Are gay rights 'civil rights'?





...Last January, four dozen gay and lesbian activists gathered for a center retreat overlooking the Smoky Mountains to get inspiration on how they could show—not just tell—America that their rights are being violated.

But how? There are no “heterosexuals only” Woolworth counters where gays and lesbians can protest segregation; even Woolworth itself is long gone from the U.S. “We needed to create the urgency and critical mass to stop the injustice towards our community,” says Robin McGehee, a mother of two and cofounder of the civil-disobedience group that was formed during those five days in Tennessee, called GetEQUAL. “What are our lunch-counter images?”

As the fight over same-sex marriage and “don’t ask, don’t tell” rages in the courts, Congress, and the media, gay activists and their allies are invoking the language and imagery of the civil-rights battles of a half century ago....

The rhetoric has inspired gays and lesbians. But it has also galvanized their opponents, who say homosexuals are fighting for “special rights,” not civil rights....

Underlying the resentment among many African-Americans is the belief that gays and lesbians can “pass” in straight, white America, and therefore enjoy advantages blacks never could because of their skin color....

Even as they invoke the civil-rights struggle, GetEQUAL’s members are trying to be politic. Philanthropist Jonathan Lewis and his family, who have funneled a half-million dollars to create and support GetEQUAL’s efforts, says gays and lesbians are absorbing lessons and inspiration from the civil-rights movement, not taking away its importance. “Our movement is not the same,” he says. “Yes, it’s not life or death every day like the civil-rights movement was,” says Michelle Wright, who is African-American and became involved in GetEQUAL after coming out last year. “But it’s still discrimination, and therefore it’s wrong.” Now she and her fellow activists just need to get the rest of America to see it that way. So they will continue searching, however long it takes, for their movement’s own lunch-counter image.


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