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VIEWS Blacks and Prop 8: Reap what we sow
by TRACY BAIM
2008-12-01

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There is a lot of outrage about the hypocrisy of a populace that would vote for "change" and a candidate who represents the nation's true ideals of diversity, Barack Obama, and also vote to ban gay marriage. How could someone vote for Obama and against gay marriage? Why did so many African-Americans vote against same-sex marriage in California? The numbers show high rates of anti-gay votes among Blacks and Latinos, who were especially targeted by the multi-million-dollar funding of the tax-exempt Mormon Church.

I will leave for another day the issue of any tax exemption for any group that is involved in political lobbying, including any church. I will also leave for another day the fact that the same-sex marriage that had been allowed in California did nothing to destroy hetero marriage; why not instead have a a ballot banning divorce? ( Now THAT would save traditional values. ) And finally, it is also a tragedy that any civil rights should ever be allowed to come up for a popular vote, but that, too, is a separate issue.

Rather, I want to add my two cents to the general fault of the gay movement in trying to fight for our rights. There is a lot of blame to share in the California debacle. Bad tactics by the gay groups lobbying against Prop 8. The Mormons. James Dobson. Right-wing fundraisers who use the gay issue as a cash cow. But those who are blaming certain racial groups, or the "uneducated," are off the mark and playing into racial stereotypes. You can use raw statistics to find a "cause" for any success or failure. But to say any one racial group is more homophobic is a simplistic, shallow and a wrong analysis.

Let's look at some other facts. In Chicago, and nationally, Black and Latino elected officials have often been among the strongest allies of the gay movement. Our civil rights in Chicago were won because of diverse aldermanic support and a Black mayor signed it into law ( the late Eugene Sawyer ) . The strongest anti-gay voices, especially those that have true power, are white right-wing politicians, talk-show hosts and preachers. James Dobson, Rush Limbaugh, white evangelicals and the Mormon Church are some of the most vile backers of Prop 8 and other anti-gay marriage efforts. They are white. And they are educated. And they used their funds to laser-target groups of people who were not reached by the gay community.

Why? Because the gay movement has often been very racially divided. The California marriage efforts were therefore hampered by decades of "ignorance" by the gay movement on how to speak to a wide and diverse populace. Yes, it is unfair that we have to defend our rights in a way no other group has ever had to. ( Meaning by popular vote, not lobbying politicians or the courts, but instead lobbying millions of people—interracial marriage bans were struck down in courts, not voted on by citizens. ) But that doesn't mean we can't fight with better ammunition.

It may come as a surprise to some gay leaders, but there are Black and Latino gay people. There are progressive Black leaders, Latino leaders, etc. Those voices were mostly sidelined by the anti-Prop 8 campaign. I saw many of the ads on YouTube, generic ads that often didn't even have gay people in them. Some looked like 1970s coffee ads combined with ads for "female protection," not mentioning certain things to avoid offending people. It's easy to point fingers when others do the work. And the Mormon funding really trounced a lot of the gay fundraising. Plus a lot of the celeb gay money came very late in the game--even from those who had very public marriages.

But a truly heartfelt campaign could have worked, and may be needed next time. We need Black leaders and Black GLBTs in the ads. We need to show that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Meaning that some of these same anti-gays are the same people and groups who have their own anti-civil-rights baggage. James Dobson, the Mormons, the right-wing preachers and others who fought against gays in California, Florida and other states are not friends to civil rights. If we do an Obama-style research campaign against those who hate gays, we will find that diverse communities will begin to see that we are more the same than different. But that message can not come from some traditional white gay mouthpieces, or ad campaigns. It must come from a grassroots, spiritually honest campaign that brings out the gay person in every family in California. They need to connect gay rights to the "separate and unequal" battles of the past, like the eerily similar arguments against inter-racial marriage. ( Why wasn't the Supreme Court's Loving v. Virginia case—which struck down interracial marriage bans—a central argument against Prop 8? ) But this must be done with sensitivity, recognizing that racial and gay inequality are similar, but not the same.

It would be wrong for white gays to simplify this and say "Blacks caused the ban." That is not true, especially given that Blacks were just 10 percent of voters in California. Many whites and other people of color voted against it, too. The GLBT community just did not do its job, making the connections to past oppression and discrimination, and showing this through the words and images of GLBT people of color, not just white allies.

There will be a next time. But in that next time, our community has to do a much better job, overcoming the huge gaps in racial diversity that have plagued our movement for decades. Otherwise, we will once again reap what we sow.

Tracy Baim is co-founder and publisher of Windy City Times. She blogs at www.tracybaim.typepad.com .


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