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Not much progress on the black homophobia front

National Black Justice Coalition board member and blogger Jasmyne Cannick had a dust up with TV and radio commentator Tavis Smiley over the lack of any serious discussion about the rising vocal homophobia in the black community (particularly coming from the faith-based cash infused pulpits) at the recent State of the Black Union event in Houston. The broadcast of the Smiley event was an opportunity to reach over 80 million people via C-SPAN, and Jasmyne was disappointed in what she saw.

The absence of any substantive conversation about the divisive tactics and issues used to distract Blacks and keep us at odds at this year’s State of the Black Union hosted by television and radio commentator Tavis Smiley in Houston, Texas, was deeply disappointing and frustrating. Often billed as the national forum for discussing the issues that are most important to Black America, this year’s forum was used to launch Smiley’s Covenant With Black America, a comprehensive plan on how to build a stronger Black America.

One fact that we cannot ignore is that Black pulpits continue to be for sale to the highest bidder and Black votes are being sold to the GOP under the guise of protecting America’s moral values.

Going into 2008 presidential election, Black Americans are more divided than ever on issues of political ideology and moral values. So any meaningful exchange about Blacks and political power must include divisive wedges that keep us from that power.

Looking back at how and why Blacks voted the way they did in Ohio in 2004, it is crystal clear that gay marriage is an issue for Black Americans and a definite hindrance to us having a united political voice on the issues that matter the most to us.

During the multitude of speechifying made during the Black Union, there was a huge emphasis placed on holding both the Black and the majority leadership accountable. When we fail to address socially and politically critical issues like gay marriage, we fail our community.

…The courting of Black pastors by Republicans using moral values as common ground is problematic if we’re trying to build a unified voice and vote for the best policies for Blacks. Dancing around this issue doesn’t do us any good. It’s happening, we know it, and we know who’s doing it.

Accountability doesn’t begin and end with whoever is in the White House. We are also accountable to each other and as long as take the attitude that our lesbian sisters and gay brothers issues aren’t all over our issues, we’ll continue to allow ourselves to divided and conquered.

Not talking about it is bad. to Not wanting to talk about is worse.

That is a reasonable bit of commentary, but Jasmyne’s piece obviously hit home with Smiley, because he went off on her in a Bill O’Reilly bullying fit. How gauche; this is so embarrassing.

Well low and behold, a few minutes after my op-ed was sent out on the newswire I get a call from a very irate Tavis Smiley accusing me of “misleading my readers.”

According to Tavis, “I obviously hadn’t read the book.”

I explained to him that I did contribute to his fund and actually purchased the book over the weekend and was making my way through it.

(Side note: To date, the words sexual orientation has only appeared once so far in my readings, but I’m not done yet.)

He said that if I read the book then I would know that he does address those issues. I had to remind Tavis that my piece critiqued the nationally televised version of the State of the Black Union that was beamed into the homes of 83 million people. Now even though his new book his a top seller on Amazon, it’s highly doubtful that 83 million people are going to buy it. No, the big bang with the televised State of the Black Union, which did not address the issues I wrote about.

He then went on to threaten to tell my boss that he should be ashamed of me. My boss happened to be standing next to me while I was on the phone and for the record, I did offer to turn over the phone to my boss so that he could tell him, but Tavis said he’d do it later.

What kind of, ahem, bush-league bullsh*t, 800-pound gorilla tactics are these? Damn, brother Smiley needs to get his panties out of a bunch. Instead of actually addressing her points on the phone, where he had the opportunity to do so, he just blew her off and threatened her in a juvenile fashion.

How can anyone who is gay and black take a televised State of the Black Union seriously if he doesn’t address the schism that has been fueled by faith-based bribery by the Bush administration and the RNC. While Republicans were hoping to scrape off black votes based on bigotry (Katrina deep-sixed that), at the very least, the purpose of the buy-out was create wedges and diversions to keep the black community off-stride and not attuned to the wholly immoral policies of Dear Leader regarding jobs, poverty, voting fraud, HIV/AIDS and a host of other issues that require attention.

Supporting gay civil equality in the religious black community does not have to be sacrificed for any of those other, equally important concerns. It certainly doesn’t need to be opposed, but that’s what you hear coming out of the mouths of too many pastors (see her earlier series of posts outing homophobic black ministers).

In 2004, more than 10 percent of Blacks voted for Bush (in Ohio, it was 20 percent); it’s safe to say in those states with marriage amendments on the ballot, the percentage of blacks who voted for the amendment even if they voted for Kerry, was higher than that. Is it not an issue worth discussing in a State of the Black Union? And if not, why not? All Jasmyne Cannick did is express her opinion and instead of engaging her, Tavis Smiley tries a little celebrity smackdown maneuver.

Aside from those who attended the NBJC conference on homophobia in the black community, there has been little support from within. Tavis Smiley’s reaction to criticism only confirms that there is a long way to go, and that the ground is still fertile in the community for faith-based cash in exchange for promotion of moral values, er, homo-bigotry in the pulpit.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding