Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wake Up, White GLBT Community

Sometimes I feel like Laurence Fishburne's character Dap in Spike's movie School Daze when it comes to talking to some white GLBT peeps about racism, white privilege, how it impacts the community as a whole and the stubborn refusal to forcefully address it.

Well, to borrow a line from Malcolm X, the chickens have come home to roost thanks to the passage of Proposition 8 in Cali and a similar Florida anti marriage equality amendment.

The point is that your African-American GLBT allies and progressive African-Americans are beyond sick and tired of being castigated for the Prop 8 loss. If you want to vent on somebody, take it to the people who actually sponsored it, the Mormon Church, the Traditional Values Coalition, conservative Black preachers, the Catholic Church and all the peeps who share your ethnic heritage who signed the petitions and voted for the amendment in the first place.

Hell, African-Americans make up only 6% of the population in California. There were far more peeps that shared your ethnic heritage across the state that helped it to pass besides focusing broad brush racist vitriol on the clusters of Black folks in nine California counties. It was the failure to engage communities of color until late in the game that led to this devastating loss.

We also see this crap for what it is, a right-wing attempt to not only sow seeds of division within the African-American community, but also split it from the GLBT civil rights coalition.

The point is that the No on 8 forces didn't do a good job in reaching out to the African-American community. The Yes peeps were placing ads on African-American radio stations, other AA oriented media and deploying homobigot preachers to speak for them at predominately African-American community events.

Magic Johnson stated on the Larry King Show that he was a No on 8 supporter. There are several African-American Hollywood stars, California African-American politicians and native Californian icons such as Tyra Banks who are GLBT community supporters. Where were the ads in the AA community trumpeting that or featuring them?

Where were the ads featuring GLBT friendly African-American ministers such as San Francisco's Bishop Yvette Flunder? Did you even have any ads similar to the devastating No on 8 ad featuring Mormon missionaries barging into a white lesbian couple's home, snatching their wedding rings off their fingers and tearing their marriage license in half that targeted the Black and other communities of color as well?

While this ad and the clones of the Mac PC ads were brilliant, what was needed were ads specifically targeted to the African-American community.

But some of you stooped to the oldest trick in the book to explain the loss, blame Black people and hate on Jasmyne Cannick for keepin' it real about why the No on 8 campaign failed to garner support in Cali's African-American community.

How very Republican of you.

Now that the Prop 8 loss has gotten your attention, once again the African-American GLBT community will point out yet again that we are not only part of the overall GLBT community, we are part of the 13% of the population that claims our African heritage.

It should be crystal clear by now that you cannot win elections without engaging either the GLBT or non GLBT African-American community and asking for our support.

Yes, we African-American GLBT peeps and bloggers are painfully aware of the homohaters that share our ethnic heritage. We never denied that nor are we defending them as some of you have insultingly charged. We have pointed out ad nauseum for years the danger of letting the perception that 'this is a white gay movement' take root or the Black fundamentalist 'they're hijacking the 60's Civil Rights Movement' spin go unchallenged. The 'whitewashing' of gay history has denied us concrete examples of African-American gay peeps we can point to besides Bayard Rustin who have made major contributions to building not only the 60's Civil Rights movement, but the GLBT movement as well.

The failure of some white gay peeps to engage in issues of importance to African-Americans combined with the failure to forcefully denounce racism within your own ranks, loudly call for 'incremental progress' on transgender people's rights as you take a hypocritical 'damn the torpedoes' approach to marriage equality has led to a unflattering perception that the only peeps you care about are yourselves.

You are also not doing yourself any favors by attacking President-elect Obama when he has yet to even be given a chance to prove what type of president he'll be on GLBT issues.

Just so you don't think that this constructive criticism is a one way street, I've called out my own peeps just as forcefully about their homophobia for years along with other Black GLBT bloggers. But that's an in house conversation we're gonna have to have just like the internal ones y'all have that we ain't privy to.

But one thing that needs to happen post haste is that African-American GLBT people must become equal partners and have major leadership roles in this movement, not just when y'all want some melanin in the photo ops to show how inclusive you are.

Time to check the alarm clock and wake up. If you don't, you'll see more GLBT rights disappear into oblivion because of flawed political strategy.


Tara said...

