From Rev. Gil Caldwell - Member of the Board of PFLAG National and Co-Partner in Truth in Progress
The October 26, 2009 press release that announced my becoming a member of the national Board of PFLAG said this, "Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, an influential civil rights leader adds depth to PFLAG's outreach to faith communities and ethnically diverse groups."
I share these words as a reflection of my continuing efforts to share my experiences as an African American clergyman who was active in the Civil Rights Movement, with the LGBTQ Rights community. I have been appreciative of the fact that I have been able to do this as a member of the Board of PFLAG National. There are times when it appears that persons like myself are invited to participate in national and local organizations with an unspoken assumption that we are willing "to be seen but not heard." I have not felt that there were those in PFLAG who expected me to participate in this charade of "cosmetic (but silent) diversity".
I was given a copy of REDEEMING THE DREAM: The Case for Marriage Equality, written by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, by a long-time clergy colleague who believes that my participation as a straight, African American clergy participant in the LGBTQ Rights Movement with its efforts to link that movement to the Martin Luther King-led Civil Rights Movement, makes me an accomplice to what he believes is a distortion of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. He and other black colleagues, whose long friendship I cherish, believe that the growing success of marriage equality and equality for LGBTQ persons is taking place while the rights of black persons and other persons of color are being reversed.
The anti-black police violence that has been present, but largely invisible to most of the nation, is now visible as never before as it takes place throughout the nation. I write this with the hope that it will contribute to new understandings of and commitments to the justice struggles of blacks, by LGBTQ rights activists and others.
1. Marilyn Bennett and I as Co-Partners in the Truth in Progress film documentary "From Selma to Stonewall - Are We There Yet?", suggest that there are similarities in the police violence that took place in Selma, Alabama on what is known as "Bloody Sunday" and the police violence that took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York city on June 28, 1968. We from the very beginning of our project have made no suggestions of equivalence between the struggles for equality and justice by blacks and by gays. But, today as much of the nation is aware of anti-black violence perpetrated by police, we hope that awareness and memories of police violence at Stonewall, will contribute to deeper understandings of why, often in black communities, some police are viewed not as protectors against violence, but as perpetrators of it.
2. Boies and Olson in their book quote these words from Martin Luther KIng's, "I Have a Dream Speech:"
"This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism... Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."
Forty nine years ago when I was a Pastor in Boston, my Bishop asked me to travel to Los Angeles after the Watts Riots of August 11-17, 1965, to view the ruins, listen to the people, and learn what I could about what must be done to respond to the hurts and angers, that prompted the rebellion/riot. These were some of my learnings: Individual success by black persons, regardless of the arena of that success, means very little if it does not translate into greater educational, occupational and economic opportunity for the masses of black people... Inequality in the punishment of blacks and whites for comparable anti-social behavior, makes of Justice institutions, institutions of Injustice. (THE NEW JIM CROW: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander, could have/should have been written many, many years ago.) The USA has not yet wrestled with how it ought respond to its black citizens who are not the sons and daughters of immigrants, but of those who were imported to provide free slave labor for the economic building of the nation. "Justice" for "God's children" whose ancestors were slaves in the USA, is a justice that is yet-to-come.
3. We see more clearly than ever, how foolish it was to ever imagine that the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president would usher in a post-racial/racist era. And, how tragic it is that historians will write that during the Obama presidency, he was able to be outspoken on LGBTQ rights and marriage equality with a freedom that was denied him, as he gently identified with instances of anti-black injustice. There is great need for those who have been the beneficiaries collectively, of the Obama presidency to "call out" the racially insensitive, even racist words and actions that have been directed at him. All Presidents of the USA have been and should be criticized when it is appropriate. (I have a short list of my Obama criticisms). But, to be silent when criticisms of him are race based, makes way for similar criticisms of our first woman, Jewish, Hispanic/Latino, gay, Asian, etc., President.
James Baldwin, a writer of prose and poetry that possessed prophetic passion, once asked; "Who wants to be integrated into a burning house?" All of us today, regardless of the justice struggle that is primary to us, should ask; "Do I, and those like me, want to gain equal access to a USA house, that will make room for me/us, while it continues to demean and disrespect house members who are black?"