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Soul Searching, Post-Prop 8: Do Blacks Hate Us?

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Nov 7, 2008

The voter approval of California's anti-gay-family ballot initiative Proposition 8, which rescinded the right to marry from the grasp of gays and lesbians, was not entirely unexpected.

Still, the result hit America's GLBT community with stunning emotional force. For the first time, a ballot initiative had been used not as a roadblock to gaining rights, but as a means to revoking existing rights.

Opposition to (and support for) continued marriage equality in California cut across demographics of all sorts: voters of all ages, races, religious persuasions, and party affiliations voted both for and against the anti-gay amendment.

According to a Nov. 5 item at the Advocate online, the Latino vote was split, with 51 percent of men in favor of the marriage ban and 54 percent of women voting against it, while other demographic divisions also came into play: older voters (65 and up) were for the ban by 57 percent, while younger Californians shunned the measure, with 66 percent voting no.

Voters with a higher level of education resisted the rollback of marriage rights, with 54 percent of college graduates and 64 percent of voters with advanced degrees voting no, while those who had not completed college, or who had stopped their education after high school, voted for the measure--53 percent and 52 percent, respectively.

But what caught the imagination of the public was one statistic out of many: that an overriding majority--70 percent--of African-Americans voted for the anti-gay measure.

To the some in the GLBT community, that stung: it felt like a repudiation, from a segment of America that sought to understand it most readily, of the gay and lesbian push for equal rights.

Making the sting worse was the contrasting jubilation felt by whites and blacks alike that America had lived up to one of its core values--equality--by electing an African-American, while simultaneously it felt as though that very same core value of equality was tossed aside when it came to gay and lesbian families.

For some gays and lesbians, especially those who recall hearing a few prominent African-Americans inveigh against comparisons between gay equality and the civil rights movement, the head-scratching question became: why do blacks hate us so much?

It's a question made more complex by findings by health professionals from earlier this year that young gay men of color are one of leading demographic groups in terms of new HIV infections--and they are surpassed only by African-American women.

Some have speculated that a refusal in the black community to discuss homosexuality within its ranks is helping drive the higher incidence of new HIV infections in that community, with black men who identify as straight going to other men for sex on the "down low," before returning to wives and girlfriends--all too often neglecting to practice safer sex.

But as the media speculated on whether an influx of black voters turning up at the polls to usher Barack Obama into the White House might also have tipped the balance and spelled defeat for gay and lesbian families, some pundits lashed back, either by denying the validity of the GLBT equality movement (or, for that matter, any communal identity for gays and lesbians), or by seeing suggestions that blacks as a whole are anti-gay as simplistic and insulting.

In a Nov. 6 article that appeared at the National Post, Jonathan Kay took the former argument, declaring that, "we anti-gay marriagists would argue that is unfair, for the rejection of gay marriage has nothing to do with rejecting gays as individuals," and calling into question the very idea that gays and lesbians face discrimination.

Wrote Kay, "[G]ays... haven't had any rights taken from them, can have legal sex together, live together, buy homes wherever they want, socialize wherever and with whomever they choose, and flip back through their family albums for any number of generations without finding a single slave."

Added Kay, "In the collective black memory, 'discrimination' meant a white man could prevent a black man from marrying altogether, or sell a black man's wife and children."

Kay excoriated the idea "that African-Americans and gays are roughly equal as identity groups," scoffing at the idea that "a history of suffering in one group should translate into empathy with another group's desire for a political entitlement that has been fabricated from whole ideological cloth."

Kay went on to challenge the very notion of the GLBT community, suggesting that since homosexuality, unlike race, ethnicity, or religion, is not passed down as a trait or characteristic to succeeding generations, gays and lesbians do not constitute a true "identity group" with "collective memories."

Speaking of such "collective memories" possessed by America's blacks, Kay wrote that, "The sufferings they endured are directly related to who they are historically, to characteristics and events they cannot change, to their skin color and bloodlines, to the deeds of their ancestors."

Contrasting blacks with gays, Kay asked, "Where is their commonality with individuals disconnected from the great chain of human history, whose 'identity' isn't a culture, an ethnicity, a race or a civilization--just a mere sexual preference that rules out both a collective past and a collective future, the sine qua non of a true identity group."

Added Key, "The two groups have zero in common on the 'rights' scene, and in my understanding the irresistible liberal impulse to link them on that basis is an irritant to African-Americans."

An African-American writer answered to the suggestion that blacks had turned their backs on a group of fellow-sufferers in the Huffington Post when Raymond Leon Roker's article was published Nov. 7.

Roker approached from the opposite end of the political spectrum as Key, though his indignation was just as acute.

