Saturday, November 8, 2008

Black homophobia and putting the blame for Prop 8 where it belongs

In the comments to my Obama Nation post, Anonymous wrote:

Black voters in California voted 69% in favor of the anti-gay / lesbian marriage Proposition 8. Ironically, a huge black turnout spelled doom for lesbian and gay families. I will NEVER go to another heterosexual marriage again as long as I live, and I will no longer support any measures that benefit heterosexual families at my expense. I was furious!

Obama said in a major speech: "marriage is between a man and a woman!" Yeah
right, let freedom ring!
The commenter is angry. And why wouldn't she be? Could I join the majority in celebrating the triumph of hope and change if, in the same America that sent a black man to the White House for the first time, three states voted to limit my rights and make me a second-class citizen?

I imagine Anonymous is feeling the same burning anger that I felt earlier this year when many white feminists' support of Hillary Clinton descended into racism. All of us marginalized folks, we're supposed to understand each other a little better than the mainstream does. Right? We're supposed to be sensitive to bigotry and abhor inequality with passion even when it involves someone else. Sadly, it ain't necessarily so.

It did not surprise me that nearly 70 percent of black voters said "yes" to Prop 8, putting bigotry into law in California. In my experience, homophobia is proportionally higher in the black community. It is a bigotry more rooted in religion than race. And it is a problem.

In the same way that I once called for white feminist allies to stand up against bigotry in their ranks, I believe it is my duty, and that of other black progressives, to challenge biases surrounding sexual orientation in our community. That means examining our own bias, and acknowledging, listening to and proactively working with our GLBT brothers and sisters.

This is important. As I've said time and time again: You aren't about justice if you aren't about justice for all.

All that said, here is what bothers me about a lot of the discussion surrounding Prop 8 and the black vote: Much of it is race-biased in that it puts disproportionate blame on African Americans for a despicable vote delivered by California voters of ALL races. Shannika on Daily Kos wrote an excellent diary exploring the numbers behind the Proposition 8 vote:

Non-Black Votes in Favor of Proposition 8:

White Men: 51% of 31% of 10,325,615 votes: 1,632,480 Yes
White Women: 47% of 32% of 10,325,615 votes: 1,552,972 Yes
Latino Men: 54% of 8% of 10,325,615 votes: 446,067 Yes
Latino Women: 52% of 11% of 10,325,615 votes: 592,170 Yes
Asian/Native: 51% of 9% of 10,325,615 votes: 473,946 Yes

Total: 4,697,635 (9.3 times the maximum TOTAL number of Black votes
in California.)


Last night on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," panelist Howie Mandel (Yeah, I know.) opined that "I heard it was mostly the minorities" who passed Prop 8. And that sort of thinking has become the narrative: Black people against gays and lesbians. Never mind the many black gays and lesbians who were stung by the vote and their community's role in it. (In this discussion, black gays and lesbians don't exist in the way black feminists are erased in gender discussions.) Never mind that the black vote represents a fraction of the votes by other races on behalf of Prop 8. Never mind that the overwhelmingly white Mormon Church spent $20 million dollars in support of Prop 8. It's the blacks' fault.

My community has a problem with homophobia, but we aren't the only ones. African Americans are but 12 percent of the population. We have neither the numbers nor the power, given our history in this country, to disenfranchise another group. Blaming us for what is an American ill--as prevalent in, say, white Tripoli, Iowa, as it is in black Englewood, Chicago, Illinois--will not solve the injustice.

Hear gay rights activist Jasmyne Cannick discuss the aftermath of the Prop 8 decision with Farai Chideya on NPR's "News and Notes."
Image courtesy of laverrue on Flickr.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the highlight, and your outrage over this vote on 8 gave me hope.

No, it is not black folk's fault that Prop. 8 won. Black folks did not donate $20,000,000 to defeat lesbian and gay civil rights.

I guess what bugs me is the irony of it all.

I called an ex-Mormon friend the other day, and she said her own parents voted in favor of Prop. 8, even though she has been an out lesbian for ages to them. Go figure.

The black churches have historically been dreadful about women's rights, gay rights and any other rights other than black male rights. Black lesbians for years have found more leadership roles in the gay and lesbian church MCC. Their vice-moderator is a black woman, for example.

Black gays and lesbians have long been a strong part of our community, and if you want to see real cross-racial support and connection, go to an MCC church in the major cities. Black gay men supported my lesbian marriage over 20 years ago. That's right, I don't wait around for straight people to "support" my inherent human rights, I just go out and do what I want and the hell with them.

If you want a ray of hope, take a look at the young people. Across the board they supported the NO on 8 campaign.

