Some White Gays Need to Stop Alienating the Black Electorate With Specious Arguments
I am a Black man who strongly favors and believes in the fundamental right to gay marriage for those who want to enter into it, as well as gay rights in general. With a gay cousin who died of AIDS; and as someone who has informally counseled gays at my African Methodist Episcopal Church, even as they were scorned from the pulpit; and as a person who continually rediscovers my own heterosexuality, I think I have a right and responsibility to speak on this issue.
However, I strongly oppose some of the arguments that white gays have advanced in favor of their struggle.
Propositon Eight, banning gay marriage in California, passed by a narrow margin of 52% to 48%. Some gays, it seems, are tempted to blame Black voters for the passage of Proposition Eight in California, which would have the effect of banning gay marriage unless it is overturned by the California Supreme Court.
“Whites voted very narrowly against the ban, 51-49 percent. Asian-Americans voted the same. Hispanics voted for it, by 53-47 percent. Blacks voted for it, overwhelmingly, 70-30. Blacks can be said to have put it over the top. Hypothetically, had no blacks voted, we compute a vote of 50-50,” according to an analysis by ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer.
According to CNN reports of exit polls,
African-Americans voted for Proposition 8 by a 69 percent to 31 percent margin. However, 55 percent of white voters and 52 percent of Hispanics voted against the proposition. CNN
If very nearly half of whites and more than half of Latinos voted to ban gay marriage in California, it cannot be said that Blacks are responsible for the ban. In fact, if a larger majority of whites had supported gay marriage, then gay marriage would be the law of the land in California right now.
The fact is that gays have failed to convince half of white and most of Latinos to support gay marriage and, by the way, Blacks California voters are even more against it than are whites and Latinos.
Did Blacks Really Scuttle Gay Marriage in California?
A writer at People for the American Way says,
The past 72 hours have brought an extraordinary range of emotions – great joy at the election of Barack Obama and defeat of John McCain, and sadness and anger at the passage of anti-gay initiatives in Florida, Arizona, Arkansas, and California. That sadness has turned to outrage at the speed with which some white gay activists began blaming African Americans – sometimes in appallingly racist ways – for the defeat of Proposition 8. This is inexcusable.
As a mother who has raised two children in a 30-year relationship with another woman, I fully understand the depth of hurt and anger at voters’ rejection of our families’ equality. But responding to that hurt by lashing out at African Americans is deeply wrong and offensive – not to mention destructive to the goal of advancing equality.
( . . . )Others have taken on the challenge of looking at the basic numbers and concluded that it is simply false to suggest that Prop 8 would have been defeated if African Americans had been more supportive. The amendment seems to have passed by more than half a million votes, and the number of black voters, even with turnout boosted by the presidential race, couldn’t have made up that difference. That’s an important fact, but when African American supporters of equality are being called racist epithets at protests about Prop 8, the numbers almost seem beside the point.
Republicans and white churchgoers, among many other groups, voted for Prop. 8 at higher rates than African Americans. There are few African Americans in the inland counties that all voted overwhelmingly to strip marriage equality out of the California constitution. So why single out African Americans? Who’s really to blame? The Religious Right. People for the American Way
To the debate that has started, I have added the suggestion to gay rights leaders that they be more sensitive to Blacks’ beliefs when developing arguments that attempt to convince Blacks to vote for gay issues.I think gay advocates have failed to win over Blacks because many Blacks find their arguments insulting and alienating. For example, I understand that gays are trying to convince Blacks when gays insist that the gay struggle for civil rights is like the Black struggle for civil rights. The problem is that this argument is not true and it’s insulting. Yet, gays continue to make the argument, even though it alienates Blacks instead of winning us over.
Whites gays (particularly gay men) can and do “pass” for heterosexual and thereby enjoy many if not all of the benefits of the white male superiority paradigm in America. Most Black people cannot choose to “pass” for white, or to “come out” as Black at the time of our choosing. Likewise, women cannot usually choose to “pass” as men, and thereby avoid the discrimination that comes with being female in America, until such time as they choose to “come out”.
