In 1969, fourteen football players from the University of Wyoming were kicked off the football team when they wanted to protest BYU due to the LDS CHurch’s racial restrictions on blacks. Dr. Darron Smith of the University of Memphis tells how that protest turned out. Stanford University then refused to play BYU, also claiming objections to BYU’s racial policies. However, a few years later, Native Americans protested Stanford for using the mascot “Indians”, claiming that was also racially insensitive. In response, the Stanford Indians changed their mascot to the Stanford Cardinal (the color, not the bird). Was this hypocritical?
Darron: Very hypocritical, very hypocritical. It goes to show you where our level of thinking is around issues of race were during that time frame. The focus was on African-Americans, right. That was the focus. Pull the beam out of your own eye before you turn the gaze on others. They didn’t see that as a problem. Maybe they had permission from the tribe?
GT: No they didn’t. That’s why they’re not Indians anymore.
Darron: That’s even worse. That’s enormously hypocritical, but isn’t society riddled with enormous hypocrisy all of the place sadly?
GT: Since we mentioned Indians, we’ve got the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, and the Atlanta Braves.
GT: What’s your opinion on those? Are those racist mascots? Let’s go with even the Dallas Cowboys. Is that racist?
Darron: No I don’t think Cowboys is racist. I don’t think that’s a big deal, no. If you are caricaturing Native Americans for profit, it’s racist. If you’re using their image to make money, their likeness to make money it’s racist simply because of the history of Native Americans and white people in this country. It has not been a seamless history.
Much of the same racism that destroyed black communities are the same ones that destroyed Native American communities, banishing them to reservations and then exploiting their image without their permission.
GT: So you would support the Washington Redskins getting a new name.
GT: I guess I should note that the school just north of here, the Utah Utes, actually they do have permission from the Ute Tribe.
Darron: They do.
GT: The Illini of Illinois, I believe they have permission, as well as the Seminoles of Florida State. I guess if it has permission, then you’re ok with that?
Darron: It’s still racist.
GT: It’s still racist.
Darron: It’s still racist. I call it commodity racism, racism with a twist. Yes. Because you’re still using, still tapping into the same stereotypical ideas, whether you have their permission or not, you’re still reinforcing a cosmology of racial indifference, that these people aren’t set up for this type of endeavor, to be the fodder of entertainment, so yeah.
I asked Smith how the racist protests of the 1960s compared with Iowa State University’s protests against BYU last summer over gay athletes.
I understand and I’m sympathetic to what the plight of the gay athlete is at the Big 12 Conference, but I think it’s a little bit overstated paranoia.
GT: Let’s talk about that because yesterday at UVU there was a conference on race that you spoke at. Right before you got there we watched a movie (click here for a preview) called The Black Fourteen about Wyoming. A lot of people are going to see a lot of parallels between the black athlete of 1969 and the gay athlete of 2017.
GT: Can you talk a little bit about #1, what are the Black Fourteen of Wyoming? Let’s talk a little bit about some of those other protests against BYU about specifically their policy about blacks. Does that relate to the current gay issues that we have today?
Darron: It does and it doesn’t. It relates in terms of oppression, right, so oppressing people who are marginalized is bad, period, so it relates in that way. But in terms of the history of marginalization from 400 years of working in the fields, from being denied opportunities in jobs, this, that and the other, being terrorized by the Klan, no; gay athletes don’t have that. They don’t have that same issue. They just don’t have it.
I don’t know if you’re gay. You walk around. If you walk around in the foreground your gayness in stereotypical ways that I’ve been conditioned to believe and know as a consumer of media, then yes that’s one way to think about it, to broadcast your gayness. If you walk around as an ordinary person, looking like an “ordinary” person looks like without any identifying markers to being gay, I wouldn’t know unless you told me, so it’s not the same history. It’s a different history. I want to be clear about that. Gay rights are not Civil Rights. It’s not. It’s a different trajectory, a different history so let’s not conflate the two.
What they share in common is oppression. It’s what they share in common, but the histories of marginalization and oppression are very, very different. I’m not anti-gay. I’m not saying this to be anti-gay. I’m saying this to be correct about the suffering here, right.
We have a suffering card. It’s a very big suffering card. I realize gay and lesbian folks have a suffering card, and trans-gender people, and queers and other folks have a suffering card too, but y’all’s suffering card gets enveloped in race. In other words, someone who is black and gay feels the sting, the stigma of being black and gay three times more than a white person who’s gay simply because of the way the narrative, the way blacks have been positioned and constructed in society, so I want to be clear on that. It’s why I went on a tangent. I want to be clear. This is Gospel Tangents.