Wrote Roker, "Excuse me? I voted against Proposition 8. I'm among the 30 percent of black Californians that did so."

Added Roker, "And as much as I can condemn the homophobia and intolerance that drove a portion of the 70 percent of blacks that voted in favor of Proposition 8's ban on gay marriage, it's an outrage to lay its passage at their feet."

Roker continued, "I've read several editorials already about how the ungrateful blacks betrayed gays right after America gave them their first president," adding, "this type of condescending, divide and conquer isn't going to help at all. And it's a gross oversimplification of what happened."

Roker pointed to the stats showing how other racial groups voted, including 49 percent of Asians supporting the ban, and the nearly 50 percent of whites who voted to rescind gay and lesbian marriage rights.

Wrote Roker, "Last I checked blacks held little sway over all of those groups."

Continued Roker, "So who did? For starters, the churches, religious leaders and advocacy groups in support of 8 were a very formidable force.

"Surveys showed religion played a major role in voter's decisions."

And Roker laid some of the blame at the doorstep of the GLBT side, too, though unlike Kay it was not in terms of the disproven notion that homosexuality is a choice, or the argument that gays have no claim to community and commonality.

Rather, Roker took a hard look at the political realities of campaigning. "Even No on 8 supporters have admitted that their camp was too complacent, arrogant and far to unorganized," he wrote.

Roker got into specifics, writing, "Perhaps gay rights activists needed to better explain how a No vote wouldn't force churches to perform gay marriage ceremonies.

"And how a No vote wouldn't affect schools or teach children about gay marriage.

"Maybe deeper outreach in the black and brown communities could have changed some minds," Roker continued.

"What about fostering a stronger dialogue beyond the good side of town and in the neighborhoods where some of the unfortunate prejudice takes root?" Roker asked.

As for America's first African-American president and his influence on the issue, Roker noted, "No on 8 also needed a better defense against Obama's own stance on gay marriage.

"He is on record as wanting to allow the states to decide, even though he still supported full rights for same sex couples under civil unions," Roker pointed out, continuing, "those nuances could have been much better explained to those who might be excused to follow suit with Obama's somewhat loose position."

Added Loker, "The anti-Prop 8 forces couldn't just rest on the hope that entrenched and arcane beliefs would be washed away without both a robust defense and offense.

Loker also looked to the future, sounding a hopeful note on marriage equality but also warning against making the issue of Proposition 8's success into a racial one.

"There are very valid arguments against the presumptuous collapsing of Obama's win and the results of the Prop 8 vote, but we can table that for now," Roker asserted.

"Regardless of your position, making scapegoats of blacks as a bunch of thankless homophobes is hardly playing the best hand."

Loker's point that religion played a significant factor in the outcome of the Proposition 8 vote was supported by other media reports.

The Sacramento Bee reported in a Nov. 7 article on the effect of black voters on the result of the vote on the rights of gay and lesbian families that those African-American voters who cast their vote against marriage equality tended to do so out of religious conviction.

The article also noted that this year's election saw blacks constitute 10 percent of the voter turnout, as compared to only 6 percent in the last election.

The article quoted the president of the non-partisan Citizen Voice, Gary Dietrich, as saying, "The Obama people were thrilled to turn out high percentages of African Americans, but [Proposition 8] literally wouldn't have passed without those voters."

Addressing the failure of arguments made by the pro-marriage campaign, which sought to remind black voters of the injustice of laws banning interracial marriage, Dietrich said, "You listen to the African American pastors, they do not buy that argument.

"They do not believe at all that there is a correlation between civil rights vis-?-vis blacks and rights for gays."

With some observers asking whether it was proper--or, under the provisions of the IRS code, legal--for churches to have pushed the amendment so forcefully and so directly, anti-marriage equality voters themselves told the press that their opposition to marriage equality arose not from civil rights considerations, but from religious belief.

The Sacramento Bee quoted 77-year-old Ida Francis, who voted for Barack Obama and also voted for Proposition 8.

Francis' own background includes a childhood in Arkansas during the Jim Crow era. If anyone understands, first hand, the importance of civil equality, it is Ms. Francis.

But marriage, said Francis, is something that goes beyond the realm of debates about civil rights.

"If there are people in our society who wish to live together as a man and man, well, that's their own personal opinion."

But, added Francis, "I don't believe God intended marriage to be between a man and a man, a woman and a woman."

Francis went on, "We're just trying to hold on to what people see in the Bible... The family, one man, one woman, children."

The distinction between the dictates of faith and the realm of the civic was echoed by Sacramento resident Cheryl Weston, whom the Sacramento Bee cited as saying that gays and lesbians enjoy legal protection from discriminatory practices already, and that marriage is a special case.