I have long supported a lesbian separatist agenda, and have wanted gays and lesbians to build their own institutions. I don't attend heterosexually dominated groups very often, and I most certainly don't support taxation without representation. That means I deeply resent paying taxes to support heterosexuality -- survivor social security benefits being a major bee in my lesbian bonnet.

All that said, the Barak Obama victory is great for African-Americans. Another irony is that Hillary Clinton provided an opening in the Democratic party for an African American man to step in. I believe what is powerful is when feminists and progressives work together. But I'm not going to dance in the streets over another male dominated administration, and whose name do we hear mentioned for Treasury Secretary these days? Larry the sexist Pig "women aren't good at hard sciences" Sommers. Barak Obama is a traditional man, with a very traditional male dominant heterosexual family. He never supported equal rights in marriage for lesbians and gays, and I don't believe he is a feminist. And that is still the problem I think.

Women, you're going to have to march in the streets, and I look forward to the day when it is the Michelle Obamas who get the presidency!!! But right now, it's ho hum another straight man in Washington.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Loved the two black men on the wedding cake! We had two wedding cakes in 1987-- one was achocolate cake with the crossed women's signs on it, and the other cake was white with a rainbow flag on it-- both flat pan cakes. We wanted our cakes to be original and not hetero-immitative, and we each disagreed on the one cake takes all formula.

Being proper egalitarian lesbians, the idea of two cakes won out. Psychological studies reveal that lesbian relationships are the most egalitarian of all the partnerships out there. We know what equality is really all about in the home as well as out in the world. Men, take note.

tasha212 said...

I think that you have to look at it from another perspective. What if for spiritual reasons you really believe that marraige should be between a man and a woman. The Holy Bible and other religious texts clearly forbid homosexuality. If you are a Christian then you must follow the laws layed forth in the Bible if you claim to be a true believer. I think homophobia in the black community is related to religious beliefs but also to bigotry because the same people who condemn homosexuality participate in other lifestyles that are forbidden by God's laws. It all depends on how you look at it.

brownstocking said...

I'm all about doing the work, Tami, and criticizing and educating. But the level of scapegoating has sunk to a vicious low.

So I think POC should reach out to our queer family, make friends into allies, and work on that 70%. I just need the bigoted white people to fix their own homes as I work on mine. Allies welcome, bigots not so much.

BLKSeaGoat said...


The religious argument can't hold water because if Christians, Muslims, etc. adhered to everything biblical, society as we know would be a wretched mess.

Gay marriage (and this is where many gays fail in their understanding) should have NEVER been framed as a sacramental argument. Had gay marriage been approached from an equality perspective at its inception, then the results of the election might have been a little different.

Again, I am NOT going to allow white gays, white gay men in particular, assail the ENTIRE black community for being homophobic. Fewer white gays voted for Obama than they did for John Kerry in 2004, so who REALLY wants equality?

If I had to place blame, let me put it squarely where it belongs - on GAYS. Complacency, internal strifes, an unfocused strategy, lack of organization, and RACISM contributed to this stunning defeat.

It's also interesting to note that other groups of color voted for the ban in disproportionate numbers, so I CAN safely assume that gay folks did a piss-poor job at planning.

Anonymous said...

Tasha, as I recall, the Bible has been used to justify slavery, has been used to silence women, and has been used to justify war and the death penalty, among other things. Marriage in the Bible often meant men get multiple wives, and that those wives are considered property. Remember pastor's admonition of husbands beat your wives? Marriage really didn't come into its modern form into well into the 16th century. Going back into history, it was gay monks who actually invented the first marriage rites. (See John Boswell's works).

I think people like to pick and choose passages in the Bible to justify bigotry. Homosexuality wasn't even a concept back in Biblical times, there was no science back then, and no knowledge of human sexuality in all its complexity. Women were once thought to be punished for Eve's sin by suffering in childbirth. Doctors justified not using anesthesia during childbirth because it was against the Bible.
Wiches were burned by christians, because the church hated indepenedent spiritually powerful women -- all nine million of them in Europe. The white race was ordained by god to rule over Africans, and on and on it goes.

So take your pick-- should we bring back slavery, should we not allow women to become ministers in christian churches? How about allowing husbands to beat the heck out of their wives. Sposual abuse and male beating of women is epidemic in the Black church. By the way, children obey your mother and father or else we have the right to beat kids in the name of god.

And I'm not for scapegoating black people (the 30% who did vote against bans on gay and lesbian marriage are to be commended), the 70% who voted in favor of anti-civil rights legislation have a long way to go. However, it was the Mormon and Catholic churches who were the real bad guys in the election. All our street protests are being directed at those white majority institutions now. As far as I know, there have been no protests in front of the homophobic black churches in California.

I would be very suspicious of any Bible quotes condemning people for who they are. Heterosexuals are the majority, and you'll find their crimes within the almighty hetero family legion. Remember rape in marriage before 1975? Back then they thought it fine and dandy for men to be able to rape their wives. Remember the right to vote? Christian pastors said this was against god's law because women were to be submissive to their husbands.

If you're going to use Bible bigotry against gay people, then you have to be consistent about stoning women who are caught in adultary (still legal in the backward parts of the world). You'll have to ask why Moses didn't count women when they all left Egypt, and why goats and livestock WERE counted.

A lot of black churches are clueless about women's rights and about gay rights, and they've stayed ignorant right along with the White Momons. It's a pathetic commentary on the meaning of freedom, but as we all know, once upon a time the Bible was used to justify racism. It's always used as a tool of hatred against marginalized people.

The life of Christ has absolutely nothing to do with the bigots in California who voted yes on 8. Remember, these same bigots want to eliminate affirmative action, they want to force unmarried Black women to get married, and the Mormons and other right wing groups are not the friends of Black people in America. They just pretend this alliance to get Blacks to vote in bigotry, and thus make a mockery of "I Have a Dream."

So I'm not celebrating anything historic this election year. I think bigotry reigns supreme in California. I'm not looking to political parties for affirmation of my right to define family any way I want to, and I can certainly say that my partner and I could give a few lessons in relationships to hetero divorced couple, people who can't take care of their children, and the dumb pastors of creepy churhes who are nothing but little dictators and bigots in robes and gowns in pulpits across America.

I really feel sorry for my gay and lesbian African American brothers and sisters -- they have to put up with racism AND homophobia, and black lesbians have to deal with sexism as well.

I think you will find some of the most sophisticated anti-racism work among white people to be coming out of the lesbian community, but hey, we're chopped liver not worthy of the same rights as everyone else.

Are we living in a theocracy or a secular democratic society?

cinco said...

Blacks are not the cause. I'm heterosexual but I believe in the full rights of all who are not. It's not my business nor the business of government, religion or anyone else to make a set of rules for all to follow based on the beliefs of few.

Lady C said...

Marriage is for procreation; hence, the person believing the Bible is against same-sex marriage. So, what do you say about married, heterosexual couples who cannot have children? Is the Bible against them?

I believe a person is who he is by birth and not by choice. With that said, I do not believe the gay/lesbian struggle is the same as the AA struggle in this country. When you try to push the idea that it is, you may alienate people who maybe leaning towards your cause.

If the government is for civil unions, then work to change the boundaries of the civil union to include everything a marriage does. This may sound simplistic to some, and if it does, I apologize.

Tiffany said...

As a black lesbian woman. We have kids killing kids, people who can't get jobs no matter how hard they try, companies spending bailout money like its christmas, people going hungry, homes being foreclosed, wars going on, and some how because I love another adult woman, there is a vote on what I'm doing? Someone explain this to me!!!!

Anonymous said...


You make most important and significant point, namely, that "No on 8" did not have the organizational and public relations muscle it should have had.

Religion and race are both issues in this discussion but organizational savvy looms larger, I think.

Tami said...

You know the more the issue of gay marriage is discussed, one thing is clear to me: If our society is determined to define marriage as a Biblical event, then "the state" has no place sanctioning ANY marriage--be it hetero- or homosexual. To preserve the separation of church and state, the government should only provide civil unions to couples. Marriage ceremonies could be performed in churches, but only civil unions would be legally recognized.

Anonymous said...

"You know the more the issue of gay marriage is discussed, one thing is clear to me: If our society is determined to define marriage as a Biblical event, then "the state" has no place sanctioning ANY marriage--be it hetero- or homosexual. To preserve the separation of church and state, the government should only provide civil unions to couples. Marriage ceremonies could be performed in churches, but only civil unions would be legally recognized."

I believe this 100%, in fact it is my main argument. If there is to be separation of church and state, then marriage is not a matter of the state. Civil unions are and should therefore be the only thing regulated by the state, with the right and benefits extended to ALL couples.

Another point I want to make regarding the civil rights parallels between the LGBTQ community and the Black community is that we need to be careful and nuanced in the parallels we choose to draw. I'm saying this in order to build stronger coalitions between the communities and not make the mistakes I see common in outreach attempts. Too often, the non-black members of the LGBTQ community alienates members of the Black community by saying that their struggle is EXACTLY like the stuggles blacks have faced in this country, and that is simply untrue. Likewise, it would be unintelligible for gay man to say that his struggles exactly mirror those of women in this country.
I agree wholeheartedly that we should draw parallels such as the marriage legislation used against both groups, the injustice of the state denying rights, as well as highlighting the similarities in our day-to-day lives, showing that love and the desire to marry and have a family transcends sexuality the same way it does race, and pointing out the political and social benefits of building coalitions and supporting each other. However, it will not serve either group by doing what a lot of non-black LGBTQ "allies" do and say that they are the most reviled and oppressed in this community (an argument I see arising especially now that we've elected our first Black president) or saying that the anti-gay movement is modern day slavery (which was the tactic of at least one No on 8 campaigner who made phone calls to black households... big mistake). But, of course, the bigger issue is to recognize that every party involved in this legislation is at fault for its passing, and in no way is the blame to be laid completely on one group (least of all the LGBTQ community). This point is intended as advice in reaching out the POC communities (with emphasis on the black community).

