Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Peculiar Minorities

In college I discovered to my surprise that the gay community and the disabled community there felt a special affinity toward one another. I have seen this elsewhere as well. I did not know why those particular minorities felt they shared a special bond until I realized those two groups are, in the same sort of way, rather peculiar minorities.

They are different from other minorities because, whatever genetic component there is to being gay or disabled, the nature of the inheritance is more akin to a "recessive" trait, and often one which only manifests later in life. One obvious consequence is that the gay and disabled communities cut across all other minorities: They include men and women of all races and cultures. A less obvious but perhaps more important consequence is that gays and the disabled almost always find themselves minorities even within their own families, and yet thanks to their families the majority of them have enjoyed the socio-economic benefits of being born into the majority.

So on the one hand, then, members of those minorities share a peculiar form of loneliness, and perhaps then a peculiar need to form special communities of their own. Yet on the other hand they do not suffer from the accumulated burden of generations of oppression because there is no continuity between generations. (Another consequence of this lack of shared heritage is that the generational divides within these communities are more pronounced than within others.)

Thus when some African-American leaders dispute the similarity between their civil rights movement and the civil rights movement for gays and lesbians, one must admit they have a point. The accumulated burden of centuries of slavery and oppression, that "peculiar institution" so central to the African-American experience and the legal battles that followed, finds no parallel in the gay civil rights movement. Attempts to draw that parallel are at best misguided, if not downright offensive.

Perhaps then we should look to the struggle to secure the rights of the disabled as an important model from which to draw parallels with the fight for gay rights. In that case the central emotive argument would not be, "We are proud of our differences," but rather, "We are your friends, your parents, and your children." Instead of emphasizing the differences, we must emphasize the sameness.

Likewise, integration into the "mainstream" has been the overriding goal of the disabled, and perhaps that should become a rallying cry for gays and lesbians as well--who must overcome that peculiar sense of isolation that can drive them to band together even more so than other minorities do. The more common, more radical stance has been to eschew the trappings of the mainstream and form separate enclaves, with a brash (and invented) subculture. And I have said before that I believe gay marriage is actually a rather conservative form of social and legal re-integration of gay life back into the family and the larger community.

Of course, many gays and lesbians will fear to equate their struggle with that of the disabled, lest homosexuality be seen as akin to a disability. I admit to a similar concern. But in truth, I believe that unfortunate fear speaks more of the remaining social prejudice against the disabled than anything else.


Raised By Republicans said...

There is also class. Class correlates rather strongly with racial minorities but not with either sexuality or disabled bodies.

The Law Talking Guy said...

It is absolutely correct that there is a difference between discrimination against individuals based on individual traits (sexual orientation, disability, age, hair color) and against groups that encompass families, cultures, etc. It is about the level of isolation. You can't "segregate" yourself from gays or disabled people without doing violence ot your own family. Jews and blacks are much easier to alienate.

It should not be surprising that the progress has been much, much swifter gays and the disabled.

The more interesting comparison is with women's rights. This division cuts right down every family. Every man had a mother. Because the subordination of women was institutionalized within the family, it has proven much harder to uproot. By contrast, the exclusion of gays and the disabled has been easier, because the family unit was not predicated on their exclusion.