Yoruba Richen: What the gay rights movement learned from the civil rights movement

Yoruba Richen: What the gay rights movement learned from the civil rights movement

Election night 2008 was a night that tore me in half. It was the night that Barack Obama was elected. [One hundred and forty-three]
years after the end of slavery, and [43] years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, an African-American was elected president. Many of us never thought that this was possible until the moment that it happened. And in many ways, it was the climax of the black civil rights movement in the United States. I was in California that night, which was ground zero at the time for another movement: the marriage equality movement. Gay marriage was on the ballot in the form of Proposition 8, and as the election returns started to come in, it became clear that the right for same sex couples to marry, which had recently been granted
by the California courts, was going to be taken away. So on the same night that Barack Obama won his historic presidency, the lesbian and gay community suffered one of our most painful defeats. And then it got even worse. Pretty much immediately, African-Americans started to be blamed for the passage of Proposition 8. This was largely due to an incorrect poll that said that blacks had voted for the measure by something like 70 percent. This turned out not to be true, but this idea of pervasive black homophobia set in, and was grabbed on by the media. I couldn’t tear myself away from the coverage. I listened to some gay commentator say that the African-American community was notoriously homophobic, and now that civil rights had been achieved for us, we wanted to take away other people’s rights. There were even reports of racist epithets being thrown at some of the participants of the gay rights rallies that took place after the election. And on the other side, some African-Americans dismissed or ignored homophobia that was indeed real in our community. And others resented this comparison between gay rights and civil rights, and once again, the sinking feeling that two minority groups of which I’m both a part of were competing with each other instead of supporting each other overwhelmed and, frankly, pissed me off. Now, I’m a documentary filmmaker, so after going through my pissed off stage and yelling at the television and radio, my next instinct was to make a movie. And what guided me in making this film was, how was this happening? How was it that the gay rights movement was being pitted against the civil rights movement? And this wasn’t just an abstract question. I’m a beneficiary of both movements, so this was actually personal. But then something else happened after that election in 2008. The march towards gay equality accelerated at a pace that surprised and shocked everyone, and is still reshaping our laws and our policies, our institutions and our entire country. And so it started to become increasingly clear to me that this pitting of the two movements against each other actually didn’t make sense, and that they were in fact much, much more interconnected, and that, in fact, some of the way that the gay rights movement has been able to make such incredible gains so quickly is that it’s used some of the same tactics and strategies that were first laid down by the civil rights movement. Let’s just look at a few of these strategies. First off, it’s really interesting to see, to actually visually see, how quick the gay rights movement has made its gains, if you look at a few of the major events on a timeline of both freedom movements. Now, there are tons of milestones in the civil rights movement, but the first one we’re going to start with is the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. This was a protest campaign against Montgomery, Alabama’s segregation on their public transit system, and it began when a woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person. The campaign lasted a year, and it galvanized the civil rights movement like nothing had before it. And I call this strategy the “I’m tired of your foot on my neck” strategy. So gays and lesbians have been in society since societies began, but up until the mid-20th century, homosexual acts were still illegal in most states. So just 14 years after the Montgomery bus boycott, a group of LGBT folks took that same strategy. It’s known as Stonewall, in 1969, and it’s where a group of LGBT patrons fought back against police beatings at a Greenwich Village bar that sparked three days of rioting. Incidentally, black and latino LGBT folks were at the forefront of this rebellion, and it’s a really interesting example of the intersection of our struggles against racism, homophobia, gender identity and police brutality. After Stonewall happened, gay liberation groups sprang up all over the country, and the modern gay rights
movement as we know it took off. So the next moment to look at on the timeline is the 1963 March on Washington. This was a seminal event
in the civil rights movement and it’s where African-Americans called for both civil and economic justice. And it’s of course where Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech, but what’s actually less known is that this march was organized by a man named Bayard Rustin. Bayard was an out gay man, and he’s considered one of the most brilliant strategists of the civil rights movement. He later in his life became a fierce advocate of LGBT rights as well, and his life is testament to the intersection of the struggles. The March on Washington is one of the high points of the movement, and it’s where there was a fervent belief that African-Americans too could be a part of American democracy. I call this strategy the “We are visible and many in numbers” strategy. Some early gay activists were actually directly inspired by the march, and some had taken part. Gay pioneer Jack Nichols said, “We marched with Martin Luther King, seven of us from the Mattachine Society” — which was an early gay rights organization — “and from that moment on, we had our own dream about a gay rights march of similar proportions.” Several years later, a series of marches took place, each one gaining the momentum of the gay freedom struggle. The first one was in 1979, and the second one took place in 1987. The third one was held in 1993. Almost a million people showed up, and people were so energized and excited by what had taken place, they went back to their own communities and started their own political and social organizations, further increasing the visibility of the movement. The day of that march, October 11, was then declared National Coming Out Day, and is still celebrated all over the world. These marches set the groundwork for the historic changes that we see happening today in the United States. And lastly, the “Loving” strategy. The name speaks for itself. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia, and invalidated all laws that prohibited interracial marriage. This is considered one of the Supreme Court’s landmark civil rights cases. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, and that made the federal government only have to recognize marriages between a man and a woman. In United States v. Windsor, a 79-year-old lesbian named Edith Windsor sued the federal government when she was forced to pay estate taxes on her deceased wife’s property, something that heterosexual
