'Gay Rights' for 'Gay Whites'?: Race, Sexual Identity, and Equal Protection Discourse
34 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2015 Last revised: 8 Jul 2021
Date Written: 2000
While the resolution of the problem of gay and lesbian inequality will ultimately turn on a host of social, legal, political, and ideological variables, this Article argues that the success or failure of efforts to achieve legal equality for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals will depend in large part on how scholars and activists in this field address questions of racial identity and racial subjugation. Commonly, these scholars and activists currently discuss race by use of analogies between “racial discrimination” and “sexual orientation discrimination,” or between “people of color” and “gays and lesbians.” On one level, the “comparative approach” to race and sexuality may have some validity because it can create empathy with the oppression experienced by gays and lesbians. It also might help link the question of gay rights to existing equal protection precedent and civil rights laws that emerged from a context of racial subjugation and resistance. Ultimately, however, this approach impedes the quest for gay and lesbian equality.
My argument proceeds in four parts. Part I situates my discussion of the synergistic relationship among race, class, gender, and sexuality within a broader body of research on the “intersectionality” of systems of oppression and of identity categories. Part I then examines how my scholarship attempts to advance this literature both substantively and conceptually. Part II expounds my claim that the comparative and essentialist treatment of race and sexuality within pro-gay and lesbian theory and politics marginalizes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons of color and constructs and reinforces the notion that the gay and lesbian community is uniformly white and privileged. Part II then examines how anti-gay theorists and activists deploy the “gay as white and privileged” stereotype in their arguments that gays and lesbians, as a privileged class, do not merit the protection of existing equality frameworks. Part II concludes by discussing how antiracist discourse contributes to the harmful white-normative construction of gays and lesbians through its heteronormative assumptions about both racial subordination and people of color. Part III analyzes the emergence of the white-normative construction of gays and lesbians in equal protection doctrine. Part III then argues that jurists invoke this stereotype to justify their refusal to apply heightened scrutiny to claims of discrimination brought by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals. Part IV proposes a multidimensional framework for analyzing race within gay and lesbian equality discourse that more accurately depicts the injuries of anti-gay and lesbian discrimination and that refutes the “gay as white and privileged” stereotype. It is my hope that a multidimensional approach to the question of gay and lesbian equality -- one that treats race, class, and gender as integral components of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered identities and experiences -- will lead to stronger legal protection of gays and lesbians from discrimination and subordination.
Keywords: gay and lesbian inequality, discrimination, Romer v. Evans, racial inequality, civil rights, sexual subordination, gay white privilege, intersectionality, multidimensionality, racial oppression, gay rights
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