So, the gay rights struggle really is neither like the women’s rights struggle nor like the Black civil rights struggle. (If white gays’ can relate so heavily to Blacks’ civil rights struggle, then why were they entirely absent form the 30-000-strong Jena Six March of 2007? Fact, is their struggle is just like ours except for the fact that it’s totally different and separate.
If gays, by the thousands, braved firehoses and police dogs in a massive decades-long struggle to be treated with equality, taking to the streets even at the risk of becoming known as gay to their employers and creditors, then I could more easily see the analogy between the gay struggle for civil rights that the Blacks struggle. If there were more gay civil rights leaders who had been assassinated for their leadership, and if there had been a Federal COINTELPRO program to assassinate gay leaders, then I could see the analogy better.
In fact none of those is true, although gays face extreme and lethal discriminations every day as individuals and in small social groups.
If gay’s insistence that their struggle is like ours came combined with a commitment to assume our struggle (because it’s the same struggle, right), then Blacks would be less offended by gays’ insistence that their battle is ours. In fact, too many white gays treat Blacks gays and Blacks in general as if we are negligible, invisible.
In fact, Blacks are much better friends to gays of all colors than gays have realized and acknowledged. Politically, we are far more consistently in favor of the candidates that favor gay rights than are whites.
Blacks ALWAYS vote for the Democratic candidates for president and other offices, and those Democratic candidates are far more favorable to gay rights than are their Republican opponents. Whites, on the other hand, almost always give the majority of their support to the Republican candidate for president, often precisely because that candidate promises to oppose gay (and Black) rights and societal advancements.
So, even as Blacks may vote in individual cases against measures such as gay marriage, the country would be a very different place if Blacks did not consistently vote against the Republican candidates who promise to curtail gay rights.
White bloggers, particularly gay ones, need to reach out to Blacks not just about gay rights but also to assist Blacks politically on issues of great importance to us. We Blacks do not claim that our struggle is analogous to the gay struggle when we ask for the political help of gays, and it is unnecessary and harmful for white gays to insist that they are virtually Black when they ask for our help.
Instead, they should emphasize and put forward Black gays who look and are just like us, except for their sexual preference, and they should emphasize that laws that are punitive to gays are punitive to the Black gays in our families, workplaces and churches.
However, it is very difficult for white gays to put forward Black gays as spokespeople because too many whites gays don’t know any Black gays. They haven’t read the books of E. Lynn Harris and James Baldwin, and they don’t understand the challenges of Black gays from our perspective. I would be much more convinced by a white gay who mentioned E. Lynn Harris and James Baldwin, then a white gay who brings up the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., which I see as totally inapposite.
Gay Congressman Barney Frank represents my state of Massaschusetts and I have supported and collaborated with him and his staff on many issues and on many occasions. But Barney Frank doesn’t try to win over the support of Blacks by telling us that he, too, is like Black people. Instead, he works hard on the issues that affect Black people, many of which are unrelated to gay advocacy, and we support him because he is a political friend of ours. And all without invoking the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., claiming to be related to him.
And so white gays are at a loss when it comes to making the certainly true point that the Black gays in our community have some of the same challenges coming out that white gays have in white communities. That’s where the more subtle and truthful analogy lies, but it’s an argument that can only be made when white gays accept Black gays as leaders and publicists of the gay civil rights movement.
Am I blaming the victims when I assert that white gays arguments play a role in this? Of course! anyone who wants to share the rights that white heterosexual men enjoy in America will have to engage in intense reflection and constantly hone their arguments in order to win over the majority, or at least the majority of the justices on the courts with jurisdiction over these issues, and the legislators. So our constitutional system puts the onus on the victims to convince or compel others to stop victimizing us. We have to use our best arguments and be sensitive when we see that some arguments just aren’t working or are actually alienating important sectors of the electorate.
We Blacks know a few things about civil rights struggles, and we could be helpful if we were acknowledged and asked to be helpful, as part of a reciprocal relationship of political support on our issues as well, like the anti-electrocution movement, equal justice for Blacks, educational opportunity and equal access to professional growth for Blacks.