In my July 11 post, I urged people to email and boycott the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (at email@example.com) over its repugnant and ironically bigoted attempt to fire the head of its Los Angeles chapter for his support of gay marriage rights. One of those who did was my old friend Rob Levy, who I have known since high school. I think his letter captures everything that needs to be said to a so-called civil rights organization that has betrayed its own legacy.
Here is his letter:
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Dear Mr. Clay,
I am glad to hear about the upcoming SCLC convention, its rededication to the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of the emphasis on fighting poverty, wherever and however it may manifest. I love the motto, "a global vision in which ALL people can share in the wealth of the earth."
In 1967, when I was eleven years old I wrote a report on Dr. Martin Luther King, then a controversial civil rights leader. Like many of my generation, I can recall the moment on one year later when I saw Dr. King’s face on the morning news. I dedicated my life then to doing whatever I could to carry Dr. King's work forward. Aside from marching and speaking for school integration, reaching across the racial divide to get to know Black people, and occasionally finding the courage to speak when whites around me assumed I shared their racist beliefs, my contributions are humble compared to those I admire.
Today however, I do have a bi-racial family, something perhaps not possible without the work of the SCLC and others. My partner of 13 years and I are white, and our adopted son is African-American. We and our son’s birth family feel blessed to know one another. Never have they been concerned that we are gay, they say, “as long as there is love.” Someday soon, we will seal our commitment in marriage, and gain the roughly 200 rights currently denied us.
Imagine how shocked I am to have learned that the national board of the SCLC has threatened to fire Los Angeles SCLC chapter president Reverend Eric P. Lee for his work against the passage of California Proposition 8. Proposition 8 is only the most recent example of a majority trampling minority rights. Recall that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was not, and would not have been passed by majority vote.
I always hesitate to make comparisons between the struggle for gay rights and that of African Americans. The privileges I enjoy as a white male, and the invisibility -- should I choose -- as a gay man protect me from anything approaching the indignities and torture visited upon Black Americans throughout American history.
Perhaps a better spokesperson than I would be Bayard Rustin, one of the founders of the SCLC and Dr. King's main advisor from Montgomery to Washington. A review of Mr. Rustin's biography reveals numerous and immense acts of courage on behalf of African Americans. Many people know Rustin as one of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Fewer know of Rustin’s plans to organize a March on Washington in 1941, the threat of which resulted in the passage of the Fair Employment Act, nor of the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947 protesting segregation in interstate transport, a prototype for the Freedom Riders for which he served 30 days on a chain gang in North Carolina. Rustin was arrested numerous times for, among other things, refusing to join the armed forces, and for being homosexual. How ironic that today he would be simply be refused membership in the armed forces!
In 1986 Rustin no doubt created some controversy when he stated:
"The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated."
That was twenty-three years ago, and today one of our nation's premier civil rights organizations doesn't seem to get it: We are one people. A denial of rights to one is a denial of rights to all.
I have many African American friends who are gay and lesbian. Most are in committed relationships, and many are raising children. Most have faced the pain of being called out and thrown out by the churches they once called home. By opposing legislation that would protect their families and mine, you are putting your organization on the wrong side of history. Today you are joining forces with the diminishing ranks of those who use the pulpit to sanctify segregation. Today I am ashamed to be a supporter of your famous and fine organization. Good luck with your convention. I know that if he were alive, Bayard Rustin would be speaking out against your act of intolerance and bigotry.
Robert K. Levy