By Milton Wendland
© 2013 Diversity Rules Magazine and Milton Wendland. All Rights Reserved.
Milton Wendland is a licensed attorney and a professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, where he teaches courses in LGBT cultures, sexuality and law, and queer theory.
I read that some legislators think that we shouldn’t have LGBT books in schools or public libraries and we shouldn’t allow “open homosexuals” into public office and so on and so on because this would be “recruiting” people into the “homosexual lifestyle.” What’s up with that? Mark
It’s not difficult to find the flaw in the “recruitment” arguments, is it? Apparently the “gay lifestyle” is so attractive and tempting that even reading a book about it or meeting a gay person could tempt one to leave the straitjacket of heterosexuality and enter the titillating world of homosexuality. (Hey! That doesn’t sound half bad!) But that’s preposterous, of course. It’s a little like saying that if you read a lot of Shakespeare you’ll want to become British or if you work in an animal shelter you’ll want to be a cat or dog. Clearly if we could be recruited into sexual orientations or gender identities, most of us would be heterosexual and cisgender since most of us grew up in families of heterosexual, cisgendered people.
But on a more serious side, the recruitment argument does have some merit because it is based on the idea that exposure can lead to change. Too many LGBT people grow up feeling isolated and alone, spending their childhoods, their teen years, even much of their adult lives feeling like they are the only ones who have “these feelings.” Since our society fails miserably at educating people, many folks may have no other words by which to define themselves other than freak, sinner, deviant, or mental-case. Exposure to LGBT people and materials can indeed “recruit” people – recruit them into recognizing, naming, and owning their own experiences and lives. And to many homophobes that is a frightening possibility.
February is African-American History Month – a perfect time to remind ourselves of the contributions of African-American LGBT people.
We know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but how many of us know that the man who organized the 1963 March on Washington was a gay man who was eventually asked to leave King’s inner circle because of his homosexuality: Bayard Rustin. Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple, Alice Walker identifies as bisexual and has dedicated her life to advancing the rights of marginalized people around the world. Kye Allums was the first openly transgender person to play NCAA Divison I basketball, challenging years of stereotypes about female and male athletes. And butch lesbian Gladys Bentley was singin’ and swingin’ long before there was any mainstream LGBT movement. Bentley wore trousers and ties, sung about her love of women, and is a major element of the Harlem Renaissance period of American history. African-American straight allies are also an important part of the story. Coretta Scott King, for example, openly supported lesbian and gay equality. Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and former Dallas Cowboy and NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin have been vocal proponents of LGBT rights both in sports and in the larger society. And of course the U.S. President and First Lady have both been central to recognizing LGBT Americans.
You can learn about other African-American LGBT people by doing a quick online search.
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