In the larger framework of studying the great human rights and civil rights struggles of the 20th century, we find very strong links between LGBTQ+ movements, feminist movements, and activists who sought to eliminate racial segregation.
Studying such movements is important to know where we have come from, where we are going, and what actions need to be taken. It also helps us to realize that the same actors who make life in the high society and political system keep us oppressed and prevent us from having equal rights because of our identity, gender, orientation, religion or skin color.
So, it is no wonder that I end up passionately reading the life and work of great activists such as Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Marsha P. Johson, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King is best known for his “I have a dream...” speech in Washington DC. Unfortunately for his memory, that speech would be adopted decades later by white nationalists, quoting over and over again the iconic phrase “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” as an argumentative weapon for their own defense whenever they have to face criticism and the consequences of their own racism, stripping those words of any context or historical significance. Dr. King himself would regret that speech during his lifetime, declaring in an interview, “The dream has become a nightmare “ shortly after the outbreak of the Vietnam War.
However, among his speeches and writings, there is one that needs to be highlighted, because of its relevance and the parallels that can be made, not only with the struggles of sentimental, affective, sexual and gender diversity, but of all social minorities fighting for equal rights.
The letter from Birmingham Jail:
Written on April 16, 1963, this is an open letter written by Dr. King after his “Birmingham Campaign.”
This was a non-violent campaign against the racial injustices occurring in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. During it, MLK was arrested for “Marching without an official permit from the city”. This was nothing more than a desperate attempt to jail a notorious civil rights activist. The letter itself was written in response to a public statement by eight white Alabama clergymen who had criticized King's presence in the city, so MLK speaks out against the injustice and asks people to act to change the situation.
One of the key quotes from his letter is “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” which underscores how important it is that we all fight together against oppression wherever it exists. He also writes, “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering,” showing his commitment when faced with violence or other forms of intimidation.
Another highlight is when he refers to “White Moderates,” These are white “allies” who do not actively participate in or oppose racial inequality, but remain neutral due to self-interest or fear of taking any kind of stand. They do nothing but watch others suffer under oppressive systems without attempting to make any effort to help them achieve the equal rights and opportunities to which everyone else has access. This inaction infuriated MLK because he believed that if more people took some kind of step, however small, there could be much greater progress in society as a whole, so he urged moderates to not only recognize what needs to be done, but to stand up and help bring about positive change through meaningful action, rather than stand by and watch events unfold without doing anything at all.
Dr. King's words, while written in a specific context and circumstance, become timeless and universal when extrapolated to the broader discussion of the struggles of all historically oppressed minorities. They inspire reflection on how accurate they are when we apply them to the context of LGBTQ+ rights recognition while respecting distances.
The heterosexual ally:
I have long pondered the role of cisgender and heterosexual allies (commonly abbreviated Cis-Het) in the LGBTQ+ movement. It is true that there are a good number of supporters who actively criticize and counter homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviors that can be encountered on a daily basis, whether online or in the real world. They often have close friends, family members or even partners who belong to the community. But being an ally isn't easy, either.
Among the challenges faced by a cis-het ally are being constantly ridiculed, threatened and attacked by the same sectors that oppress and perpetrate violence against LGBTQ+ people. The attack on allies is not new, as can be referenced in the aforementioned civil rights struggle when their opponents referred to white allies as “N-word Lovers.” It is very difficult for a cis-het person to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights without being accused by other cis-het people of being gay, trans, or being dragged into a range of conspiracy theories. A constant of these hate groups is their inability to understand that it is possible to sympathize with the situations and experiences of others, even without experiencing them firsthand.
Support from cis-het people is always appreciated and welcomed, although we must also recognize that the vast majority of cis-het allies do not yet realize the significance of their support, nor their role in the struggle of the LGBTQ+ movement.
