Civil Rights Day for Some

Happy Civil Rights Day for Some! I remember when I first heard of Martin Luther King. It was in conjunction with a discussion about workers’ rights in the fields in California. Back in ’63, the War was only on the lips of a few, racism was beginning to be discussed, and the War on Poverty was being talked about as it related to (back then) “Negroes”. Understand this – at that time, no one called someone Black – that was considered an insult. African Americans did not exist as a name, so, if you were being polite you referred to someone as “Colored” or “Negro”.

As for us Mexicans, we had not even considered being Latino or Hispanic. We were just Mexicans and, if you were lucky, Mexican American. My father often referred to himself as a Spanish American. Talk about confusion.

So it began, this Civil Rights movement. It had begun in California and Texas with LULAC and the GI Forum busting open segregated cemeteries and Mexican-only schools in Orange County, California (Mendez vs. Westminster). Mexican Americans sued to end laws forbidding miscegenation (successfully we might add) See Lopez. All the desegregation cases that eventually became the law of the land began with a Mexican American plaintiff in California or Texas by 1947.

At that, time there was no movement that involved sexual orientation. Now, one must understand that there were homosexual lawyers and volunteers who worked with us in these matters. But it was not an issue of their Civil Rights but all Civil Rights and the issues were racism, war, and poverty.

For the next 10 years, we marched, we were arrested, we were shot and beaten, and some were murdered por la Causa. The cause gave a national face to the Mexican American. The country was not ready for us to sit at the dinner table. It was an easy thing for the entire movement to be put in terms of (now) Black and White. The cause of Mexican American Civil Rights, such as immigration reform, became secondary to the overall purpose of Civil Rights.

Since then, we have had to forge ahead repeatedly (often without the support of the other minorities). We have done well so far, especially here in California. The elected Latinos and Chicanos in the state legislature and Lt. Governor’s office here in California are good examples.

But now to the question of the day: Why is it that the Gay and Lesbian movement leaders have never taken their rainbow progressive flags and marched in large numbers with those who seek immigration reform or in today’s MLK marches all over the US? Why did they abandon us?

The progressives have failed miserably in dealing with the alliances that need to be formed if they are going to move forward to real legal equality. They have failed miserably to reach out to the Mexican American religious and business community that was the backbone of the Chicano movement. These aspects of our community have helped to elect the first openly gay speaker of the state legislature in California.

However, the election of Speaker Perez is an act not seen by the Mexican American community as anything related to the full extension of Civil Rights to the Gay community. If the Gay community seeks to have alliances in their battle, they must do what we did, that is forging alliances without reservation. Consensus does not mean total acceptance of the beliefs of a community. It does mean that there has to be an open discussion of those beliefs and why the extension of Civil Rights to one group does not incur damage to the rights of another.

This week, I watched an African American women proclaim how in her life she is able to vote, own property, and marry without restraint. These same women stood against same-sex marriage as god’s will. I do not remember the Constitution being God’s will, but rather the will of men who sought to assure that “god” would not run America. I do have a question for those who believe that god orders same sex marriage be banned. Does god also grant divorces in the courts of America or is that a judge who follows the law of men? When god can grant a divorce in our civil courts then god can forbid the Civil Rights of Gay men and women.


When the Gay movement gets it that this argument needs to be made in our churches and our Chamber of Commerce meetings, then maybe they will get our assistance and alliance and they will be on the road to full civil rights for all as they once were.

Steven J. Ybarra

Steven J. Ybarra JD is a retired civil rights attorney who operates a consultant company in California. He is a member of the California Democratic State Party and is Chair of the Chicano Latino Caucus Voting Rights Committee and a long time political activist. Contact Steven at: This article is copyright by Steven J. Ybarra JD, originally published in but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media if this entire credit paragraph is attached.

Published by the LA Progressive on January 22, 2010
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