I want to speak clear when I say this, not to say I am anti-gay. I don’t want no hate mail from your listeners about me being anti-gay. I’m very supportive of gay folks. I want to be clear about the degree of oppression we’re talking about here. There’s a difference there.
You can listen to the entire episode BYU Protests on iTunes, Gospel Tangents, or watch it on Youtube below. What do you think? Are Gay rights similar or different than Civil Rights? Is the gay suffering card smaller than the black suffering card?
There are so many different reactions to identical, or at least similar, situations (depending on who’s the instigator) that make me realize that racism will never be abolished.
Gay advocates once theorized that Bugs Bunny was gay because he dressed in drag and kissed males on the mouth. But if someone created a designated gay character like that, the outcry of “stereotyping” would sound.
A co-worker on the job was rapping a song that repeatedly used the N-word. I said that it was offensive and his reply was “It’s just a song”. So I began singing a song by a black rock band that used similar verbiage and the co-worker became hostile.
In the ’70s, our high school was white majority, but the homecoming court had to contain a black and white king/queen. Now the school is majority black, and that requirement no longer exits.
The director of our school Madrigal group was disciplined for only selecting 3 black students for a 16-voice group. At the same time, our varsity basketball team had 1 white player out of 12. I mentioned this to the principal who said I didn’t know what I was talking about.
These are examples of hypocrisy which, I admit, can sometimes be unintentional. Some people of our society, in positions of influence/power, keep these situations alive in order to get gain.; and I don’t see an end in sight.
Yeah, so I can see where Dr. Smith is trying to go with highlighting the variations the histories of oppression along dimensions of sexuality vs race, but I think there’s a lot of problematic statements as well here, and that by riffing in tangent format, Smith isn’t really able to prioritize what he wants his messages to be. Like, I’m sure that he’s against oppression in it various forms, but that comes across secondary or tertiary in this interview vs making the point clear that the LGBT (non-intersectionally speaking) history of oppression is different than the black (non-intersectionally speaking) history of oppression. (And then there’s another thread of the discussion where he’s trying to bring intersectionality into the equation, but I think that needs even more attention than can be juggled in an interview like this.) When I hear someone say “gay rights are not civil rights” in a context like this, then how I interpret that is that that person wants to preserve the differences of oppressive histories rather than recognizing the commonalities of oppression that must be challenged and opposed.
A few problematic things that I noted from the interview is that he’s basically relying on LGBT folks to “pass” as heterosexual/heteronormative to avoid oppression (and I don’t like how he frames this as a conversation about appearing “ordinary” where ordinary is tied up to heteronormativity, gender normative performances, etc.,) I’m not fully sure I interpret his argument about why gay athletes shouldn’t worry — is he saying that BYU folks will set aside their heterosexist values because BYU is image-conscious, or is he saying that LGBT athletes will seek to pass because they don’t want to have any trouble in a heterosexist environment? My problem is that BOTH of these assertions are problematic — firstly, it’s not unheard of for Mormon cultures to revel in being apart from the rest of the world, so even if the church thought it would be politically unpopular to be anti-gay, they would still do it; they would just try to be as polite about it.
But the second assertion is also problematic because of how passing works.
I think this is a good way to highlight differences between race and sexuality, but also highlight the problems in this conversation. To some extent, the differences in how passing works as a POC vs how it works for LGBT folks does support that we are talking to some extent about different things: as any person of color can speak from experience, passing is generally not a choice. You can either be light enough to pass….or you may not be. So, I can see when comparing/contrasting the dimensions of race and sexuality, the “voluntariness” of passing seems to be a major distinction. And yet…in both situations, passing is a problematic ideal. Like, it would be extremely problematic to say that a light-skinned person of color should always pass as white if possible to therefore avoid racism. Firstly, racism shouldn’t be something that the oppressed have to try to minimize the risk of their exposure to. Secondly, the solution to racism shouldn’t be to concede that whiteness is “normal” or “ordinary” and that everyone should try to become white.
So, making a similar comparison to LGBT experience — the argument that gay athletes may have more choice to pass has a lot of similar problems in terms of what that says about the acceptability of being LGBT and so on.
I want to talk about another thing about passing. This talk about “ordinary” vs “stereotypical” drastically oversimplifies the issue. In reality, the choice to pass or the choice to be out can be as simple as a discussion of whether someone says their same-sex partner’s name and relationship to them or if they change names, stay silent, or minimize the relationship to “roommates” or whatever. Behaviors that would be “ordinary” among straight couples (holding hands, hugs, etc.,) become stereotypical or “broadcasting gayness” when it comes to same-sex couples.
Given Smith’s loud voice about racism, I was a bit surprised to see him make a distinction with the gay issue. I think he sees the Native American racism quite well, as demonstrated when he talked about commodity racism. But I agree with Andrew that Smith’s comment about “broadcasting gayness” is problematic.
