Why Prop 8 Passed in California: The Myth of the Black/Gay Divide
Continued from previous page
In the final days before the election, No on 8 ran an ad with a voiceover by Black actor Samuel L. Jackson denouncing past civil rights abuses like Japanese internment and anti-miscegenation laws, with a slideshow of gay and lesbian couples on the screen.
Some members of the California Teachers Association, to their credit, turned over the final week of pre-election phone banking to No on Prop 8 calls. Kathryn Lybarger, who married her partner a few weeks before the election, describes this and other efforts as "tragically last-minute stuff."
Blogger Rick Jacobs rightly challenged the campaign's tepid approach: "[C]an there be outrage when a movement becomes a corporation? When the largest LGBT organizations look like, are staffed by former executives of, and are funded by huge corporations and huge donors, where is the movement?"
By comparison, the anti-gay Yes on 8 campaign was aggressive, vocal and visible. They cynically used Obama's own words and image in TV ads to persuade Democratic voters to oppose gay marriage by voting for the ban.
Largely financed by right-wing institutions like the Mormon Church and the Blackwater mercenary security company, Yes on 8 sent anti-gay marriage activists to Black and white churches to drum up support. Their so-called robocalls, automatic telephone calls with mechanized messages, played Joe Biden's words from the vice presidential debate agreeing on opposition to gay marriage with vacuous bigot Sarah Palin.
Another element was exposed in a Los Angeles Times op-ed article titled "No-on-8's white bias," by Black lesbian Jasmyne A. Cannick. Cannick said she knocked on doors in working-class and poor Black neighborhoods of LA to register voters without ever raising the gay marriage issue.
"[T]he right to marry does nothing to address the problems faced by both Black gays and Black straights," Cannick wrote. "Does someone who is homeless or suffering from HIV but has no health care, or newly out of prison and unemployed, really benefit from the right to marry someone of the same sex?"
The answer is: Yes, indirectly, they do.
Thus, for example, the fight for HIV drugs and funding that erupted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when white gay men were the dominant group dying of AIDS, could have averted the catastrophe of AIDS in the Black community today if a multiracial, gay and straight alliance had formed from both sides of the racial divide.
As African American civil rights leader Julian Bond put it, "Our inability to talk about sex, and more specifically homosexuality, is the single greatest barrier to the prevention of HIV transmission in our community."
An injury to one truly is an injury to all. As a group that has endured the injustices of separate but equal amounting to second-class status, Blacks can certainly comprehend the stakes in this fight for equality -- especially Black gays and lesbians who would directly benefit.
Besides, pitting one group of oppressed against another can only aid those in positions of wealth and power who benefit from divide-and-conquer tactics. For this reason, many prominent African American leaders, from Coretta Scott King to Al Sharpton, have taken an unequivocal stand in defense of gay marriage.
It is true that some Black churches and leaders are homophobic, and they should be challenged. But the enormous wealth of the white-dominated Catholic and Mormon churches, in stark contrast to the poverty of most Black churches, renders their culpability that much worse.
In challenging white LGBT people who justify not working alongside African Americans due to their supposed higher rates of homophobia, Black lesbian Barbara Smith argues: