well to pay attention to the moral witness of those who most now agree were on the right side of history.

(The Rev. William J. Barber II is  president of the North Carolina NAACP, architect of “Moral Mondays” and author of “Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation. ” Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is author of “Strangers at My Door.” He lives in Durham, N.C., where he founded the Rutba House, a house of hospitality.)

YS/MG END BARBER/WILSON-HARTGROVE

Logo_Arcus_FOR-STORIES_110714

About the author

William J. Barber II

About the author

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

31 Comments

Click here to post a comment
  • “I’ve always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy.”

    “For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans [gays], who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law…I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. ”

    I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern.

    I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.
    -Coretta Scott King
    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/02/07/coretta-scott-king-on-gay-righ/

  • In other words, the article is a thinly veiled warning to every black pastor in America not to stand for the rights of their congregants to freedom of conscience in the marketplace.

    Yes, refusing to serve gays is indeed a chillingly apt analogue to refusal to serve black people. Granted, the analogy is not perfect, but indeed, it is close enough for any fair-minded person to accept.

    But the religious freedom issue here is not the blanket refusal of a business to serve a person. It’s the specific refusal of a business to accede to a particular request a person makes which knowingly or unknowingly asks the business person to violate his or her conscience.

    And to compare that to Selma 1965 or to the sexual demonizing of black men is to display a cavalier disregard for elemental realities. It is the manipulation of good-hearted people’s emotions in order to achieve a result that could never be had if facts and logic were engaged.

  • “In other words, the article is a thinly veiled warning to every black pastor in America not to stand for the rights of their congregants to freedom of conscience in the marketplace. ”

    AKA the new version of Jim Crow. So who did Martin Luther King say was worthy of discrimination in business?

    “Yes, refusing to serve gays is indeed a chillingly apt analogue to refusal to serve black people.”

    But you said it was silly to equate discrimination against gays with racial discrimination. I guess honesty is not your strong point.

    “It’s the specific refusal of a business to accede to a particular request a person makes which knowingly or unknowingly asks the business person to violate his or her conscience.”

    Which ends up in practice as the blanket refusal of a business to serve a customer. So you are back to square one. Opposition to adjustment of the Indiana law meant they had no problem with laws being construed for blanket refusal. Your hair splitting here is a…

  • ” It’s the specific refusal of a business to accede to a particular request a person makes which knowingly or unknowingly asks the business person to violate his or her conscience.”

    Nonsense. They are not being asked to violate their consciences, participate in someone’s sin, or their moralizing opinion. They are asked to bake a cake– the very same cake they willingly back for atheists, divorced people, hindus, and jews. This insistence that they are condoning anything is simply their imaginary moral superiority and self-aggrandizement.

    Let’s ask Jesus what he thinks:

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”

    So bake the goddam cake, and perhaps throw in a couple of cupcakes as…

  • Well, as long as we’re busy invoking the King family to make our points, how about THIS quotation from MLK Jr himself?

    “Your problem (feelings of homosexuality) is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention.

    “The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired. Your reasons for adopting this habit have now been consciously suppressed or unconsciously repressed.

    “Therefore, it is necessary to deal with this problem by getting back to some of the experiences and circumstances that led to the habit. In order to do this I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that led to the habit.

    “You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.”

    — Ebony Magazine, 1958.

  • Oh, and would somebody email the above statements by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to Rev. Barber and Rev. Wilson-Hartgrove?

    MLK didn’t support homosexual conduct. MLK didn’t support gay marriage. MLK didn’t support the Gay Gestapo using the power of government to force small business owners to violate their own core beliefs and constitutional religious freedoms. Period.

  • So a quote back in the days when being gay meant prison, and losses of all sorts of legal rights is to be taken with the same measure as modern efforts?

    Obviously MLK was mistaken. The man is not a saint nor inerrant in all he did. I doubt he would have ever dreamed there would be African Americans who supported segregation in business or political candidates who courted the Klan. But here you are. Dr. King’s worst nightmare.

  • Larry, you’re making my point all too well. You’ve joined in with the authors to bully and shame black Americans, including Doc, into supporting the utterly unnecessary trampling of religious freedom. This is the line that separates a courageous stance for civil rights, including gay rights, from the totalitarian refusal to accept an ideologically diverse America.

  • No, Larry, if I am a business owner, it would be wrong to refuse to serve a customer, but it would not be automatically wrong to decline a particular request. Any one of us can think of a thousand examples of requests on what should be written on a cake that a business owner might refuse to accept.

  • Got it…..I wish they wouldn’t cut off words, especially when the count says we’re not exceeding the limit.

    So, getting to the content of your post, we flatly disagree.

    I think a lot of people have fundamentally misread the resolve of people of faith when it comes to matters of conscience, and all of the ignoble old tricks designed to silence them, from fundamentally misusing words like “bigot” to cheap comparisons to the fight for racial equality, aren’t going to do it.

