Election ’08: Another Perspective on Gay Marriage, Homophobia, HIV & the African-American Community

This piece was written by my boy Craig of the Message Show…

So Barack Obama raised $150,000,000 last month so I have decided to move an additional donation that I was planning to make to his campaign to another cause closer to home.

I’m voting against Proposition 8 here in California and I’ll be supporting the efforts against this proposition financially and I’d like to explain why I think this issue is one that ALL Americans (and particularly African-Americans) should be doing some serious soul searching.

First a confession. I am a policy JUNKIE! I have a Masters of Public Policy from Harvard that I am severely underutilizing, but give me a good set of numbers and econometric possibilities are endless. So let’s begin…

I’ve always felt that African-American’s had a “privileged perspective” in this country due to our perseverance and eventual success (in THIS country) in spite of absolutely insurmountable odds in the face of CENTURIES of despicable and inhuman treatment. I believed that this perspective allowed us keen insight into injustice everywhere and calling it out. But lately I have come to unfortunate conclusion that “my” world-view is not necessarily my “community’s” world-view and I’m not sure how this came to be?

Just a little background. I am a third-generation Los Angeleno. I have lived in California for almost me entire life. Believe it or not, African-American’s only make up approximately 7% of the state’s population (the majority of which live within the city limits of Oakland & Los Angeles and their respective surrounding communities).

On May 15, 2008, the (judiciously conservative – remember we’ve had LONG LINE of Republican Governors running this state) Supreme Court of California overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in a 4-3 holding that “that the California legislative and initiative measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitutional rights of same-sex couples and may not be used to preclude same-sex couples from marrying.” Almost immediately, Proposition 8 was created to override the Court’s decision and now it is up to the state’s voters (not the judicial system?) to decide the future of gay marriage in this state.

Really? What if we had allowed the good people of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia (you get the point) to DECIDE if African-Americans should enjoy the same freedoms that its white citizens enjoyed for hundreds of years? How do you think that vote would have gone? Exactly. Proposition 8 is a blatant attempt to neuter court’s mandate to protect the rights of ALL citizens and impose the “supposed” views of the majority.

One of my favorite political bloggers, Andrew Sullivan, posted this tidbit on his blog on September 30th.

Citing a recently released study, Andrew noted: “Young evangelical Christians display generational differences on some key social issues. A majority of younger white evangelicals support some form of legal recognition for civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples. Older evangelicals remain strongly opposed. At the same time, young evangelicals are as solidly pro-life on abortion as older evangelicals.”

Andrew then concludes by saying, “Black evangelicals are another matter. There is, alas, no ethnic community as homophobic in America as African-Americans. Which is why the ballot initiative in California could be close.”

I was admittedly offended at his suggestion that African-Americans could play a decisive role AGAINST another person’s/group’s civil rights and immediately sent him an e-mail demanding proof of his claim.

Well folks, here’s the proof. Please take a gander at a VERY recent SurveyUSA poll on Proposition 8. California’s African-Americans SUPPORT Proposition 8 by a margin of 20 points, 58% to 38%. To put that in perspective with other Californians: White 47% Yes – 48% No, Hispanics 47% Yes – 41% No, Asian 42% No – 48% Yes.

Wow. How did we get here? Look I’m not in complete denial. I will certainly admit that there is a strong homophobic undercurrent within the African-American community, although I have never been able to ascertain what the SOURCE of that angst is? That being said, I’ve also seen nearly an equal of amount of flat-out “acceptance” that I BELIEVED is the result of our legacy of slavery and civil rights in this country. But now I’m not so sure.

I wonder how many African-American’s believe that Dr. Martin Luther King would be FOR Proposition 8? Clearly more than I ever imagined. The reason I bring Dr. King up is his because he was a minister AS WELL AS a civil right leader. The political and religious have long been intertwined in the African-American community and I can think of no other institution that has played a more significant role in African-American’s views on homosexuality than the black church. Bararck Obama has tried to address this issue from the pulpit. Hell, Al Sharpton has tried to address this issue from the pulpit. Unfortunately, these words have mostly fall upon deaf ears.

These same deaf ears have failed to tally up the true COST of homophobia in the black community, but we’ll do that here with the help of the Center for Disease Control. According to the 2000 census, blacks make up approximately 13% of the US population. However, in 2005, blacks accounted for approximately 49% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in the United States. Wow! To put that in perspective, the rate of AIDS diagnoses for black adults and adolescents was 10 times the rate for whites and nearly 3 times the rate for Hispanics. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black women was nearly 23 times the rate for white women. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black men was 8 times the rate for white men. This is a public health CRSIS that is rarely discussed neither within nor outside of the African-American community. Shameful.

So what does this have to do with gay marriage you ask? Everything. The level of homophobia in the black community and the rate of HIV infection is NOT one of coincidence. The longer we are complicit in denying equal rights, the longer we are complicit in preventing people from being 100% truthful about who they are. As African-Americans we can keep having “gossiptorial” conversations about the “down-low” or own up to the fact that our community’s lack of tolerance has contributed to the incubation of this phenomenon and its “innocent” victims.

Lastly, Andrew Sullivan posted a new blog today about the SurveyUSA results and what he believes Barack Obama should do about them:

“All this makes it vital, in my opinion, that Barack Obama strongly and unequivocally oppose Proposition 8 in California, rather than keeping mainly quiet as he has done so far. We need him to make an ad opposing it. This is a core test of whether gay Americans should back Obama as enthusiastically as they have in the last month. If he does not stand up for gay couples now, why should we believe he will when he is in office? And if black Americans are the critical bloc that helps kill civil rights for gays, that will not help deepen Obama’s governing coalition. It could tear it apart. Memo to Obama: make an ad. Speak loudly. Defend equality. Defend it when it might actually lose you some votes. Show us you are not another Clinton.”

For the record, Obama IS opposed to Proposition 8, calling it a “divisive and discriminatory effort to amend the California Constitution”, but he is AGAINST gay marriage BUT supports equal rights for gay couples under the law. Got that?

Look. Clearly gay marriage has emerged as this decade’s third-rail of electoral politics. Remember how well Karl Rove has used it thus far? Obama’s playing out the clock on this one and Sullivan knows that. Younger voters don’t have a problem with gay marriage and older voters won’t be around to prevent it from happening. I’m not saying that makes blocking gay marriage today “okay”, I’m just saying I think most gays and lesbians rightfully think that having Obama/Biden in the White House is better than McCain/Palin. Calling on Obama to thrust himself into this issue by “making an ad and speaking loudly” is defeatist at best. After 8 years of George Bush, I think Obama’s earned the right to play it safe…

The Court of Public Opinion