Both communities have suffered from institutionalized (legal) inequality. For the African-American community it was separate but equal and Jim Crow laws. Black folks had to endure discrimination in the areas of housing, education and employment. As a black man or woman you had to sit on the back of the bus, enter a building through the back door and could not drink from a water fountain used by white people. For the LGBT community there is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Don't Ask Don't Tell, and employment discrimination. Same gender loving people cannot marry or serve in the military and in many states can be fired just because of who they love.
Both communities have been victims of spiritual abuse. Religious leaders have used the Bible to keep gay folks and black folks as second class citizens unworthy of equality. Many have used the curse of Ham to justify slavery and the indentured servitude of black folks. It was said that the verse "cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall be his bretheren" was God's condemnation of black folks. His punishment was their eternal laboring to whites. For the LGBT community, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the verse "man shall not lie with man as with woman" have been repeatedly used to turn gay folks into monsters and sinners. Interestingly enough, last week when I say Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (a play set in 1920s Chicago). In it they made the comment "God hates niggas." Nowadays I'm repeated bombarded with the notion that "God hates fags."
Both communities had to go through their own process to develop self-acceptance, self-love and even self-pride. Up until the civil rights movement there were many blacks that suffered from lowered self-esteem, lack of self-worth and even some self hatred. Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were essential in shifting the black mentality towards one that accepted that black is beautiful, black is intelligent and black is worhty of equality. The LGBT community too had to have a paradigm shift in its overall mentality. Same gender loving folks felt the need to exist as an invisible community and were labeled as having a mental disorder. Then during the revolutionary days of the 60s (a time when we saw women fighting for equality, the sexual revolution, and the anti-war struggle) we suddenly saw an emergence of a gay identity. Groups were popping up that refused to be silent about their sexuality. And then Stonewall happened which was the catalyst for greater gay visibility and activism, forcing the LGBT agenda to a national campaign.
"Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud" was the mantra James Brown used to spread to the word to the world (black folks and white folks)that it was okay to accept and to love brown skinned folks. "I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it" was the phrased screamed at many gay parades to relay to the masses that same gender loving folks were out of the closet, in the streets and ready to fight for their equality.
The primary reason many black folks are quick to reprimand the gay community for the comparison is because they don't think it is fair to liken the struggles of black folks with the struggles of gay folks. Many don't think you can compare slavery, Jim Crow and lynchings to marriage equality and openly serving in the military. Well if you look at things that simplistically then I would have to agree, the comparison just isn't there. But things are never really that simple. We are still looking at a civil rights issue and I would even argue, we are still looking at a human rights issue.
Gay folks are still being killed just for being gay. There is no denying it. It is STILL happening today. And as long as we continue to deny the LGBT community the equality it deserves then we are telling people it is okay to treat this community as different, inferior and less than. People will continue to verbally harrass LGBT folks. People will continue to physically, mentally and spiritually abuse LGBT folks. And people will continue to kill LGBT folks. And no I am not exaggerating. Mattew Shephard was not the first nor was he the last person killed in this country for being gay.
For me this is bigger than comparing who has the worst story to tell. For me this is about "injustice anywhere." As a member of both communities I have to admit both sides have atrocities they can claim. Having studied both histories again I will say there are definite parallels between the two communities. But I won't get bogged down with the who had it worse debate. I will take pride in knowing their are black civil rights leaders that are a brilliant enough to be LGBT allies in the current struggle. And their are LGBT leaders that are bright enough to see that the gay community is indeed a rainbow and is strongest when it acknowledges and embraces all of its members.