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02 October 2009




Representative Holmes Norton has been battling uphill forever, but she presses on!



From the post: "Holmes Norton said the experience of "Hispanics and women ... resonates with us [black people]. The very different experience of the gay community resonates with me because I am an advocate and strong supporter of universal human rights."

I’m not at all sure what Holmes Norton means by this.

In a nutshell, the difference between anti-black oppression and anti-gay oppression is this:

While a black person is inescapably born into having whatever disadvantages society confers upon black people in general, gay people are born into the advantages and disadvantages of the economic and ethnic groups of which their families are a part, because their gayness is not immediate recognized by their families and by society. This fact, of course, is what black homophobes love to focus on in taking umbrage at making any comparison between black civil rights and gay civil rights.

On the other hand, apart from a few extremely shade-conscious light-skinned Lousiana families, I have never met anyone who was disowned by his parents for being black, but I have met many such gay people; I have never met any black person who was withheld the most basic human requirements of love and support from his own family and his own ethnic community because his family or ethnic community held his blackness in contempt, but I have met many such gay people.

In this sense, anti-gay oppression has great similarities to anti-female oppression. Women find that they have people in their own families who would beat or kill them, and so do gay people. Women have to contend with discrimination in their own ethnic communities, as do gay people.

Now, if, according to Holmes Norton, the experience of “women...resonates with us [black people],” then why wouldn’t the experience of gay people? And what makes the experience of gay people so “very different”?

Carter G

Jim, wow. You're usually so on point. Imho you are parsing that a bit much. Eleanor Holmes Norton is an ally. She supports gay rights and this marriage amendment and is trying to fight attempts to stop it in Congress.

Second, she said "universal human rights." So she is supporting this. What else do you need?

This is where many gay white men lose blacks and black gay men. Insisting upon automatic linkage to black people. The experience of a middle class white gay man in DuPont Circle are "very different" than a black straight or gay man in SE DC or Anacostia. They will always going to be white and associated with the privilege that comes with it. Everyone will not know or they may choose not to tell everyone that they're gay. But if you're black, everyone will know that from 20 feet away.

And the history of gays is very "very different" from the history of black people who were enslaved, Jim Crow, etc.. Marriage bans enacted in the past few years are far cry from centuries of enslavement,, lynch mobs, Jim crow etc. My great uncle was lynched while the town cheered.

Wow. Are you really going there on this blog, the ole "let's substitute 'gay' with 'black'" they do on all the white gay blogs? I'll say this..I have met many BLACK gay people who have been thrown out of homes. And we talk about the anti black gay violence on this blog. So it becomes a very different experience than most blacks are used to. In our own community.

I don't see anything wrong with EHN's statement. I'm just happy she is an ally.


Carter G: Please read my comment again. Of course, there is an enormous difference between black history and the history of gay people from communities of privilege.

My point above was that the kind of oppression that gay people experience in their own families and in their own ethnic communities has similarities to the kind of oppression that women feel in their own families and ethnic communities.

If Holmes Norton thinks black people can understand the need for civil rights for black women, even within the black community, why doesn’t she think black people can understand the same need for black gay people?

Now, maybe I am parsing her statement too carefully. Maybe something is missing from the quote. Which is why I posed the whole thing as a question. But this is what she said again:

The experience of "Hispanics and women ... resonates with us [black people]. The very different experience of the gay community resonates with me because I am an advocate and strong supporter of universal human rights." [Emphasis added.]

Two things seem to be embedded in that statement. As quoted, she sounds almost self-righteous, as if she thinks she can readily understand the need for gay civil rights, but that such a thing is just too difficult or subtle for the average black person to understand, even though the average black person can understand the need for women’s civil rights. If something like that is underlying her statement, then I take offense. We all know that there are millions of American black people, many of whom never got anywhere near institutions like Antioch College or Yale University where Holmes Norton went to school, who understand perfectly well the need for the protection and expansion of gay civil rights. This almost sounds like the whole “ignorant black people are more homophobic than white people” trope you may have read on the white gay blogs.

The other thing in the statement is that she makes it sound as if she believes that, at some level, gay people, including black gay people, are still the Other, who are so different, it really is a struggle to understand them.

I have listened to Eleanor Holmes Norton for many years. I know she is an ally. In the ’60s, she worked with SNCC, and in the ’70s, she was a leading feminist. On the other hand, she grew up in a time when gay people were not publicly acknowledged, so there may be vestiges of “old thinking” in her remarks. I don’t know.

Maybe someone who knows her personally can explain what she really meant.


OK. I went back to original Washington Post article, which I should have done in the first place.

The quote in Rod’s post left out a phrase. What Holmes Norton said was:

“The reason we speak about Hispanics and women, their very different experience nevertheless resonates with us [black people]. The very different experience of the gay community resonates with me because I am an advocate and strong supporter of universal human rights.”

The full quote eliminates one of my concerns. She is not singling out gay people as having a “very different experience.” She is saying women and Hispanics do, too.

The self-righteous sounding “me” is still there, but maybe she didn’t mean it that way. It was probably just a casual interview, and we can’t hear how she said it.

So I’ve learned my lesson to go back to the original.


Wow! I am deeply touched. I grew up in DC many years ago and to see so many progressive changes "Chocolate City USA" (as it was referred to back then)is engaging is monumental. I grew up in DC in the 60s so I saw H Street burned and destroyed by racial strife. I was living on Morton Street when King and Kennedy were shot. I was clubbing at the Clubhouse when TS, TV and flamboyant queens on the street was a holiday. Being "black and gay" was hidden under thick layers of fear, ignorance and disconnect. Ultimately I moved to NY and lost touch with the LGBT community in DC. It is touching to see how progressive it is becoming. Growing up DC was the way station, blacks from the south settled there until they got established enough tomove further north. Today it is the way station for black gays to get established and move further north.

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