couples don’t have to do. And as the case wound its way through the lower courts, the Loving case was repeatedly cited as precedent. When it got to the Supreme Court in 2013, the Supreme Court agreed, and DOMA was thrown out. It was incredible. But the gay marriage movement has been making gains for years now. To date, 17 states have passed laws allowing marriage equality. It’s become the de facto battle for gay equality, and it seems like daily, laws prohibiting it are being challenged in the courts, even in places like Texas and Utah, which no one saw coming. So a lot has changed since that night in 2008 when I felt torn in half. I did go on to make that film. It’s a documentary film, and it’s called “The New Black,” and it looks at how the African-American community is grappling with the gay rights issue in light of the gay marriage movement and this fight over the meaning of civil rights. And I wanted to capture some of this incredible change that was happening, and as luck or politics would have it, another marriage battle started gearing up, this time in Maryland, where African-Americans make up 30 percent of the electorate. So this tension between gay rights and civil rights started to bubble up once again, and I was lucky enough to capture how some people were making the connection between the movements this time. This is a clip of Karess Taylor-Hughes and Samantha Masters, two characters in the film, as they hit the streets of Baltimore and try to convince potential voters. (Video) Samantha Masters: That’s what’s up,
man, this is a righteous man over here. Okay, are you registered to vote? Man: No.
Karess Taylor-Hughes: Okay. How old are you? Man: 21.
KTH: 21? You gotta get registered to vote. We got to get you registered to vote. Man: I ain’t voting on no gay shit. SM: Okay, why? What’s up?
Man: I ain’t with that. SM: That’s not cool. Man: What made you be gay?
SM: So what made you be straight? So what made you be straight? Man 2: You can’t answer that question. (Laughter) KSM: I used to not have the same rights as you, but I know that because a black man like yourself stood up for a woman like me, I know that I’ve got the same opportunities. So you, as a black man, have the opportunity to stand up for somebody else. Whether you’re gay or not, these are your brothers and sisters out here, and they need you to represent. Man 2: Who is you to tell somebody who they can’t have sex with, who they can’t be with? They ain’t got that power. Nobody has that power to say,
you can’t marry that young lady. Who has that power? Nobody. SM: But you know what? Our state has put the power in your hands, and so what we need you to do is vote for, you gonna vote for 6. Man 2: I got you. SM: Vote for 6, okay?
Man 2: I got you. KSM: All right, do y’all need
community service hours? You do? All right, you can always volunteer with us to get community service hours. Y’all want to do that? We feed you. We bring you pizza. (Laughter) (Applause) Yoruba Richen: Thank you. What’s amazing to me about that clip that we just captured as we were filming is, it really shows how Karess understands the history
of the civil rights movement, but she’s not restricted by it. She doesn’t just limit it to black people. She sees it as a blueprint for expanding rights to gays and lesbians. Maybe because she’s younger, she’s like 25, she’s able to do this a little bit more easily, but the fact is that Maryland voters did pass that marriage equality amendment, and in fact it was the first time that marriage equality was directly voted on and passed by the voters. African-Americans supported it at a higher level than had ever been recorded. It was a complete turnaround from that night in 2008 when Proposition 8 was passed. It was, and feels, monumental. We in the LGBT community have gone from being a pathologized and reviled and criminalized group to being seen as part of the great human quest for dignity and equality. We’ve gone from having to hide our sexuality in order to maintain our jobs and our families to literally getting a place at the table with the president and a shout out at his second inauguration. I just want to read what he said at that inauguration: “We the people declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal. It is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.” Now we know that everything is not perfect, especially when you look at what’s happening with the LGBT rights issue internationally, but it says something about how far we’ve come when our president puts the gay freedom struggle in the context of the other great freedom struggles of our time: the women’s rights movement and the civil rights movement. His statement demonstrates not only the interconnectedness of those movements, but how each one borrowed and was inspired by the other. So just as Martin Luther King learned from and borrowed from Gandhi’s tactics of civil disobedience and nonviolence, which became a bedrock of
the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement saw what worked in the civil rights movement, and they used some of those same strategies and tactics to make gains at an even quicker pace. Maybe one more other reason for the relative quick progress of the gay rights movement. Whereas a lot of us continue to still live in racially segregated spaces, LGBT folks, we are everywhere. We are in urban communities and rural communities, communities of color, immigrant communities, churches and mosques and synagogues. We are your mothers and brothers and sisters and sons. And when someone that you love or a family member comes out, it may be easier to support their quest for equality. And in fact, the gay rights movement asks us to support justice and equality from a space of love. That may be the biggest, greatest gift that the movement has given us. It calls on us to access that which is most universal and most intimate: a love of our brother and our sister and our neighbor. I just want to end with a quote by one of our greatest freedom fighters who’s no longer with us, Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Nelson Mandela led South Africa after the dark and brutal days of Apartheid, and out of the ashes of that
legalized racial discrimination, he led South Africa to become the first country in the world to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation within its constitution. Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” So as these movements continue on, and as freedom struggles
around the world continue on, let’s remember that not only are they interconnected, but they must support and enhance each other for us to be truly victorious. Thank you. (Applause)


