The defeat of Proposition 8 in California and the fact that a large proportion of African Americans voted in favor of banning same sex marriage is of course, an important issue for me and bisects both my race and my sexuality. Many in the gay community are upset about how blacks helped sink the measure while others are saying that African Americans and Latinos shouldn't be scapegoated.
I come at this with a lot of mixed feelings. One the one hand, I am frustrated at how the gay community tends to pretend that gay persons of color don't exist and then have the nerve to get angry when people of color vote against gays. On the other, I am upset at the homophobia that is present in the black community that forces gay men and lesbians to live lives on the "down low," hiding their sexuality from their loved ones.
As an African American, I have to say that racism and homophobia are not the same thing and the predominantly white gay community needs to be aware of that. I'm not minimizing homophobia, but I am just asserting that it is different than the discrimation that blacks have felt. But even more so is the fact that when the subject of gay marriage is brought up in the media, the people we see are all white. It's as if blacks or Latinos or Asian gays don't exist. So, if you are black person going to vote for this measure and you see no black people being portrayed, then why would you vote for it? It's just going to help white folks.
But as a gay man and as am African American gay man, I know how pervasive homophobia is in our communities. Growing up, I remember being chastised if I bent my wrist downward, since that would tell people I'm gay. Because I didn't act in the hyper-masculine way that all black boys were supposed to act like, I recieved my fair share of the "faggot" epithet. And I remember preachers condemning homosexuals from their pulpits and the derogatory chatter in barbershops. Because of all this, gay African Americans have tended to hide in plain sight, downplaying their sexuality.
Prop 8 passed for a lot of reasons, but two main reasons is because of racism in the gay community and homophobia in the black community. We can't try to shut our eyes to either sin.
In my view, state and national groups have to be more willing to be truly inclusive. Stop just talking about white gay couples, but seek out mixed or couples of color.
And please stop linking gay rights to the civil rights movement. Black people find that belittling to their struggles. Find other ways to influence African Americans.
But the other thing that has to happen is that African Americans have to confront their own homophobia. Gay African Americans have to come out and be bold. We have to live our lives in the open and not hide.
Straight African Americans who are gay-supportive need to also speak up and condemn homophobes in our community. Black parents of gay children need to speak up for their kids.
There is a lot of work to be done, but nothing will change as long as we point fingers.