The poster in Figure 9.1 — from a protest Following the passage of California’s Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban, which we will come back to throughout this chapter — illustrates one way in which anti-blackness plays out within LGBT politics. Notice two things: ﬁrst, that the poster lists simply ‘African American’ in its to-do list — instead of, perhaps, ‘African American Rights’ — and second, that there is a check mark beside it, signaling its completion. What was perhaps an oversight by its author points to the widespread notion that black people having rights is both redundant (already done) and oxymoronic (impossible). In effect, black people are the paradigmatically progressed population and at the same time incapable of advancing on the path of progress. Gay rights (which apparently have no overlap with either women’s rights or ‘African Americans’), on the other hand, are both possible and unﬁnished. And so the proclamation resounds: ‘Gay is the New Black!”
The centrality of legal equality claims to gay and lesbian rights politics and the speciﬁc investment of them in accessing and expanding key institutions is often accomplished through the deployment of a ‘like black’ civil rights analogy. Sexton observes that this analogy is a key technology of anti-blackness in non-black social movements. He describes the ‘peculiar, long standing and cross-racial phenomenon’ where a range of struggles allegorize themselves to revolts against slavery, meanwhile the suffering of black people during slavery and its afterlife is something perpetually ﬁgured as already known and addressed, not needing to be further discussed, and of course, mainly historical. Sexton writes:
"The metaphoric transfer that dismisses the legitimacy of black struggles against racial slavery (and…its ‘functional surrogates’) while it appropriates black suffering as the template for non-black grievances remains one of the deﬁning features of contemporary political culture." (Sexton 2006: 42)
White gay and lesbian rights advocates and the lawyers who lead their charge consistently analogize the gay and lesbian rights struggle to the black civil rights movement. Examples abound. Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court decision ﬁnding sodomy statutes unconstitutional, was lauded as ‘our Brown v. Board of Education’. Same-sex marriage advocates consistently analogize their struggle to Loving v. Virginia, the I967 case in which the Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. More broadly, the articulation of the ﬁght for same-sex marriage or gay and lesbian rights generally as a ‘frontier’ of civil rights, or sometimes ‘the final Frontier of the civil rights movement’. This analogy, of course, heavily relies on the idea that the civil rights movement successfully freed black people and made them equal, thus gay and lesbian rights can be framed as the ‘new frontier’ since the others have been accomplished. Recall that decisive check mark next to ‘African American’ on the poster we invoked earlier: the trope maintains that ‘other’ populations (especially black people) have been freed by legal equality and now it is time to complete the project of American Freedom by granting legal equality to (apparently non-black) lesbian and gay people. The triumphant and well-circulated claim that ‘Gay is the New Black’ performs dual labor: ﬁrst, it disappears the unspectacular and enduring conditions of black suffering that persist in the neoliberal era. Second, it appropriates the apparently satisﬁed struggle of black people. Remember that it does not say ‘Gay = Black’, but that ‘Gay is the New Black’ — it’s suffering exhausted, passé, black is no longer ‘black enough’. Black, not needing to be black anymore, has now objectively passed on its reference point to gay, which is not black, and which apparently needs it more.