By Chico Norwood
Thousands of protesters hold signs in downtown Los Angeles in front of City Hall Nov. 15 to voice opposition on the passage of Proposition 8, a measure that bans same-sex marriage in California. That same day, the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable held a Proposition 8 discussion in Leimert Park. Exit poll data showed that blacks voted in large numbers for the state’s constitutional ban: about 70 percent. The roundtable attempted to tackle the question of whether blacks caused the measure to pass, among other topics.
Tensions between the black and gay communities have surfaced following the passage of Proposition 8 on Nov. 4, prompting an increase in planned local community forums and debates.
One of the sources of friction between the two groups stems from the 70 percent of African Americans who voted in favor of the measure, which bans same-sex marriage in California. The 70 percent figure comes from exit polling data.
The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, an organization that presents public policy issues for discussion every week, attempted to tackle the question “Did Blacks Pass Proposition 8” at its forum Nov. 15. at Lucy Florence Coffeehouse in Leimert Park. Mostly heterosexuals attended, and there were no representatives from the white gay community or the African American faith community, which along with the Mormon Church has reportedly received death threats for their support of the measure.
Several prominent black churches have reported a barrage of threatening calls and racial slurs against their clergy, according to one source who asked not to be identified for her safety.
This is an issue that “is not going away in a week,” said Pedro Baez, president of the roundtable who moderated the group’s forum last weekend.
“I think the blame should go all around,” Baez said. “Yes, blacks and Hispanics did come out against it … (but) the white community came out against it.”
Baez added that he plans to hold at least one more forum to discuss bigotry and racism that exists in the black and gay communities.
Another community discussion will be held Nov. 22 from 8 to 11 a.m. at Los Angeles Trade Technical College for a conversation with the black community about homosexuality and gay marriage, according to Jasmyne Cannick, an African American writer and social activist who is also gay. A black women’s radio program called “Some of Us Are Brave” that airs on 90.7FM, has planned a dialogue on the issue this Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Alfreda Lanoix, the African American lesbian founder of a spiritual networking forum, Love at Work: The Exchange, said she plans on helping conduct a protest in Leimert Park, also on Saturday. Lanoix said she wants people to see that the gay community also includes gay African Americans.
For Lanoix, blaming minority communities for the measure’s passage is justified.
“Just by the percentage of blacks, of people of color, definitely lets us know that this is something that our community was against,” Lanoix said. “So, it’s about accountability, that those that voted yes should be accountable and should be exposed to what it is that they’ve done.
“It’s almost like black-on-black crime,” she added. “We are the black community also. You cannot separate us from the black community just because of our sexual orientation. It’s important that they be (held) accountable.”
Cannick said she believes the white gay community should be blamed for the measure’s passage, adding Proposition 8 opponents ran a poor campaign and failed to try to understand or reach out to the black community. Cannick said the campaign failed to bring in minorities to develop and execute strategies geared toward the various minority communities.
“They gave no money to black gay organizations to do any work,” Cannick added. “They gave almost $500,000 to the NAACP and Alice Huffman, and they gave money to a black gay group that they started on their own.”
Cannick alleged that the white gay community has a long history of bigotry and racism toward blacks, and contends that black gays are harassed more in West Hollywood nowadays.
Cannick has received death threats for writing a commentary for the Los Angeles Times’ Opinion section about her view of racism in the gay community and their failure to communicate why gay marriage should be important to African Americans.
Cannick also alleged that an angry crowd recently confronted her black gay friend as she drove through Westwood.
“On her way home, here come protesters coming down Wilshire (Boulevard). They jumped on her car calling her a (N-word), talking about … ‘Because of your people we don’t have our rights,’ ” Cannick said, adding her friend phoned her, upset about the incident. “All they saw was a black woman.”
Keith A., who supports Proposition 8, said he believes the gay community’s initial reaction to the measure’s passage was borne out of frustration.
“I heard one of the gentlemen who was gay (who) sounded hurt about the fact that he had to be in the closet all of these years. He could not express himself as being gay,” said Keith, who was not identified by the L.A. Watts Times for his protection. “I don’t think that their being married, or having the chance to marry those of their same sex, is going to change any of that. They won’t be able to find dignity in the fact that they are married any more than heterosexuals can, necessarily, find dignity in the fact that they are married.”
Keith said he believes gay marriage is not about civil rights. Referring to excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letters from Birmingham Jail,” he argued that King framed his case for civil rights around the natural law.
“In the Birmingham letter by Dr. King, it was natural law that he said was the reason that blacks should be treated equally to whites. (The)Yes Vote on Proposition 8 continues that natural law tradition,” Keith said. “Natural law is above civil law, and that’s why we should make all of our civil laws in line with natural law.”
Sonja Eddings Brown, deputy communications director for Protect Marriage California, said she has never seen anything like what is happening as a result of the measure’s passage.
“I think ‘one man, one vote,’ and if African Americans got out and voted, and religious people got out and voted, and people without faith got out and voted because they believe in traditional families, they deserve to have their vote honored,” she said. “I think it is wrong to turn this into a culture or racial or religious debate when it is really about whether you support the traditions of all time or whether you don’t.”