Said Weston, "Maybe if they don't use that word, marriage."

Weston pointed out that a faith-based need to preserve marriage as something special for heterosexual couples brought together the faithful from across denominational lines.

"Mormons, Catholics, Evangelicals, all of them.

"We all came together, and we had one common belief in this."

But Weston stopped short of saying never to marriage equality rights for same-sex families, the article reported.

"God says, 'Judge nothing before its time.'"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2008-11-07 17:16:16

    Nobody hates homosexual person. Only afirm or not afirm the act. Period.

  • , 2008-11-07 18:58:06

    Great article !! Actually, this article is the first I’ve seen which touched on a topic which seems to be a VERY bitter pill to swallow in the GLBT community, the failure of our community and its leadership to take responsibility for our lack of diligence to allow this legislation to pass........ Yes, there has been quite a bit of finger pointing and scapegoating, but little accountability taken for what our leadership has failed to accomplish. For example, did anyone receive a postcard in the mail, e-mail, text message or a phone call from organizations like HRC, Stonewall Democrats, Lambda Legal etc... rallying support for killing this bill or even for the election ?? No one that I know of..... Huge unified rallys and protests always seem to happen after the fact rather than before. I think Roker made a good point when he said that the issue wasn’t just about equality. I think a lot of this discussion about inequality is based on historically socioeconomic ideals. The fact is, our community doesn’t have the financial unity yet and I question where the money really goes that it currently takes in. Our community is typically set in urban areas, people walk the streets, are unemployed, are dying of AIDS etc...., but we continue to see corporate Gay and Lesbian folks in the spotlight saying "Look at me, I have "arrived" in mainstream corporate America as a Gay man or Lesbian Woman, hear me roar" yet how quickly they forget to turn back and help those disenfranchised others to come up after them and then have the audacity to say how sad they are that legislation like this passed.......... African Americans have united politically, socially and financially as a community and are now beginning to enjoy the fruits of that unity. The GLBT community will only overcome and progress when we are able to stand side by side for our cause and end this corporate, financial and political elitism which is weakening our community and dividing it. Again, I don’t see this kind of GLBT unity fully happening under our current community leadership.

  • , 2008-11-07 21:26:47

    The Gays just dont understand why religious Black folk "hate gays". They dont hate gay people, just the lifestyle/sex part. Its disgusting to us and to the God of the Universe. The Bible (Gods letters to humans) is very clear. Read it guys and girls!.Jesus would have voted Yes on Pro8

  • , 2008-11-08 01:22:15

    Yes, they do. But they thank you very much for voting for their boy. SUCKERS!

  • , 2008-11-08 01:26:17

    You should put an amendment on the ballot to overturn this in 2010. Teh Messiah won’t be running then and the blacks won’t show up to vote and you’d probably win. Without the homophobic blacks this amendment would have failed - simple as that.

  • , 2008-11-08 01:46:06

    RIP Donald Young, black, gay, Choirmaster Trinity United Church of Christ. Murdered southside of Chicago December 2007.

  • , 2008-11-08 09:38:07

    The infantilism evident in the very question itself is what astounds. Only six year olds whine "you don’t love me," when Mommy won’t buy them the latest toy. Denying a spoiled child its every demand is not "hating," but to the petulant Hallmark Homos who demand that society confer upon them Donna Reed status, nobody wuvs them now. True to form, like little girls tormented at recess, they now go running to the courts, like to the skirts of teacher, to turn democracy on its head and punish those mean black kids who wouldn’t play right. Waaaaaaaaaaaah.

