Everyone Misses This Huge Difference Between Gay Rights and Civil Rights

The gay rights movement is supposedly a civil rights movement. It isn’t.

And the reason isn’t because (as many say) practicing gay or lesbian sex, or crossdressing, is a behavior. There are ways to make that case, yes. There are also ways to get it terribly wrong. I’ve seen both. I don’t think either of them gets to the heart of the issue, though.

The gay rights movement isn’t a civil rights movement because it doesn’t share the real civil rights movement’s most important feature by far. That movement has never been about black rights. It’s always been about human rights.

Believe me? Take a look at how little mention of “black rights” you can find on the internet. Compare it to “civil rights,” “human rights,” and “gay rights.”

There are certain rights that belong to everyone just because they’re humans. In a free country everyone should have the opportunity to experience and enjoy those rights. Blacks and other minorities have been denied that opportunity, as if they didn’t quite fully deserve to be treated as humans — not because of what they did but because of who they were. Although the civil rights movement was (and remains in its current form) a painful and complicated social movement on many levels, on one level it’s really been quite simple: humans have rights, minorities are humans, so let’s treat them that way.

The gay rights movement has been completely different. Take marriage, for example. Gays and lesbians were never denied marriage simply because of who they were. They chose not to marry because marriage wasn’t something they wanted. Lots of people have suffered that disappointment down through history, often because the person they wanted to marry was unavailable or unwilling. It was never a human rights issue. It was a sad fact of life.

Now gays have led a movement to make marriage into something they could want, but not without changing the definition of marriage itself. Blacks and other minorities didn’t have to change anything to fit them that way. They didn’t need to: their movement was for human rights, not for special rights of their own.

“Equal access” bathrooms are similar. There was a time when minorities had to use different bathrooms from white men and women in some places. Those laws were rescinded, thankfully, and it happened without changing the meaning of the words “men” and “women” on restroom doors. Blacks were granted the opportunity to be treated as fully human, and that’s the only thing that changed.

Transgendered persons have wanted to be able to use the bathroom that matches their inner self-perception. For them to gain that privilege the very meaning of “men” and “women” has had to be turned upside down.

If the gay- and trans-rights movements were about civil rights they would be about granting the opportunity to experience the same rights others have enjoyed. Instead they’ve been about changing fundamental meanings of completely ordinary words like “marriage,” “man,” and “woman,” strictly to benefit and accommodate them.

LGBT persons aren’t being granted human rights; they’re acquiring “gay rights” and “trans rights.” The difference is huge, and the difference matters.