    Once you step over the line from advocacy of basic human rights to advocating the denial of freedom of religion in the marketplace, it is a whole new ballgame. If people are threatened with jail for it, to jail they’ll go. If so, we’re going to have to raise taxes to build more jail space.

    Crossing the line is utterly stupid and unnecessary, but history is the story of people who do stupid things by misreading the resolve of other people. The persecuted become the persecutor, and vice…

  • Jack, you don’t have a point. You are flinging poo, misrepresenting issues.

    Its very tough to take people talking about freedom seriously when they are supporting legalized discrimination. Oh the poor Christian bigots have to treat people like human beings even though they think God tells them otherwise. Oh the horror! Get your fainting couch!

    One does not stump for the civil liberties of political majorities. They protect themselves through power exerted in their voting. Civil rights are to protect the political minorities. The type of people you support trampling under color of law. But I already know you have no concept of the notion of civil rights. So your criticism means absolutely nothing to me.

  • “it would be wrong to refuse to serve a customer”

    There, done. No need to go any further.

    “Any one of us can think of a thousand examples of requests on what should be written on a cake that a business owner might refuse to accept.”

    And the most recent example is far different than the one where people got fined, sued and violated anti-discrimination laws. Such examples you can think of do not require additional laws or changes to existing laws.

    The idea of the well intentioned or accidental discriminator is fiction. There are no excuses for discriminatory conduct in your business. If you can’t think of non-discriminatory alternatives to a given situation, you deserve all the litigation, bankruptcy and other sanctions that would befall you. So take your lame excuses for legalized discrimination and stuff them somewhere painful. You are fooling nobody.

    The Rev. William J. Barber II already called it for what it is.

  • Someone who through their personal animus against a class of people supports their discrimination under the color of law is a bigot. The label fits perfectly. No misuse here. Your objections to the clearly descriptive and appropriate term is noted and should be ignored.

    If you don’t like the connotations of the term, tough luck. You aren’t supposed to feel good about such things. Its meant to insult and show disapproval of such actions. Discrimination in business is a recognized harm. It deserves the sanctions it gets.

    ” If people are threatened with jail for it, to jail they’ll go.”
    Its a fine. So it pays for itself. 🙂

  • Not so, Larry. You are recasting, reframing and reviling in order to stack the deck in your own favor, but you’re just spinning your wheels. I would think people like you would be tired of those hoary old tactics, which you’ve deployed on issue after issue, across the political landscape, for decades, but apparently not.

    Your problem is you don’t own the language….nobody does. And every time you misuse the language to your advantage, you will get called on it.

    The bottom line is that the radical left is intolerant of any beliefs and opinions it doesn’t share, and is willing to abandon the First Amendment wholesale to shut down alternate opinions. You know it as well as I do, and this is just the latest example of it.

  • No Larry…..the absurdity of your position is blindingly evident to anyone who hasn’t tossed their brains to the wind. If you’re going to call a “bigot” every one who fails to endorse your particular redefinition of marriage, you’ve just indicted the entire human race, people of every culture and nation, across the world, for all of history….except for some people living in this one tiny sliver of history we are experiencing today.

    You have no idea how pathetic you look when you stand in your tiny bit of time and space and claim you are uniquely enlightened.

  • Larry, if you think for a moment that Martin Luther King, Jr. would support the radical Left’s attempts to shut down First Amendment freedoms, you’re woefully ignorant of his life and legacy. You’re not even close to being correct.

    MLK opposed the radical Left at every point in the 1960s, even as he fought against the radical Right hoodlums of the KKK.

    That is why, when King died, all the jackbooted Reds, from the Panthers to the Weather Underground, rejoiced.

    If he were alive today and heard your bone-chilling attack on the First Amendment, he would say you were on the wrong side of history.

  • Since you obviously dishonest bigots would rather discuss nazi cakes, kosher pork and Klan weddings, I will respond with only this:

    THERE ARE NO EXCUSES FOR DISCRIMINATING AGAINST THE CUSTOMERS IN YOUR BUSINESS.

    If you can’t find a solution to your alleged “ethical” dilemma that doesn’t involve total refusal to provide services and goods to your customer, you’re screwed. Deal with it. You are obviously too stupid to be in business and don’t deserve special laws to protect yourself from your own idiocy.

    “MLK opposed the radical Left at every point in the 1960s”

    Except he supported redistribution of wealth. He was more left than most 1960’s leftists.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/obery-m-hendricks-jr-phd/the-uncompromising-anti-capitalism-of-martin-luther-king-jr_b_4629609.html

    Jack, is there anything else you want to make up?

  • Larry, I’m comparing King to the radical Left, not conventional liberals of his time.

    Of course he supported some redistribution of wealth….that has been the conventional liberal position at least since the days of FDR.

    That’s not what makes someone a radical Left person.

    Have you ever heard of names like Bill Ayers, Timothy Leary, the Berrigan Brothers, Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown, Eldridge Cleaver, Mark Rudd, Bernadine Dohrn, David Horowitz as a young man, Kathy Boudin….and movements like the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (an Orwellian name for radicals who pioneered the lovely tactic of shouting down and publicly sliming speakers they didn’t like), SDS/Weather Underground, the Panthers, etc.

