California’s recently passed Proposition 8, a constitutional measure, now defines “marriage as between a man and woman” and eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry. Many people, either in error or racist intent, have attempted to argue that Proposition 8 passed because of the large black voter turnout for President-Elect Barack Obama.
The real truth, devoid of bigotry, according to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, is that new voters for Obama overwhelmingly voted to defeat the measure. New black voters were stronger supporters of gay rights than the “more experienced voters” that the mainstream LGBT leaders were focusing on for support.
By ignoring the pleas of black gay and lesbian leadership to fight for the black vote, the largely white LGBT leadership inadvertently sent a message showing who they needed and who they did not.
By overlooking the emerging and changing demographics of California, LGBT leadership placed its bet on a mythological white society that it chose to emulate rather than the multiracial America that actually exists. On the other hand, the opposition made up of Christian nationalists, The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and several opportunistic black leaders organized homophobia in the black community uncontested.
Rather than engaging blacks and Latinos, resources were focused in an attempt to convince an ever shrinking pool of “traditional” voters (read white) of the rightness of its cause. It is possible that if new black voters had been educated and mobilized that it might have been the very numbers needed to advance full citizenship for all. Regardless of “what could” or “what should” have happened there is still much that can be done by remembering.
Nearly twenty-five years ago I returned from a night on the town to find a message from my mother on my answering machine. She left a cryptic message telling me it was an emergency and to give her call when I got in. It was nearly 1:30 a.m. in the morning when I returned the call and she asked if I could come over. Off I sped across town on my scooter in the dead of the night worried that something traumatic had taken place in my family.
When I arrived my mother informed me that she had some terrible news. My sister had been there earlier in the evening and told my mom that she was a lesbian. I stood in the middle of the silent living room and according to my mom “made a profound statement” that left her speechless. I said, “she still my sister right?” With that I hugged my mom, got back on my scooter and headed home to bed.
Who my sister loved simply didn’t and doesn’t matter. She is MY sister and we have more in common than will ever separate us. Commonality, not blame, is the lesson that needs to be remembered by both communities in the coming months and years.
Our bonds are stronger than we think. Both communities suffer from job discrimination, hate crimes and housing discrimination. Regardless if they are gay or black, apathy and ignorance surrounding HIV-AIDS still sends too many of our friends and families before their time.
It is ironic that forty years after securing the right to vote some black people used the vote to deny the citizenship rights of others. It is also demoralizing that the LGBT leadership in California never once attempted to remind the black community that the person who laid the groundwork to secure those voting rights, Baird Rustin, was both black and gay–a possible bridge between both communities.
Regardless of the mistakes, ignorance, and miscalculations, one undeniable fact remains—the black and gay communities should either allow California’s Proposition 8 to serve as a lesson or simply concede the very idea of America to white nationalism.
If both communities seek an America where rights of citizenship are not based on the tyranny of the majority, it is time to start walking forward –together.