While I understand that one generally can’t hide the color of one’s skin like they can one’s sexuality, being open about one’s gay partner is a big issue. If one has a gay partner, “broadcasting gayness” can be as simple as talking about one’s partner, not necessarily cross dressing or something like that, or to use some stereotypical language, “Being light in the loafers.” Even if one is “light in the loafers”, there isn’t a good reason to discriminate against them for jobs, wedding cakes, etc.. In that respect, the oppression angle that afflicts gays really isn’t much different than civil rights, IMO.
and of course, now that my comment gets quoted, I see autocorrect typos. I meant “holding hands,” lol.
I would like to add one thing…with respect to the conversation at hand, the question comparing race and sexuality is really trying to get at: can LGBT visibility and rights have a similar effect on BYU/Mormon culture as racial consciousness and racial protests had in the 60s.
The answer to this question here doesn’t necessarily depend on what a person’s views on LGBT rights vs racial rights are. I think, for example, that these are both issues where the great society is at tension with Mormonism and BYU, and so my prediction is the church is going to try to maintain an optimal level of tension for several more years, but there will come a point where the tension is too high and the church will update its policies.
(I can understand if people don’t think that will happen, though. But the thing I would say is…whether one believes the church will change or not, they don’t have to talk about whether LGBT people will pass or whether BYU will be on better behavior because the eyes of the world are upon it. That’s a separate question.)
>Are Gay rights similar or different than Civil Rights?
Um, LGBT rights *are* civil rights, thank you very much. Just like women getting the right to vote is a civil rights issue. Sorry to be pedantic, but this is important. Otherwise you’re either saying that we are a danger to society and should not have equal rights, or that we already have equal rights and are seeking preferential treatment.
Just because the oppression of queer people today does not match that of black people during the racial civil rights era does not mean that you get to downplay and dismiss it. When Darron says that queer rights are not civil rights because we haven’t suffered as much as blacks, he is gatekeeping. It’s akin to the older generation complaining that young folks have it too easy, that they had to walk uphill both ways to school with no shoes or socks in the snow. Whether or not you had it worse is irrelavent to the problems that exist, and the current issues are over the same things; in the legal sphere, we’d have what we need if gender and sexual orientation were a protected class like race is. How can you not call this a civil rights issue?
When I came out as transgender, my Mormon family basically threw me away. I spent the next year panicking that I’d lose my job or my apartment, especially since my family had been cosigning the lease.
I don’t want to relive everything that’s happened since then. I don’t want to discuss my fears now, or my fears for my friends, especially since the election. I just … I thought I knew what the word “persecution” meant. I did not. And I’m so fragile mentally, now that I’ve had it drilled into me that I’m not a person and don’t deserve to exist. Especially not in public.
Then I see straight, cis people being like “do gays and ‘transgenders’ deserve equal rights? let’s weigh the pros and cons,” as though “Jewelfox deserves to exist in public” and “Jewelfox should not be allowed to use public restrooms” are both valid points of view. As though you wouldn’t pitch an absolute fit if someone suggested outlawing temple marriage, or banning Mormons from restrooms.
Of course you have trouble figuring out this “civil rights” stuff. You have no idea what it’s like to have your rights taken away from you, to go from “person” to “unperson” in as long as it takes you to send an email. To suddenly have to beg for the right, not to express your “religious views” but simply to exist, even though you aren’t saying or doing anything that hurts anyone.
You think you know. A lot of you think that’s what this “religious freedom” stuff is all about. But you don’t. Not as a culture, and not as straight, cis individuals.
Also, for the record: You can’t neatly separate Black and LGBT+ issues.
Being gay or transgender is hard. Being gay or transgender and Black is deadly.
Jewelfox, Thank you for offering your essential perspective on this. You are right: straight, cis people debating about whether you deserve to exist in public is distressing and wrong on so many levels. I wish that the world was a kinder place for you.
I am inspired by the courage that you have shown in being who you are and facing the pain and rejection that you have endured, and living to tell the tale. I know it can be hard to speak up about, and fight for, something like LGBTQ+ equality when you have faced so much hatred, and really, after what you have been through, you shouldn’t have to educate ignorant people, but I do hope that you choose to keep up the good fight, because your experience of unwarranted persecution makes for a persepctive that should be difficult for even the most jaded bigot to ignore.
I am not brave. I am hurting and scared.
That is so understandable. I know I would feel the same way if I was in your shoes. My heart goes out to you and I am wishing I was your friend so I could give you a big hug (not that it would make things better, I know, but I really wish for you to feel loved and supported and valued for who you are.)
Do you have someone you can talk to about everything you are going through? This is too big of a burden for someone to shoulder on their own.