    That’s what I mean by radical Lefties…..people who saw America as a fundamentally imperialistic society that needed a radical makeover not into a European social democracy but a Marxist, Maoist, Stalinist, Trotskyite, or anarchist alternative.

  • Larry, quit dodging Doc’s question:

    Are you willing to force bakery owners to accept any and every conceivable message proposed by a customer?

    Is that what serving customers means?

    Quit hiding and start answering, lad.

  • Larry, obliged to serve customers can’t possibly mean obliged to obey every detail of every customer’s request. That is absurd on its face. Doc’s post points to how mind-numbingly absurd it truly is.

    If you want to be a totalitarian bully, go find an island to rule. Call it Larry Land.

  • “The Religious are against the immoral idea that gays can “marry”, not that gays exist.” James Carr

    I am not sure this is correct, but it is not for me to say. So, I ask, is this true? Are the Religious against the idea that gays can marry? Does James C speak for all Religious? If “Religious” disagree with James C on this issue, there is a problem in the educating on this topic. If IDENTITY is so important in this day, then let the Religious decide where they stand on the issue (RCC, Islam–where it states that it is not only a sin but a crime, and …)—what are you? Which doctrine do you support? Both parties need to understand where the lines are drawn and be fair and just in approach. Discrimination is far too vague an understanding in my opinion. It is too easily thrown at people. Both sides do it—I have been watching, researching and have even experienced “discrimination” (if I can call it this—more like bigotry and worse) from both sides.

  • … and if people move away from being identified as “religious”, will they lose rights in what they believe? How will they be defended if not defined by a select group? Freedom of Religion then becomes something other, and this is okay, but it needs scrutiny. James C has the right to be his Religious self … but not all desire to be lumped within the James C court. This is a problem. It has to be addressed.

  • Jackie, I gave you and Doc the only answer you deserve on the subject of Nazicakes. See my All Caps remark above.

    “That’s not what makes someone a radical Left person. ”

    Attacks on/severe criticism of the capitalist system is EXACTLY what makes someone a radical left person. It is one of their central defining characteristics. Again, you are bandying around terms you obviously do not understand.

  • in addition … we cannot ignore a major concern: OVERPOPULATION.

    http://www.overpopulation.org/faq.html

    Regardless of where you stand–which religion/sect/denomination, or none—this is a legitimate concern and ALL should be held accountable in some way. This is a responsibility for all individuals. Who/what is demonstrating irresponsibility on this serious issue? GOVERNMENTS (esp the US of A) SHOULD BE ON THIS NOW … and not pandering to religious sects ignoring the concerns that fall under the category of Overpopulation.

  • I am a Catholic, which teaches one to love the sinner but not the sin. It considers homosexuals as individuals, children of God, who for some unknown reason have been burdened with this “cross”. Yet, it pauses at accepting someone presenting themselves to the Church as a gay Catholic. Their sexual nature is merely part of a whole person…..it should not define them….especially with a sinful adjective.
    Who claims themselves to be an adulteress Catholic, a Prositute Catholic, a fornicating Catholic ? That is between God and the individual.
    Gay marriage? A gross redefinition of an historically understood institution. Even polygamous marriages included only men and women. There is nothing even close to acknowledging the idea of same sex marriages in Scripture, Tradition, or history itself. For those who imagine a loving God smiling down on this, they are reshaping a God that cannot change, for He is perfection itself. God cannot be a bigot, but He can condemn what is disordered .

  • “We don’t need laws to protect that kind of stupid. Especially when such laws are easily used to enact total business segregation.”

    What wasn’t needed was a law to ALLOW it. It was already legal in Indiana. And yet you utterly failed to produce any instances where its legality in Indiana was used to discriminate in any other context besides same sex weddings.

    You’ve created a personal boogebear out of a nonexistent problem.

  • Half-right Shawnie, Indiana and several states do not include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws. But you are missing the big picture at the strategic level.

    The mini-RFRA laws were drafted in anticipation of what will be inevitable updates of various state anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation among classes protected. Especially in light of the striking down of gay marriage bans both at the state level and what is more than likely from the Supreme Court.

    Adopting a blatantly discriminatory RFRA law mucks up future updates to state civil rights laws. Preemptively using the legislature to preclude the possibility of such changes. Much like how the same crowd tried to use state constitutional amendments for the same ends.

    And none of this has to do with protecting small businesses. Its about codifying a right to segregated businesses. Giving legal right to act stupid and malicious in one’s business to the public detriment.

  • Thank you Shawnie! 🙂

    I still stand by those words. It is moral to force businesses to treat customers like human beings. If it has to be under threat of legal sanction, so be it.
    —-
    “I’ll answer for Larry already, with her own words”

    For the 3rd time already, I AM MALE A him, not a her.

    Larry is traditionally a male nickname. A short form of the name Lawrence.

ADVERTISEMENTs