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    Why the dislikes? It is a comparative theoretical analysis. If you disagree with it argue the differences. Don't dislike because you don't like gay people people of African dissent. 

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    Olav Larsen

    Wow this chick is in a lot of communities. 

    African American, tick.
    LGBT, tick.

    I wish I was in a community, it sounds so special.

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    I need to see this documentary she made. It sounds incredibly interesting. Every day I'm reminded of why I love TED.

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    Not a great fan of this talk. I am super pro LGBT and Civil Rights and  I adore her ambition and power, but she lacks speaking talent. There isn't a continuous flow in her talk and her arguments lack strong backing. I really wish she'd prepared her talk more, because the content was interesting. More power to the LGBT movement!! 😀

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    Just using the term "Gay Rights" indicates that there is a higher level of right and a special status for a small minority of the population.  Using the term "rights" beyond the meaning given in our constitution and granted us as inalienable by God is wrong.

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    god only knows

    Typical pro gay speechs. Im sick of the pro gay movement whom readly say LGBT and then forget the BT section of the community in every sentence after that. It makes me sick how gays look down upon both transgender community members and bisexualy in general. Every sentence she announces, gay this and gay that. What about the trans and the bi's

    Such a shame that sections of the community demand recognission in one breath and in the other remove recognission from the others by failing to include them in the history and there on going struggle to exsist.

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    Lizzie Goldsack

    I don't hear much racism now but homophobic. It's abit crazy that my parents will teach me to never use racist terms etc but say all this homophobic crap. It's a powerful comparison, you can compare what you like for an interesting result. I think the talk was great, really informative 🙂

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    What did the gay rights movement really learn from the civil rights movement? Joe Schmoe will give you his half-hearted support if you stick "rights" in your name, even if you really mean giving one minority group more rights than everyone else.

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    Not gonna like or dislike the vid. It was an ok vid. Wasnt impressed or anything, but regardless I still support LGBT

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    Wow! This is such a non issue in Europe (were I live) we still have the odd nut jobs who hate gay people but. But generally we have accepted gay rights as a fact and moved on a long long time ago.
    Maybe it because intolerant Christian groups have very little power over here.

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    Camy Idy

    Why so many dislikes ? Black rights, Gay rights, White rights, we're all equal! We have to admit it once and for all !! To those who are saying "Gay are the new black" that's just so damn true! 
    When i see homophobe black people, i'm so pissed off ! I mean come on you can't repeat history, we have to learn from our mistakes !! Stop being so stubborn and learn to accept differences !! 

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    Gays have every right to be Unnatural , but thay have no right to shove their dribble in the face of our children .

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    noobs in action

    Has she moved to the US from Africa? I thought she is from Harlem. Why does she call herself African American? What is so special in it? No one calls himself British American, Canadian American, Korean American, yet African American – here you go. 