Although it may sound paradoxical to some people, allies are a key and important component to our movement, because LGBTQ+ people can rarely even aspire to positions of power, and those who do hold positions of power often do not receive support from their peers in high places, making them an individualistic opposition. They feel as an error in the system, a fish out of water. It is the same system that will not allow their voices to be heard, even when they are representing the people on regional or national platforms. It is the allies in the higher spheres who can make this not an individual struggle, which allows them to amplify their proposals, evade the traps of the bureaucracy and go beyond the barriers imposed by the system.
This is how it happened during the struggles for racial equality, when white allies who held power but sympathized with civil rights causes gave oppressed ethnicities the chance to make themselves be heard, free them, give them the right to vote and work hand in hand to ensure a future of equality. Likewise, reforms in favor of sentimental, affective, sexual and gender diversity have been achieved because sympathetic allies who were already in power have allowed them to happen in the first place.
Those allies have been of immense importance, confronting the prejudices of their peers who sought to maintain the mechanisms of oppression for their own benefit. But by the same token, the lack of allies will allow such oppression to continue to exist, with no one to speak up for the oppressed and prevent change from being achieved.
The moderate heterosexual:
However, the human being is not naturally inclined to empathize with experiences that do not affect them or that they do not experience on their own skin. We find a vast majority of “moderate heterosexuals.” These are unaware of the position of privilege they hold. Based on intersectionality, they may experience different forms of discrimination, but they will rarely experience the difficulties that LGBTQ+ people go through.
They will not experience the burden, anxiety, and mental weight of staying “in the closet,” which most often is done out of a sense of self-preservation. “Coming out” to an intolerant environment can mean being disowned by your family, losing your home, losing job opportunities, becoming socially isolated, and can even mean jeopardizing your physical safety.
You never quite know how people will react to learning that you are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Many parents pretend to have no problem with gay people, but show their worst side when their own blood turns out to be non-heterosexual or non-cisgender. The same goes for friends, co-workers, and other types of interpersonal relationships. The moderate heterosexual does not experience that, and since they find it hard to sympathize with other people's experiences, they think these are trivial issues.
Keeping yourself in the closet means hiding an essential part of yourself, not being able to make your romantic relationships public, keeping a mask before society, living giving excuses when you don't meet the expectations of life that others project on you. Certain people, combining social pressure with a distorted sense of morality, will not hesitate to use and deceive someone of the opposite sex, to spend years living in a fake relationship, so as not to expose themselves.
Even for those who are “out of the closet” and proud of who they are, there are still many hurdles to cross.
In my country, Venezuela, and in many others, people of the same sex cannot get married. There are many ways to approach the subject of marriage, among them the superficial part, which includes the wedding, the banquet, the party, the dresses, the decorations, the cake, the dances, the family drama and the honeymoon. There is also the religious part, where two souls become one “until death do them part” in the presence of the respective god or entity. But the most important aspect to consider in our particular case is the legal one.
Marriage is, after all, a contract. It specifies that two people have a civil union, share finances, property, health insurance and inheritance rights. Same-sex couples do not have the right of any of this. If the company where I work offers me health insurance, my partner cannot benefit from that insurance, because we cannot have a civil or common law partnership. If my person or my partner dies, the other will not automatically have access to the inheritance, unless they has previously specified it in a will. If an accident happens to one of us, the other may be denied hospital visits and aproving on medical decisions, because in the eyes of the law we would be just “acquaintances”.
In fact, all these disadvantages make people, for the sole reason of not being cisgender or heterosexual, second-class citizens, and we are not equal before the law, which is, in itself, unconstitutional in Venezuela and most countries.
This is not to mention medical discrimination, with doctors refusing to treat someone if they know they are LGBTQ+, and while this is, in theory, illegal, no one is known to have been sanctioned for such explicit acts of discrimination. This does not stop there, it is also illegal for non-heterosexual people to be blood donors, under the false perception that all LGBTQ+ people are possible carriers of HIV, even though we have statistics and scientific evidence that the opposite is true, with cis-het people being the absolute majority of carriers of the virus and the disease today.
All of the above are not considerations, nor concerns of the moderate heterosexual, perhaps They know some gay person whom they treat well, might have a family member belonging to the community, and will disagree with the most obvious acts of discrimination, but will fail to sympathize with the causes of those who are not their peers.
