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My Gay Problem, Your Black Problem

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Dec 02, 2008

Editor's note: Tensions between gay rights and black civil rights activists flared last week. Derogatory terms were used on both sides, which stirred deep and personal disgust in NAM contributing writer Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

LOS ANGELES Gay activists and blacks showed their ugly side during two Prop 8-related events last week in Los Angeles.

Blacks were reportedly cursed and taunted with the "N" word on the fringe of one of several massive protest marches held recently in Los Angeles against the passage of Proposition 8. That's the initiative that encodes in the California Constitution wording that defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

A few days after that, several blacks took the microphone at a town hall on black and gay relations and lambasted gay activists for comparing the gay rights struggle to the black civil rights struggle. One of the speakers emphasized the point by spewing out the words "sissy," the "F" and the "P" words to refer to gays. Some in the audience gasped, but other blacks didn't flinch at the epithets.

I did, but I also flinched when I heard the report about some blacks being verbally assaulted with racial epithets at the anti-Proposition 8 march. Both stirred deep and personal disgust. Not solely because the slurs in one case came from blacks and in the other from white gays, but because the assailants said what many others on both sides of the gay and black divide feel. The gulf between them has been hinted at, and even on occasion openly talked about by a handful of black gay activists, but not much more. That is until it exploded to the surface with Proposition 8, and blacks got the blame for helping to pass the initiative.

Chalking up the fear and loathing that many African Americans feel toward gays to ignorance, religious bigotry, or homophobia is much too simple. From cradle to grave, many blacks hear -- and accept -- the gender propaganda that the only real men in American society are white men. In a vain attempt to recapture their denied masculinity, many black men, mirror America's traditional fear and hatred of homosexuality. They swallow whole the phony and perverse John Wayne version of manhood -- real men talk and act tough, shed no tears, and never show their emotions.

Countless blacks have heard black ministers condemn to fire and brimstone any man who dared think about, yearn for, or actually engage in the "godless" and "unnatural act" of having a sexual relationship with another man. From the gospel singing Winans sisters to Donnie McClurkin, black religious singers have drawn much fire for anti-gay lyrics in some of their recordings. Yet, there have been no major protests from the black community, and their record sales have jumped.

In part, the exclusion of gays from black life hinges on the assumption that there are thousands of gay men lying in wait to subvert traditional family values. These are shaky grounds, indeed. Beyond the fact that no one really knows how many black (or non-black) men consider themselves exclusively gay, much of what passes for traditional family values has long since been turned into shambles.

Even if the American family was exactly like the Ozzie and Harriet version, the primary reasons for black family breakdown are poverty, unemployment, lack of education, chronic disease, violence, drugs, alcoholism, imprisonment and early death. Gay marriage is not on that list.

Polls and surveys over the past decade have found that blacks more than whites, Latinos or Asians publicly express negative attitudes toward gays, and they especially bristle at any comparison to the civil rights movement. Their refusal to see that discrimination and bigotry against gays is still discrimination and the fight against it is a legitimate civil rights issue must be challenged at every turn.

That same fight should also be waged against overt or subtle bigotry among some white gays. The same blacks at the town hall repeatedly came back to that point about perceived gay racism.

An informal 2002 survey of more than 2000 gay black men attending pride celebrations in San Francisco found that nearly 50 percent of the respondents who were minority gay men thought that racism was a problem among white gays. The survey was published by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. Two years later in another survey of gay Asian Americans on the East Coast, more than 80 percent of them said that they believed that racism was a problem among gays.

Some gay organization leaders moved quickly to defuse some of the hurt from the passage of Prop 8 by sternly warning protestors at the marches not to single out blacks for attack for backing Prop 8. This is encouraging. It was just as encouraging to see some gay activists pull some of the blacks that railed against gays aside at the town hall and calmly make their case that they aren't the enemy. They aren't, and the peace actions of gay leaders and those blacks willing to listen to the other side offer hope that the problems each side has with the other is a problem that doesn't have to be a problem.



Related stories

Prop 8 Opponents Seek Supreme Court Hearing

New Yorkers Protest Gay Marriage Ban

It's No Surprise Blacks Backed Gay Marriage Ban

Gays in the Age of Obama - It's Their Party and They'll Cry if They Want to

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