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    Daniel Aparicio

    I am getting kind of tired of al this LGBT stuff, it's like they are trying to force it down our throats, i think that acting like if they were a diferent race and demand rights that way only segregates them more

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    Tomislav Tomić

    People that was part of real civil rights are with reason offended with those gay "rights" Movement. They all fought for human rights equality by the law for everyone.
    Now few people are offended because they have exatcly the same rights like everyone else.
    Those gay "rights" movement is so out of wack that remainds me on PETA

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    N Kh

    As a forum and market place of ideas, Ted should also include speakers who can provide the other perspective on the homosexual agenda — how redefining marriage and family isn't progress for society but a retrogression, and over the long term can only result in more brokenness and deceptions in people's lives, esp. for the vulnerable young.

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    "In every life no matter how full or empty one's purse, there is tragedy, it is the one promise life always fulfils, thus happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes and to add to other people's store of it."

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    Rachel Simson

    I dont mind what gay people do but why do I have to have their private sexual identity
    shoved in my face !  Equality in all ways always f 

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    i like how those group still believe theyre fighting for equality…i mean sure some people in those groups are genuinely fighting for equality, but the majority seems to be fighting agaisnt equality.

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    I'm glad to live in the Netherlands that in 2001 was the first country to legalize gay marriage. Against all expectations, society did not collapse and the institution of marriage did not become void all of a sudden. Of course we still got some nutjobs being homophobic and sometimes even violent, but among the people I know it's very weird not to support gay marriage.

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    Netsanet Ashenafi

    why is TED becoming a platform for the promotion of "the gay agenda" ??? why not give the same chance for religion? is it not worth spreading? give ravi, or Paul washer a chance… believe me they have something worth spreading!
    (and here comes the hate… wait for it…. wait for it….. )

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    Joseph Ang

    I hate this bullshit. Obama is not a god, he's just another president. There is no reason to think he is better or worst because he is half-black

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    To be honest, I think in the next 20 – 30 years we won't be arguing that much over those issues imo. Society will either be more accepting or less accepting of people's race, religions and sexual orientations but I will bet for more accepting. Those strategies of divide and conquer cannot hold on forever and with determination, our societies and people will be more inclusive. I firmly believe that manipulative beliefs (making one group think it has privileges or is superior) and state of global economy is what is causing people to isolate themselves and breed individualism and selfish happiness at all cost. There is enough room for everybody to grow and be happy.

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    How could people dislike this? Really? I saw that and was expecting a terrible overly-race charged diatribe. But it was nothing of the sort. What's with you people?

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    Anissa Mercado - Whosoever

    I agree w Joseph here I'm sick of this gay mental and visual indoctrination and suffocation!

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    R. Leib.

    I can't stand how people like Samantha Power exploit gay and human rights, pretending like she cares about such things just to use as a pretext for intervention or invasion.

    It's a slap in the face to all those people who GENUINELY care about gay rights.

    Even those who genuinely think homosexuality is morally wrong are being more honest than someone like POWER.

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    Tell you what freaks,I'll recognize your right to moral depravity if you stop forcing people to accept you as normal. Not gonna happen? Thats what I figured. Normally I'd tell you to blow me, but you freaks would like that wouldn't you?

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    Bearded Vulture

    gay rights is filling a deficit, of rights that have been denied to people simply because of sexual orientation.

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    hannah Reece

    So this is my opinion, I'm a Christian, who also happens to be a Republican. I know what you're thinking. That I'm a "gay hater." Which is not true at all. Some of the liberal views make very good points, such as gay marriage. A lot of Christians try to say "Gay rights are a sin." And according to The Bible they're right. BUT not every one in the US is a Christian, and making it illegal for 2 people to get married because of their gender is wrong. Also, 100% of Christians have sinned, and 100% of Christians will sin again. Another point, Divorce is legal. Divorce is a sin. But over 50% of marriages today end in divorce. In God's eyes, every sin is just as bad as the other. Meaning if you lied, and someone else killed someone, then you're just as bad as the person who killed someone. So saying "Yeah I've lied before, but they're gay." Is a COMPLETELY INVALID response.

    My point is Gay Marriage isn't wrong. It's sad that it's more legal to hate someone than it is to love someone. I would also like to point out that not all Christians are terrible judgmental people. You might have had experience with one, but that doesn't mean we're all like that. True Christians know that the in order to judge someone you must be perfect and have never sinned once in your life. True Christians also know that you love everyone unconditionally.

