Is the Black-LGBT Divide Exaggerated?

Advocates challenge the perception that black people are less supportive than others.

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous (AFP)

The tide may be changing as civil rights organizations, like the National Black Justice Coalition and the NAACP, begin to address gay issues within the black community and start to partner with LGBT organizations.

As Jealous challenged gay and civil rights organizations to join forces in his remarks at the conference, he also addressed the two movements’ common villain: the media.

“Unfortunately, the national media tends to exaggerate divisions between civil rights and LGBT institutions,” he said. “This tendency is what caused the media to blame the African-American community for Proposition 8’s success in California.”

Jealous isn’t alone in his criticism of the media.

“The mainstream media picks up on the sound bite kind of issues, and they can get the ratings from saying something salacious about same-sex marriage,” Nipper said. “And it’s not being framed by us.”

In fact, black people may be more supportive of the LGBT community than the media portray them to be. According to a survey by LGBT media-monitoring organization GLAAD conducted between 2007 and 2009, a sizable number of African Americans seem to care about issues that the LGBT community faces. More than 70 percent of the survey’s respondents say that hate crimes are a problem for gays and lesbians, while almost 60 percent believe that protection for unmarried gay and lesbian couples is an important issue.

“When you look at black people’s support of LGBT equality, I think a lot of times the media often overlook how supportive the black community is on different issues,” said Kimberley McLeod, GLAAD’s media field strategist for communities of African descent.

“There’s an array of [LGBT] issues that African Americans are overwhelmingly in support of,” McLeod continued. “Unfortunately, the dialogue in the media is not dominated by that support. Too often the voices of support get stifled.”

Media aside, the LGBT community continues to face long-standing issues of discrimination and intolerance. But the often-heard theory that African Americans are not supportive of LGBT people may be an exaggerated segment of a larger, more promising narrative.

“There are so many African-American people who are in my movement,” Nipper said. “As a leader, I can pick that up, go with it and feel very confident.”

Joshua R. Weaver is The Roots editorial assistant.

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