I agree with most of what you said, but why the need to hand hold AA voters. That is the the only thing I do not understand. AA did not make Prop 8 Pass, that is very true, however they did turn out in force to vote for discrimination. Why is that white LGBT fault? I do not mean to be offensive I am truly curious. It feels like in one breath we are being told, white LGBT people did not reach out and it is their fault, how dare they AA homophobia, see they ARE racists. Do you not see the problem there?

Monica Roberts said...

I made it quite clear we aren't excusing our homophobes. we will deal with them. But at the same time we're dealing with our homophobes you must deal with the racists within your midst as well.

If white LGBT peeps are going to hold AA GLBT peeps to the standard of being responsible for our 'phobes, then that same standard of owning your racists applies equally to you as well.

What I'm saying quite clearly is that you have to respectfully reach out to AA voters.

We said the same thing to the Democratic party after the 2004 election. You can't come into our community one to two weeks before an election and ASSUME you're going to get our votes when you've spent the bulk of your time money and efforts elsewhere.

You have to aggressively court our community for votes just like you do any other, and the sooner the GLBT community understands that, the better.

Tara said...

See, but to me it does excuse it when you apply the excuse that they were not courted, somehow they missed the memo that it was discrimination. I agree there are racists, and a lot of them, there has also been many people loudly denouncing racists. I myself took timboe to post about it on my blog the on the 6th.

I dunno. I have never understood us and them ideas in any context. I seriously prefer polite disregard to outright hostility. (Not trying to imply you have any or anyone does, just musing).

Identity politics is dangerous, and I am as much at fault as any other.

A bigot is a bigot is a bigot, and in some way maybe we all are.

Monica Roberts said...

The problem is the 'two Americas' situation. You're looking at it as discrimination, they're looking at it as a religious/faith issue.

As long as they see it as such, the GLBT community loses that debate. It as to be framed as a civil rights issue.

You are never going to eliminate identity politics. it's been around as long as the founding of this nation, so you deal with it.

adelaide doris windsome said...

i thought the post was great and helped me better process the issue especially when responding to my fellow white lgb tqqia's on the issue.

i feel tara did not read the post so much as respond to it. the population of african-americans is 6% versus the millions of dollars pre-dominantly white insitutions spent on passing prop 8. i fail to see how targeting a community which includes glbt s and allies is a fair assessment.

Dale said...

Tara, the people who want to see change are the people who have to make it happen. This is why the LGBT needs to reach out to conservative Christians, both black and white.

The attitudes of this population are self-reinforcing. They won't change unless we, including our allies, bring that change about.

Monica is right about identity politics never going away. Its the nature of the democracy (and people in general) to support those who understand your concerns and what you experience in your life. For example, Sarah Palin's appeal partly in her positions, but also in that she was a working mother, and seemed to come from a small town and blue collar background. This excited a lot of people that the McCain campaign wasn't reaching before.... because she (presumably) understood what it was like to be them.

I agree with your caution that identity politics can be overdone. But they aren't going away.

Jackie said...

Monica you are spot on.
I'm sure there are few black LGBT people who weren't disgusted by the 70% yes votes by AA's on Prop 8. But, knowing the traditional attitudes of non gay black folks, it shouldn't have been a big surprise. Black voters were expected to vote in record numbers but somehow the focus of the NO on 8 messages did not address these voters, at all. The ads should have gone where they are. Civil rights, human rights, fairness, equality, 2nd class citizenship etc. Again, the black vote taken for granted.
Now, Limbaugh and O'Reilly and all are dancing around encouraging this black vs. gay fight. Trouble in progressland? Well, yes we need to get it out and learn from it and deal with it. Exclusion in the GLBT community and homophobia in black churches, all that has bobbed up finally, and we gotta dialogue and move on. It's about learning and "change" right. Let's do it.

Renee said...

@Monica when you nail it, you go all in. You are quite right to point out the whitewashing of gayness. Since the backlash I have spent much time thinking about the kind of advertising I have seen in the GLBTQI community and much of it is white, and when I do see a POC it is the usual overly sexualized image. Just because the racism is coming from another marginalized group does not reduce its impact. It is not fair to make us invisible in a movement which we clearly are represented and then assume that we will come out on mass.