  • , 2008-11-08 11:26:33

    If there is a 2010

  • , 2008-11-08 14:45:32

    (Oklahoma City) A recent joint press release from Equality California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center , and the San Diego Gay and Lesbian Center is counseling that ""We achieve nothing if we isolate the people who did not stand with us in this fight. We only further divide our state if we attempt to blame people of faith, African American voters, rural communities and others for this loss. (See the original press release below)I disagree completely. No longer, no longer, no longer must religion be used as the cudgel to separate any person from their legal rights of fair treatment and protection under the law. I walked by a religious proselytizer today in downtown Oklahoma City. I had seen him yesterday when he made a speech for Gee-sus on the bus I was riding. Today, though, he was on the sidewalk and said to me, "Did you know God loves you?" I looked him in the eye for a few seconds and replied, "F*** off!", and walked away. I’ve never acted that way to a stranger before and depending on the perceived physical danger to me, it won’t be the last time I respond to an uninvited encounter with a proselytizer. Religion has and continues to be the major block to the implementation of rights for gay/lesbian citizens because of what we do in private and who we love in public. Religion was the chain around the necks of slaves, it’s been the chastity belt forced on women’s reproductive choice, and it’s been the closed book preventing the age-appropriate teaching of responsible sexual information to children. Religion instructs the empty-headed to fear our differentness, to treat us with disrespect--and with barely concealed contempt--to encourage violence against our property and bodies. We gays/lesbians are far too complacent, accepting, and willing in our own disenfranchisement from our birth right as citizens. I welcome the peaceful protests in California and elsewhere that are demanding the protection and benefits of the laws that are applied to others but not to us. Our self-appointed equality leaders who counsel shyness and acceptance of a later time should act like leaders or get out of our way. The time is long past for coyness and politeness. Dr. M. L. King said it best in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail", April 16, 1963 with this paragraph: We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant ’Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." ( ) With the immorally presented kangaroo-court vote that passed Prop 8 in California and with other anti-gay measures in Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas, I think we gays/lesbians have waited long enough. Let the marches continue! And as we march, let’s take our chant from the newly-elected President Obama’s campaign--Yes, we can!

  • , 2008-11-08 17:06:51

    It was the Obama voters who passed Prop 8. Since you hate the right, and the left has abandonned you, where exactly are you going to get your "rights?" Four misguided justices ruling on a narrow issue of constitutional law did something that for several months had practical consequence, and then tens of millions of California liberals and Democrats said "Not so fast, there, ducky," and now you’re going to make the same mistake you’ve always made by pretending your struggle in any way equates with that of former slaves and at the same time doing your usual best to alienate as many people as possible with your religious bigotry and intolerance. Great. You’re going to go REAL far!

  • , 2008-11-09 11:00:45

    Great article. I just would like to bring a few items to surface. First, blacksmake up on 14% of the total U.S. population. So when the article indicates that 70% supported the ban, that’s 70% of a very small group. Secondly, though blacks have historically face discrimination - and it seems having faced such, they would they would oppose such to other minority groups - blacks on a whole still hold very conservative/traditional view points in the area of homosexuality - particularly Christianity’s stance on the matter. As a black person, I realize how extremely fortunate I am to have a family that has not disowned me because I am gay. I do realize, however, this is the exception and not the norm.Note: Please forgive me in speaking in generalities.

  • , 2008-11-11 03:24:31

    Blacks are the most homophobic group in the US. In California whites were against Prop 8, Latinos were split down the middle and the blacks opposed it overwhelmingly. If they hadn’t it would have failed - they didn’t and it passed. That’s the math...make of it what you will.

  • lesbianofcolor_com, 2008-11-15 16:53:08

    I don’t think Blacks hate gays, it’s just hard for some to identify with on two levels. First, homosexuality is a tough nut to crack in every community in America, and Second the people they see out there demanding gay rights are overwhelmingly not Black. So it’s hard for them to understand when gays/lesbians say their struggle is the same when Whites, for the most part, rule the land. And the reason we don’t see more people of color active in gay rights is what no one is talking about, dependence on our community of color because we don’t feel that we’ll be fully accepted because of racism in the White gay lesbian community if we dare to come out in the straight Black community and get rejected. No one wants to chose between running from a lions den to a bear’s cave.

  • , 2009-10-26 16:19:59

    I found the results of Prop 8 to be morbidly disgusting! Although I am a Black heterosexual female, nevertheless I have always supported gay marriages, same-sex adoptions, as well as upholding the Supreme Court decision of Roe V Wade. Unfortunately, Christianity has a played a vital role in many Black communities. Many African Americans are physically liberal, but socially conservative. What went wrong with Prop 8 and the Black vote? A.S.S.U.M.P.T.I.O.N and BAD MARKETING! There is a smaller percentage of Blacks living in California than any other ethnicity group. There are more faith-based televised sermons advertised on BET, than MTV or VH1. There were no grassroots campaign pushing the opposition agenda of Prop 8 in Black and Hispanic urban/suburban areas. Kanye West, a rapper who has openly expressed his support for gay marriages would have been a great spokesperson for the Black community. Politics is a game of chess, and Prop 8 is just one of the 16 pieces! The Mormans understood their religious constituents. If you want to forward a faith based agenda among minorities, then target the Black churches. President Bush did this during his Presidential campaign. Trying to push Prop 8 right after the Presidential victory of President Obama {without gaining a favorable amount of attention to this subject from Blacks and Hispanics} was infantile. You want Prop 8 eradicated? Then reach out to the Black community. It’s NEVER too late! I still support same sex marriages.

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