University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Racial Discrimination Within the Gay Community
My community is the most diverse of all. I am speaking of the gay community. Our community consists of people from every race, every religion, every gender, and every economic sector. We claim to be all-inclusive, embracing everyone despite our differences and celebrate our diversity with pride very openly. The issue of gay civil rights came to national attention on June 27, 1969. On that evening, police raided a small gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village called The Stonewall Inn, which sparked three days of rioting.
The event is considered the single most important event that led to the modern movement for gay civil rights. The gay community’s perseverance has led to gay pride celebrations being held across the country. San Francisco is the considered the birthplace of pride celebrations, as a “gay-in” was held on June 27, 1970, to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Current pride celebrations often include themes such as inclusion and diversity, demonstrating the gay community’s beliefs that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of any differences.
However, as Buchanan (2005) stated, “We claim to be the most maligned group in society, but when it comes to discrimination, some say that gays can give as good as we get” (Gays at receiving end of bias claim). The issue of racial discrimination in the gay community came to light when the San Francisco Human Rights Commission (HRC) issued their report on April 26, 2005 after an investigation of alleged discrimination at a popular bar in the Castro. The investigation was initiated by a group of citizens that claim the bar, SFBadlands, was practicing discriminatory acts in employment and patronage.
I frequent the bar in question regularly and am personally acquainted with an African American who works there as a bartender. The group making the accusations, And Castro For All, alleged in a letter sent to the HRC June 22, 2004, that the owner of the bar implemented policies to discourage African Americans and women from patronizing the bar. The group also alleged that the bar owner practiced discriminatory hiring practices. Out of the forty-five employees of the bar at the time, only seven were “people of color” and none were women.
The group requested the HRC investigate the bar owner and his business practices to determine if there were any “civil rights violations”. The group also requested the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to revoke the owners’ liquor license. Further allegations against the bar and it’s owner included unwarranted removal of African-American and other minority patrons from the bar, inferior service to minority customers and denial of entry of minority customers due to dress while white patrons dressed similarly were admitted.
The commission found the bar and its owner discriminated against African-American job applicants and customers, however there was insufficient evidence to conclude any other wrongdoing. During the ongoing investigation, And Castro For All staged protests in front of the bar that caught media attention and sparked national conversation regarding the persistence of racism in the gay community (VanDeCarr, 2005). During these protests, the bar was busy as usual. The demonstrations, one of which was held during the Castro Street Fair, a popular street fair held every October, did little to diminish patrons to enter the bar.
As I stood in line that day waiting to enter the bar, listening to the chant “Think before you drink” there was not much for me to think about. I had talked to the African-American bartender that I know about the allegations, and he responded that the allegations were false. The protests and demonstrations by And Castro For All have been compared to the civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The fight for gay marriage has also been compared to the civil rights movement. These comparisons have people of color raising an eyebrow, and have bred hostility where it should have sown solidarity.
In Massachusetts shortly after gay marriage was legalized, Governor Matt Romney told city clerks they could enact a 1913 law forbidding out-of-state couples from marrying if their home states would not recognize the marriage. The law was written with the intention of barring interracial marriages. The Massachusetts Supreme Court made another equation when gay marriage was legalized. They referenced the historic cases that legalized interracial marriages to the case that led to the legalization of gay marriage by citing the difference as a single trait: skin color in the interracial cases, sexual orientation now.
This “formula of gay = black has upset some Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people of color” says Hernandez (2005 Gaily ever after 11). During the 1990’s when the gay movement went mainstream, LGBT people of all colors claim it became a mouthpiece for wealthy gay men. The reason the comparison of gay marriage to the civil rights movement has raised indignation say some LGBT people of color is because it does not account for the racial and economic privileges white gays have. In not being able to marry, some say this is the first time that white gays are feeling the effects of discrimination.
Further accusations of racial discrimination in San Francisco’s Castro district disrupted a meeting of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) on March 3, 2005. The subject of racial discrimination came to a head when the President of MUMC was accused of paying obligatory attention to the growing concerns of racism in the Castro. White males own most businesses in the Castro, a fact that many do not realize. In attendance at the meeting were about 25 members, five of which were either non-white or female.
Thanks to a neighborhood economic development program organized by the LGBT Center of San Francisco, a yoga studio opened in October of 2004, which is the first black-owned business in the area in a few years. So, what does the future of the Castro look like? According to Bevin Duffy, an openly gay man on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is hopeful. Speaking after a mediation agreement was signed between the owner of SF Badlands and the group An Castro For All, Duffy is quoted: ‘This has been a painful process but it has created a great deal of awareness of the distance we need to go to be a truly inclusive community….
I hope for all of us it is an opportunity to heal now and to move forward, with each of us individually committed to be open, welcoming and accepting to people in our community who may be different. ’ (Bajko, 2006, p. 2). Not everyone shares Mr. Duffy’s optimism. Gomez (2006) states “Thirty years from now maybe queer will have evolved from a fashion statement…and retained its original connotations: progressive, independent, empathetic, activist. Colored queers will still be making the noise of protest…Maybe by then we’ll believe we’re stronger together than apart” (Race: the growing chasm, 10).
I think Gomez is wrong, at least when it comes to my neighborhood. I have hope for my neighborhood. The Castro has long been seen as “gay mecca” to LGBT people the world over, and hopefully the racial scar isn’t too deep. At least the actions of a few people have paved the way to change. Until we can resolve the inequalities in our own backyard, will we then be able to achieve equality with our straight allies, such as equal marriage rights. Once we become the kind of people we say we are, then we can become a racially diverse role model for the world.