You are further correct about the issue of religion. I to this day don't believe that white people understand the power of the church in an African American community. Religion was what got our people thorough slavery and has been behind most of the civil rights organizations that we have started. Even those that no longer actively participate in the church were more than likely raised in it.

The idea that we are ignoring homophobia to privilege racism is a bait and switch tactic. They don't want us to recognize our own invisibility so that they can continue to set the agenda.

What I really have come to think about is why marriage has become the issue. I am not saying that equality before the law is unimportant I am simply stating that there are other issues tied to being gay that are being ignored in order to push the idea of monogamy and commitment. It almost feels like somehow that some people think that if gay people are allowed to get married that it will suddenly give them the kind of social clout that heterosexuality operates with. Of course this is false. Gay marriage could pass tomorrow and issues with poverty/racism/gay bashing/aids and HIV would still be there. I wonder if the poor gay black man or woman who is beaten outside of a bar is more concerned about stopping the violence than getting married? How the issues are prioritized is also an issue than needs to be taken into account. Okay I'm out as this is ridiculously long once again. You just keep on rockin it. Thank goodness for this blog.

Monica Roberts said...

It was The Evil Equal Sign Org that pushed the change in strategy.

In 2003, when we had the freight train momentum of passing civil rights bills left right and center all over the US, had the Reichers on the run because they had no effective counterargument for it, they decided that the focus was now going to be gay marriage.

Despite warnings from the transgender community and others that this was a mistake, HRC forged ahead anyway.

It reenergized the right wing, probably extended Junior's reign of terror an additional four years and has foreclosed the possibility of legalizing same gender marriage it for alt least 20-30 years.

Nichole said...

Your piece was a well-reasoned summarization of a number of reasons why Prop 8 won the voting. TBH, the LTBG alliance targeted areas & people already inclined to vote no on 8 and didn't target areas that might have had an effect if a few voters had wavered.

We took what was said about particular people "too homophobic to vote for us" and literally made the case that they weren't worth the effort of outreach. That's no way to prevail.

Monica, as usual you provide persepctive and insight that seems to be unavailable to our leadership who seem to accept at face-value the same tired tropes about identity that the conservatives they are consistently around claim to be given truth. The worst perhaps that "America is a center-right country."

As long as we ignore or write-off groups where it may well be possible for us to make in roads among, then we will continue to perpetuate just the results we saw in Cali. And the results will tend to confirm for the leadership their own views.

Very good piece. Thank you.

Mel said...

I'm a big James Baldwin fan and have been thinking about him a lot since this whole Prop 8 thing happened. Baldwin never (that I know of) addressed homophobia and gay rights in the same direct and forceful way that he addressed racism. I had someone once tell me that they thought Baldwin never became as famous as other authors because he was gay and therefore not as accepted within the black community.

So my question is this. Do you think the fact that we don't know about gay leaders of color is about homophobia or about their need to focus on what seemed like the more fundamental and pressing issue?

By the by - I discovered your blog a bit ago and am now addicted to your straightforward sanity.

Monica Roberts said...

Thanks for the kind words about the blog and glad you enjoy it.

Now I'll try to answer your question.

I believe there's a combination of factors at work as to why the GLBT movement has a void of people of color leadership.

1-GLBT leaders of color are fcused on more fundamental bread and butter issues such as getting a job or keeping people from killing us with impunity.

These are the primary issues we've been addressing since Emancipation in 1865.

2-Racism/bigotry/prejudice keeps us from building the visibility and credibility GLBT leaders of color need to get on the national media radar.

I'll bet you can name a half dozen GLBT leaders who are white on the national, state and local levels, but the reverse is true of GLBT leaders of color.

3-The forcing out of GLBT people of color from leadership roles in the GLBT starting in the 70's by Mattachine adherents and lesbian radfems helped create and ossify the perception in communities of color that this was a 'white gay movement'

Required reading right now should be the 2002 Task Force Report entitled 'Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud' which was a 2000 survey done at nine Black Pride events across the country (including my hometown)

A study of black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from various cities across the United States found that:

* Black LGBT people identified the most important issues facing their community as:
o Hate crime violence;
o Marriage and partner recognition.

* Half of the respondents agreed that racism is a problem for black LGBT people in their relations with white LGBT people;

* Two-thirds of those surveyed agreed that homophobia is a problem within the black community.

The report has been sitting on the Task Force website available for download since 2002.