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Open letter: national black leaders embrace President Obama’s position on LGBT equality

Just an FYI, in the wake of Amendment One, actually Wednesday and Thursday, I was deluged with requests by news outlets and radio programs  for comments about North Carolina, the President’s coming out for marriage equality, or both. That I kind of expected. What I was also asked about by some reporters was the inevitable “the black community voted overwhelmingly for the amendment” meme and what does that mean. The reporters asked this without ANY data on the NC results at the time (I still haven’t seen raw data and it’s Saturday).

Not that I would be surprised if the breakdown was disproportionately for the amendment of course. Everyone knows the sensitivity around the issue, but fact that some reporters were fixated on drawing out the conflict, real or imagined without hard data is not useful, and in fact harmful. Look at the result in Prop 8 — there were actually incidents of violence against black people in the aftermath of the vote, some in the public ready to assign blame before any actual demographic information on the vote was analyzed (and lo and behold, the meme was later debunked by Nate Silver in his analysis of the data). The factors most relevant in the breakdown of the vote was education level and how often one went to church.

In the case of the one-two punch of A1 in North Carolina and the President’s marriage equality statement, people reflexively fixated on the black/gay divide– and the possible impact this will have on Barack Obama’s re-election.

Some reporters (and people reacting on social media to the NC vote as well) seemed completely ready to discard in the fact that the coalition of hundreds of black pastors and the landmark support of the NC NAACP, led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber. These members of the clergy (and elected black officials in the state) was highlighted in the campaign to defeat Amendment One, and in the end, the overall support for the Amendment was the lowest for ANY one of the anti-gay constitutional amendments that has passed in the other states.

But that’s not the story many were after. Of course when you’re black and gay, this question about the black/gay divide (officially part of NOM’s battle plan) is particularly irksome, because you always placed on the spot to defend or explain “the black community” — as if it is a monolith unaffected by class, education, religiosity, or region (urban/rural). Your allegiance to the gay community is often questioned by LGBTs in their anger and grief, and members of the black anti-gay religious community like to render you invisible, or say you’ve been “corrupted” by white gay world.

Apparently the touchy political swirl of race, homosexuality and civil rights makes thinking people lose their ability to act and behave rationally.

It is refreshing and healing (and clearly necessary) for black leaders to step up to affirm that they are behind the President’s forward (if symbolic) movement on marriage equality and the civil rights of LGBT Americans.

Reverend Al Sharpton, President of National Action Network, along with Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus of NAACP, Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, Civil Rights Icon and President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, released this open letter:

May 11, 2012

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As leaders in today’s Civil Rights Movement, we stand behind the President Obama’s belief that same sex couples should be allowed to join in civil marriages. We also affirm that individuals may hold different views on this issue but still work together towards our common goals: fair housing and equitable education, affordable health care and eradicating poverty, all issues of deep and abiding concern for our communities.

President Obama stated his view that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. This is a view that we concur with, because as civil rights leaders we cannot fight to gain rights for some and not for all. At the same time, we acknowledge that the President stated his personal opinion, which everyone is entitled to – both those who agree with him, like us, and those who disagree. The President made clear that his support is for civil marriage for same-sex couples, and he is fully committed to protecting the ability of religious institutions to make their own decisions about their own sacraments.

There will be those who seek to use this issue to divide our community. As a people, we cannot afford such division. It is our hope that conversations on strengthening African American families continue in a civil and respectful way, on all sides, both with those who support the ability of same-sex couples to marry, and those who do not.

We are glad that President Obama has joined Dr. Joseph Lowery, Dr. Julian Bond and so many others in full embrace of equality for gay and lesbian individuals in our country. We also welcome the civil debate on this issue that will surely spring. And we encourage all individuals to keep all issues of import to our communities in mind in the days ahead, and we seek to secure equal justice, opportunity and dignity for all God’s children.

Reverend Al Sharpton
President & Founder, National Action Network

Julian Bond
Chairman Emeritus of NAACP

Melanie Campbell
Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery
Civil Rights Icon and President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

We need a national discussion about these issues; had we had the kind of public discussion about race and LGBT rights months ago, it would have encouraged more open dialog here in NC. The increased level of coverage at the national, state, and local level about this topic inevitably forces more conversations at the dinner table.  Would it have closed that gap in the vote? We’ll never know, but as long as the media finds the post-mortem blame game more attractive than the coalition-building, we all lose.


Today I will be on Media Matters Radio on SiriusXM Left 127 to discuss events this week — 11:36 AM to 11:52 AM ET.

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Pam Spaulding

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