Somebody forgot to tell gay people that race wars are no longer in vogue. While the rest of the country has spent the last week reveling in the afterglow of Grant Park, gay America has devolved into a Sarah Palin rally.
The issue is a particularly nasty California ballot initiative, Proposition 8, which passed last Tuesday with just over half the vote. Prop 8 repealed a historic state Supreme Court ruling that gave gays the right to wed—and it appears to have won massive black support. That’s a fact that ought to shame black folks everywhere.
But it also ought to finally convince the white-led gay rights movement to take people of color seriously, a case black gay activists have been trying to make for the better part of the past 30 years. Addressing the destructive reactions of too many of my white gay compatriots in recent days would be a good place to begin.
It started when a CNN exit poll declared that 70 percent of black voters supported the initiative. That finding led many in Cali’s white gay community to conclude they lost their rights because of black homophobia. Things went downhill fast from there. Much of the ensuing outcry has been nasty, even hateful. As one college student wrote to the black gay blog Rod 2.0 in describing a Los Angeles protest, “It was like being at a Klan rally, except the Klansmen were wearing Abercrombie Polos and Birkenstocks.”
I wish his remark could be easily dismissed as hyperbole. The comment sections of blogs ranging from progressive standard-bearer DailyKos to black lesbian rabble rouser Jasmyne Cannick have been swarmed with racist rants and reports of slurs hurled at African Americans. Big-name gay scribes have piled on. By 10 a.m. the day after the election, popular columnist Dan Savage had shot off at the mouth, declaring himself “done pretending” that “the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans” aren’t a bigger threat to gays than racist gays are to blacks. Whatever that means.
There is no question that homophobia runs deep in black America—or that it wreaks far more acute damage than denying marriage rights, frankly. Just ask the families of Sakia Gunn or Rashawn Brazell or any one of the scores of black queers whose murders have been met with a collective shrug in black communities. Or all the families destroyed by a raging AIDS epidemic we go on ignoring, in large part because of our uneasiness with sexuality of any sort, let alone the homo and bi and transgender kind. It’s long past time black people have a conversation about this ugly reality.