    Thank you to the people who kept reading after the first sentence.

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    RJ .Hodges

    The ignorance in this comment section shows just how far LGBT rights movement has to go. It's sad but the world seems to be regressing rather than progressing. I hope those of you filled with hate find peace and love soon

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    Im Blastoise

    Missouri approves gay marriage. Buchanan County and pseudo-Christian redneck white trash refuse to abide by the law.
    Read the comments section and provide your opinion.

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    Jolly Butterworth

    Transgenderism is being neutralized as the way and the path, of gay rights, even though many young gay people are thrilled to come out that way. Feminism is being turned cold and bitter, but powerful, to remove it as a healing ally. This is clarifying to rights in a political system, but is destroying the culture outside of the strictest authoritarianism about mine and yours, and is deliberately meant to defend capitalism. The worst off victims may well be living defenders of the older nature of the female giving spirit!

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    Jordan Ede

    To the LGBT community, I am a redneck straight ally. I just want you to know that you have at least 1 beer drinking, tobacco chewing, truck driving, atv running, horse riding, gun toting, hunting, fishing, conservative country boy who stands by your side

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    husker hammer

    only issue I have is the idiocy that the average American and especially young people think the % of our gay population is 30-40% when in reality it's less than 4%. But when we have a media that covers for obama everyday they need to have something to discuss besides his crappy job performance. I could care less about it except quit purposley targeting Christian businesses with the Gay SS. Go after the Muslims..they're the ones who stone homosexuals to death and throw them off buildings….go ask a Muslim baker to make you a cake.

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    Susie Arviso

    The way to legalize immorality, is to change the definition of what's always been immoral – to moral, by the crocodile tears of the immoral. The objective? … gain enough sympathy and play victim with unrelenting appeal, and you can get anything you want from those lacking in principles.

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    David Pena

    Great,  I could listen to her all day, loved it.  But the only thing I have to ad is I think we haven't got the support we need from President Obama, I just think he could do much more than he's doing for the movement

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    Being gay is not the same as being black. Im tired of this ridiculous comparison. You can chooose not to reveal your sexuality. In fact, your sexual orientation should not be your defining characteristic. Why do people need to know you are even gay in the first place? Black people can't hide their skin color. You are instantly identified by it whether you choose to acknowlege it or not.

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    Richard Thomas IV

    Despite the Black Community being overwhelmingly Southern Baptist Christian and adamantly opposed to homosexuality, groups like Black Lives Matter has co-opted black rights for the purpose of LBGT and SJW movements. Two of the three founders of BLM, Patrisse Cullors & Alicia Garza are lesbian feminists. not a coincidence,

    You cannot equate the gay struggle with the black struggle. The LGBT is a movement to practice a certain behavior, the struggle of black people is a movement to be treated like a human being.

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    What about civil rights for Christians denied jobs and the millions of American voters who were disenfranchised by an activist court? What about the first amendment, the constitution, decent human behavior? Do you just ignore all that?

    MLK would be vomiting in his grave, to have his life's work associated with one of the most anti-constitutional, anti-freedom joke movements out there that's persecuted and stolen more rights from American citizens than any other in decades. Fascism on the march waving a rainbow flag, it's utterly disgusting. But we shall overcome, and I look forward to the day that we do.

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    Afrikan Intelligence

    When black people were being shipped into the western world as slaves, how many of those blacks were recorded as being gay? 0

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    Afrikan Intelligence

    Just like one stupid video I watched asking whether Homosexuality is Afrikan? No it is not. THE CULTURE doesn't exist in our methodology. You learnt how to be gay from WHITE people. Don't bring that philosophy to the BLACK land.

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    Princess Jauregui-Hansen

    very interesting talk. Reinforcing the idea of all of us fighting for equality together instead of minorities putting each other down

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    Conner Fields

    Bill Clinton should do a candid interview with some interviewer (set in an office, maybe) about why he passed DOMA, and why he wanted to end or transform "welfare as we know it".

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    risk sikrikak

    Get another symbol for your movement, the rainbow is already taken, GODS promise to us not to flood the earth again, that is my rainbow, HIS promise to us.So f..k off with your vitriol, keep it to yourself.LEAVE THE RAINBOW ALONE , get another symbol please.

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    Clark Ron

    I never heard any of this happening. I voted for Barrack Obama and never looked back. I never regretted it myself. Much love ♥️ to everyone.

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    mark montgomery


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