Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Why blaming the Black community for our inequality doesn't make sense

After the Prop 8 loss in California, there was a lot of blame gaming going on. One of the immediate targets was the African-American community. Those comments caused a lot of mistrust within the GLBT community because many strangely forgot the presence of Black gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Those comments could have also caused a huge rift between the GLBT community and major African-American civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, which has been an important ally for our cause.

Memories of those thoughtless accusations die hard. James Withers of hasn't forgotten them a year later in the wake of the crushing Maine defeat:

"These realities of black-American life cannot, and should not be ignored; however, too many of us blithely support a narrative where homophobia is somehow purer in black and brown communities. Yes we have California, but there is also Washington, DC, and those who leaned on race to explain Prop 8 have been strangely silent on the DC City Council.

From Maine to California, many black, brown, and white faces will gladly vote against gay marriage. If there is anything that crosses the racial divide it’s bigotry for lesbians and gays."

I occasionally hear similar comments and questions from people in Tennessee. What amazes me is how few people see the obvious reality that African-American lawmakers have been leading opponents of discrimination. When the marriage amendment was working its way through the Legislature, 3 of the 7 House members voting against it were African-American, and 1 of 3 senators voting against it was African-American.

This year in the House, the Black Caucus became a major advocate of the hate crimes bill giving it new life.

The Metro Nashville non-discrimination ordinance story is also instructive. 3 of the 12 sponsors were African-American Council Members. On third reading, only one African-American Council Member voted against the ordinance, but he was advancing his own ordinance that ended up being amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity. 1 African-American Council Member was absent for the vote. Without the support of the African-American Council Members, the ordinance could never have passed.

The lesson is always that if you don't reach out, you don't know who your friends are. And when you think you know who your opponents are, follow the money. The organizations that fund anti-equality measures are not predominantly African-American. But shouldn't that be obvious? Given the discrimination that African-Americans still face in this country, why would we think Black leadership organizations would be throwing money at discriminatory legislation and ballot measures?

Hopefully, the movement for equality is still moving in the sense that we are coming to the realization that we have to meet discrimination with targeted resources wherever we find it in particular contexts (by political district, by religion, by race and ethnicity, etc.). Going into a fight bedeviled by what we imagine one group will do just sets us up for more losses and more blame gaming.

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