I would also like to point out that I see a lot of people keep incorrectly referencing the 70% number by saying that 70% of blacks voted for Prop. 8. That is factually incorrect and is proving to be the most damaging aspect of this argument. 70% of black voters in California who voted on the proposition AND who responded to the exit poll voted for Prop. 8. The actual number has been revealed to be less than 300. That is, less than 300 black people made up that 70% number and all hell broke loose.

Finally, I want to say that there is homophobia in the black community. We have to look no further than the "no homo" bullshit phrases in "hip-hop", just to point out one cultural reference. I personally don't believe that it is more prevalent in the black community than it is in other communities (white, male, hetero-normative pop-culture provides me with enough homophobia gives me enough cause to believe it to not be), but it exists and it is damaging. I'm hoping by learning how to communicate with one another, how to best do outreach, and how to not alienate and insult each other, we can truly work to build strong coalitions and end our collective oppression. I'm ready to do all that I can (within reason) to be a true ally.

-Yet another anonymous.

tasha212 said...

I was not trying to use the Bible to "justify bigotry". I was just trying to offer a different perspective as to why some people may oppose gay marraige. To SOME people marraige is sacred. Personally, I believe that to each his own. We all have to anwer to God for the things we do, including me. It is none of my business. Another point that I made that everyone seemed to gloss over or totally ignore is that people often use the Bible and religion in general to condemn the things that they don't agree with while ignoring all of the other limitations that are set forth. My point was not to offend but to give a different perspective. There are people who actually practice the things that they claim to believe in. Some don't. That was my point.

Anonymous said...

I agree that each movement for civil rights is unique, and that you have to be careful about comparisons of one group's stuggle to another group. The struggle of black men for civil rights has nothing to do with the lesbian feminist struggle for civil rights, for example.

Black feminism or womanist theory is not the same as a white middle class feminism either.

That said, all groups suffer similarly as minorities being denegrated by majorities. And I believe that dynamics change when a minority sometimes becomes a majority.

It is this period of adjustment to difference that makes everyone seem so different.

We need to have a very clear idea of what privilege is, how it works, and what we all can do to make a place for everyone at the table.

All too often, we find ourselves isolated in our own groups.

I think in a secular society the Bible as "law book" is highly suspect. We need to separate religious faith from political tactics, and most of the time the Bible has simply become a political tactic.

Tami has created an excellent space to discuss all the intersections out there, and what we can focus on now is how each movement for liberation connected and helped everyone. Without the black civil rights movement, we wouldn't have had as powerful a feminist or a lesbian gay civil rights movement, for example.

Without the example of courage that black people displayed endlessly out in the world, my life wouldn't have been nearly as successful or meaningful.

We can appreciate these struggles and changes in human consciousness as liberating in and of themselves.

Also, Tami is demonstrating a 21st century consciousness on this sophisticated blog. We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we all used to be. Nobody would want to go back to the Kennedy era of the early 60s, for example-- so liberated woman, no black person, and no lesbian. We are where we are today because of all the work we have done collectively.

pinkchocolatesunshine said...


What an insightful post. I have had this debate with people on other blogs and my own. Most of it comes down to the religious argument...that homosexuality is a sin. But when you point out to people how many other sins there are in the Bible that people do everyday and think nothing of it, they want to change the subject. When you explain to them that you have to read the Bible in it's proper context, and that these so called "gay clobber" passages, really aren't what people make them out to be, they don't want to hear it.

It seems like people, no matter who, always needs a scapegoat, someone to put down so they can lift themselves up. It's always an us vs. them.

There is so much I can say here, but I want to be brief. The bottom line is that some straight people are marrying for all the wrong reasons. Ever see who wants to marry a millionaire? But no one is screaming against those types of marriages. Instead, they just wait for the inevitable divorce and watch the bride and/or groom make their talk show circuit and publish their "tell all" book. The hypocrisy here is deep. The concept of gay marriage for many causes a paradigm shift, which many people will fight tooth and nail against just because it's different. In this world, different usually means bad or inferior and the slave trade, the atrocities in Rwanda and the Holocaust are just a few examples of what people can do when they are convinced that they are better and that God is on their side.

I feel like screaming WAAAAKE UUUUUP as they did in Spike Lee's film, School Daze.


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