During the civil rights struggles of the mid-twentieth century, people of color were likewise not only second-class, but fourth-class citizens. They were not allowed to be in the same spaces as whites, they could not attend the same schools, their neighborhoods were built away from white communities and were designed to be inaccessible, the effects of segregation are still felt today throughout the United States, but for the moderate white person of the time, these too were trivial issues, they might think the criticisms of the use of the “N-word” were unjustified, that the activists had gone too far, and they might even refer to pseudo-science such as phrenology to justify that people of different races were too different on a biological level, and therefore could not live together on equal terms. These moderates were not part of the Ku Klux Klan or held any power, but their apathy perpetuated the systems of injustice of their time. In their instinct for self-preservation, they did not actively discriminate against or attack people of color, but neither did they criticize the behavior of their peers so as not to disturb their own comfort.
The moderate may get convinced to think that those who fight for equal rights have “gone too far”, they are the target audience of ultra-conservative sectors who want to label all activists as “extremists”, as “going after children”, as “imposing their ideological agenda”. Many moderate heterosexuals may be convinced that they are “not homophobic” while opposing any and all proposals to achieve equal rights, regardless of sexual orientation, romantic attraction, or gender identity. They have been convinced that hate speech is, in fact, a strong and valid argument. They do not distinguish propaganda from feasible facts, but above all, they are completely ignorant that the information and discourse they propagate from a position of false “neutrality” actually comes from extremist opinion machines, recycling old arguments previously used to justify countless genocides in past decades and centuries.
The main characteristic that makes the moderate heterosexual a strategic target is the same one shared by all other moderate factions: they constitute the absolute majority of the population.
It is critical for any movement, ideology, party or political tendency to win the favor of moderates, because it means winning the favor of the majority of the population. Some of the tactics they can use to achieve that goal include appealing to their most basic emotions, such as fear, uncertainty, self-preservation, and the idea of the greater good. If you can convince moderates that a formerly non-threatening minority group is putting their existence at risk and infringing on their privileges, you can turn a large mass of the population into militant supporters of the wrong cause without realizing it, a cause that in the long run will hurt the moderate himself, because when you start taking away the rights of a few, they will not stop until they take away the rights of all.
However, a moderate in a functional, empathetic and educated society will manage to recognize that such minorities do not pose the threat that a small but noisy group would have them think. The moderate can be the barricade that prevents new genocides from occurring, or they can pave the way for them.
My disappointment and pessimism lies when it comes to the issues of sentimental, affective, sexual and gender diversity, is that the moderate heterosexual carries the banner of apathy, ignorant of the political changes that have occurred since extremist conservative movements in different parts of the world decided to make LGBTQ+ people their new straw man to spread the same conspiracies, fears and misinformation they have been propagating for centuries. The moderate heterosexual may think that the rise of the discourse in favor of LGBTQ+ movements is limited to a mercantilist machine trying to sell you rainbow products, ignoring all the nuances of the struggle, its philosophy, its claims and its historical trajectory.
In other latitudes, the moderate is waking up and leading the fight to guarantee the rights of all, understanding their role in the formation of a tolerant, democratic international community where human rights are respected. But in countries like mine, the moderate is a participant in social regression, legislative stagnation, and their apathy prevents society in general from advancing and progressing, they measure progress by the standards of materialistic acquisitiveness, and not as an integral process where society enhances its best qualities, while leaving behind its old prejudices, superstitions and primitive fears.
An indicator of the development and progress of a society is to observe how it treats its most vulnerable sectors. Demeaning treatment of minorities or less fortunate people gives us an idea of how they hold themselves, how they think, and what their general values are. Stagnation or regression in human and civil rights, as well as generalized discrimination are symptoms of a society without any progress, which cannot end in any other way than a failed and backward society, condemned to watch with envy how other nations improve their quality of life, wishing to achieve what they have, but without the will to solve their problems at their roots and advance in the same way that others have achieved.