Suppressing the Black Diaspora at Stanford

Recently Stanford University joined the list of colleges embroiled in debates about free speech, hate speech, and homosexuality.  Unfortunately, I am caught in the middle of this particular controversy.

The Stanford Anscombe Society organized an April conference designed around media strategies for defenders of traditional families. Since I have been internationally active in defending three children’s rights – (1) a child’s right to be born free, not bought or sold, (2) a child’s right to a mom and dad, and (3) a child’s right to connect with their origins – the organizers invited me to deliver a keynote on the first night of the conference.

A melee ensued, incited by queer students who spent little time thinking about rights #1 and #3 and immediately zeroed in on my advocacy for children’s rights to a mother and father. I have often looked at slavery as a parallel to the market for trafficked children and gametes, a market encouraged by gay parenting advocates. In accordance with the anti-intellectual press releases issued by GLAAD, festooned with historical ignorance and political hysteria, I was deemed anti-gay and my presence itself discriminatory.

I’m not allowed to refer to my own scholarship in American Studies

My scholarly expertise is in early American literature and I have studied a great deal about slavery. Because of this, I have critiqued the notion of a legal “right to have a child” in the context of past excesses. 

In the most recent Michigan court case over gay marriage, the whole fight over the "right to marry" was predicated on two lesbians' "right to adopt" each others' children. This means that marriage rights imply the right to have authority (control) over a human being who isn't one's child, whether the child wants to be subject to such authority or not. I've been clear that such jurisprudence echoes the original Article IV of the US Constitution which, prior to the abolition of slavery, guaranteed citizens the right to own other people. 

When you hear the canard from gay marriage enthusiasts that kids of same-sex couples need "protections," this is equivalent to what was originally in Article IV, stipulating that if someone had a contract over another person, nobody could "discharge" the bonded person from service. Such is a drastic inversion of the legitimate intent of adoption, which is meant to be a fulfillment of society's duty to parentless children, not the fulfillment of adult desires for captive children in their homes. Having studied how slavery proliferated and got worse during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, I am not afraid to share my concern about the precedent it would set for gays to claim that the Constitution affords them a right that we fought a whole Civil War to prove human beings could not exercise.

In the watered down, oversimplified world of gay bloggers, I was the evil bigot who compared gay parents to slave owners. Some even summarized my years of research as, “he equates gay marriage to slavery.” This was, in the eyes of students and administrators, beyond the pale.

I was not the only one. I was one of three speakers named by a queer graduate students’ group at Stanford as so dangerous and bigoted that we should not be given university backing of any kind. Both the Stanford graduate and undergraduate student councils voted by large majorities to block funding to the Stanford Anscombe Society.

Silenced for being part black

The racial implications of the Stanford queer students’ omerta are deeply disturbing. Consider this: I am the descendant of black slaves through my Puerto Rican mother, who was also a lesbian and who raised me with the help of her lifelong female partner. These two phenomena – slavery and same-sex parenting – converge in me.

It is not surprising, therefore, that when I write about one, I often find myself reflecting on the other phenomenon. Both slavery and same-sex parenting involve a certain amount of uprooting, a loss of family connections, and alienation from one’s own heritage.

I oppose same-sex parenting (in most but not all cases) as vigorously as I do, not merely because of my experience as the child of a lesbian, though that is definitely a contributing factor to my point of view. I also oppose same-sex parenting because of seeing what buried racial secrets and lost familial connections did to the generations that came before mine. Slavery was only abolished in Puerto Rico in the 1870s, so the issue comes very close to my generation. It was not until 2006 that a member of my family could come out with the truth that we were actually descendants of people who’d been enslaved.  When I was a child, I was severely punished for asking my grandfather if he’d come from slaves—after I watched Roots and noticed, at the age of seven, a similarity between some of the characters in the miniseries and the faces in our family photographs.

Seeing what slavery did to our family tree, I believe it is wrong to mangle people’s lineage under other guises when it isn’t necessary—even if it is obvious that nineteenth-century slavery is obviously more physically abusive than is being separated from a biological parent in order to make two gay guardians happy. There are questions of degree, naturally, but the kind of problem posed is consistent: Removing children from their origins and involving cash transactions to establish ownership of people.

My mother’s lesbianism was an open secret but came to light earlier than my family’s blackness did. By the time my mother passed way in 1990, the fact that her will appointed her female lover executor of the estate made it rather undeniable. It would take another ten years for some members of my mother’s generation to admit that we were part black, or in Northamerican standards, simply black people.

My grandparents were equally uncomfortable with both topics.

Dealing with these two secrets, race and sexual orientation, took a toll on me. The toll was rather similar: the shame, the sense of resentment over past wrongs, the sense of loss over broken branches in the family tree. The absent father who gave me my Asian facial features seemed to exist within a continuum, one that included other ancestors who were absent and left mysterious because of the traumatic conditions of slavery and post-slavery. My father’s absence was tied to my mother’s decision to get into a lifelong romance with another woman, whereas past ancestors were erased either because they were white abusers or they were too black and might bring embarrassment to the family name. None of this is healthy or fair to children caught in the middle.

These post-slavery dynamics played out in relationships and caused children to be blinded to who their parents really were. My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all removed from their mothers’ care at different points because of familial conflicts. Then I came along, and the upheavals around me followed along with the similar pattern.

According to Stanford, I cannot be all that I am simultaneously

If I follow the logic of Stanford’s queer objectors, I can be the descendant of slaves and criticize slavery, but I must never relate that to my experience as the child of a lesbian. It seems they might accept criticism of same-sex parenting from a white child of gay parents, or criticism of slavery from the black child of straight parents, but someone like me cannot criticize both things at once. The end result is, of course, that I cannot say anything at all.

It is noteworthy that Leland Stanford earned his fortune by using Chinese immigrants in terribly exploitative conditions to build railroads on land taken from Native Americans and from Mexico. I suppose we’re all tainted. Silencing racial connections must come naturally.

In the end, GLAAD lost this one

As it turns out, I will be speaking at Stanford after all. (At least that's the current plan.) The Stanford administration had to back down after there was a pro-free-speech backlash in the press, and now they are cooperating with the Anscombe Society to make the event possible.

GLAAD seems to have sent out their bloggers and troublemakers to goad people in Palo Alto into taking on the Anscombe Society, with the goal of blocking me and Ryan Anderson from speaking. Like in the Phil Robertson case, I guess GLAAD thought they had strong enough connections that they could just snap their fingers, and careers would end, and silence would reign. They're not as powerful as they thought they were.

Robert Oscar Lopez edits English Manif.