Actually, There Is a Connection Between the Civil Rights Movement and the LGBT Struggle!

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch stands during the announcement of law enforcement action against the state of North Carolin
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch stands during the announcement of law enforcement action against the state of North Carolina in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Clarence Henderson recently wrote a guest commentary in the Charlotte Observer suggesting it was offensive to compare the Civil Rights Movement to LGBT movement today.

Mr. Henderson made clear that he participated in the gallant effort in Greensboro to desegregate lunch counters in 1960, as a student at North Carolina A&T. I applaud Mr. Henderson for his courage, but does that grant him credibility to serve as the official griot for a movement that changed the narrative for American democracy?

Henderson's piece was in response to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who compared North Carolina's controversial HB2 to Jim Crow segregation.

Henderson opined: "During the Jim Crow Era, we stared down the nozzle of firehoses, felt the piercing bite of police dogs, dangled from trees after being strung up by an angry mob, all because of the color of our skin," suggesting that the LGBT community has not endured such torture.

Linear historical comparisons are invariably flawed. Not only is there not a linear comparison to the Civil Rights Movement and the current LGBT efforts, the historical struggle of African Americans cannot be compared with the systematic annihilation of Native Americans.

But in a macro context there is a commonality of struggle and dehumanization. Are we to take slender solace by engaging in "oppression poker?"

"I see your Jim Crow and raise you Japanese interment camps; I see your Japanese interment camps, and raise you Trail of Tears!"

Are not these episodes, as well as others, reflective of dark chapters in American history? What does it matter if the dark corner that one stands appears slightly brighter to others when all inhabit the same suffocating domicile of bigotry?

Henderson's polemic also begs the question: what are civil rights? Are they exclusively black rights? Or are they rights guaranteed to every citizen in a free society?

The myopic terrain that Henderson sits blinds him to the humanity of LGBT brothers and sisters. He cannot see Harvey Milk, Mathew Shepard, or Audre Lorde. Ironically, he cannot see Bayard Rustin.

Without Rustin, who lived openly gay at a time when such things were not done, the March on Washington may not have been the epic moment in history that we remember.

Another irony is that many stalwarts of the movement, who knew intimately the evil of Jim Crow segregation, have no trouble seeing the connection of their efforts with those of the LGBT struggle.

The Rev. James Lawson, who wrote the foreword to my book, "1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility, and was instrumental in training protesters in non violent civil disobedience throughout the movement states: "The human rights issue is not a single issue. It is about all humankind. And all humankind has been endowed with certain inalienable rights."

US Representative John Lewis, who on several occasions was beaten within an inch of his life during the Freedom Rides and Selma campaign, says:

"I fought too long and too hard to end discrimination based on race and color, to not stand up against discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."

But underling Henderson's dissent is the tragic fallacy that the LGBT community is advocating for special rights, or the so-called "gay agenda," which sounds remotely close to the "Red Scare."

The gay agenda, in my view, is the audacious expectation that the nation would make good on the promises made to all citizens. Moreover, the country will not use orientation or gender identification as disqualifiers in order to receive the benefits guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

Was that not the ethos of the Civil Rights Movement? That movement did not simply improve conditions for black people; it made the nation better. This is why subsequent movements globally cite it as inspiration for their efforts.

No group can co-opt the legacies of Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer, Jack O'Dell, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, the Greensboro Four, and countless others whose valiant efforts are known only to antiquity, who put their lives on the line for freedom's cause.

If one understands the movement beyond the straight jacket of their personal agenda, it becomes easier to see the LGBT community is simply digging from the same wells of equality that quenched the thirst of others who went before them.