Historic Roots of Homophobia in Black America

black homophobiaIn a story in Racialicious, Monica Roberts noted that the poll measuring black support for the California ballot measure was flawed and its numbers inflated, a position confirmed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Further, blacks, who are outnumbered, and a small percentage of the state population, cannot be blamed for the success of the initiative, which was also bankrolled by the Mormon Church.

“Every time I’m watching TV I see predominately white ministers such as James Dobson, other white fundamentalists, white dominated anti equality [organizations] and peeps like Tony Perkins leading the anti gay charge,” Roberts said.

Similarly, in North Carolina – where the same sex marriage ban was recently approved — blacks are only 21.5 percent of the population and whites are nearly 70 percent. One poll said blacks supported the Amendment by 51 percent, lower than the two-to-one margin originally reported, and significantly below overall statewide support of the measure. The vote took place during the Republican presidential primary, where older, more conservative voters participated.

Another reason for the rift between blacks and the LGBT community has been the historic lack of synergy and inclusion regarding blacks and the gay rights movement. Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black man who organized the 1963 March on Washington was a pivotal figure and master strategist in the civil rights movement. Yet, he met resistance from black leaders, and did not receive his just due because of his sexual orientation.

Outside groups have created a rift as well. For example, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI persecuted homosexuals and suspected gays, just as COINTELPRO divided and destroyed civil rights organizations and their leaders. Today, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) — designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — has conducted a national anti-gay marriage campaign to exploit communities of color, as SPLC reports.

“The strategic goal of this project,” NOM said, “is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies. We aim to find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage; to develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; and to provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.”

Further, their strategy to make inroads in the Latino community is to “gather and connect a community of artists, athletes, writers, beauty queens and other glamorous non-cognitive elites.”

Organizations such as the NAACP, and leaders such as Ben Jealous, Julian Bond, Rep. John Lewis and the late civil rights icon Coretta Scott King have been champions of LGBT rights. Further, groups such as the National Black Justice Coalition focus on civil rights for black LGBTpeople. And despite their defeat, a broad coalition of civil rights groups and clergy opposed North Carolina’s Amendment 1.

“I firmly believe that the ‘tension’ between the black community and the LGBT community is primarily a sensationalistic media creation,” says Michael P. Williams, a Philadelphia-based attorney and LGBT advocate.

david love“While the media seems enthralled when it broadcasts sound bites from some black community members who oppose LGBT rights (which are, by the way, rights guaranteed to all Americans), the simple (albeit horrendous) truth is that each and every American ‘community’ contains bigots — including the LGBT community,” Williams said.

Williams told theGrio that he is focusing on voter empowerment work for his local Philadelphia NAACP branch. “In all my years as a NAACP member, have never encountered homophobia…never,” he added. Elsewhere, Williams said that when he is confronted with homophobia he faces it head-on, upfront and unapologetically.

“I was called a “ni**er’ more than a decade before I was called a ‘fa**ot.’ I was aware of my being black well before I was aware that I had sexual feelings for males rather than females,” he said.

“When I walk into a room, people react to my being black first…always. That is my primary reality.”

Meanwhile, a GLAAD study seems to validate Williams’ feelings that reports of black homophobia are exaggerated. Nearly 60 percent of black respondents believed that access to benefits for unmarried gay and lesbian couples is an important issue, and over 70 percent said hate crimes are a problem for gays and lesbians.

David A. LoveWhen asked to describe the struggle facing gays and lesbians, 55 percent said equal rights, 18 percent said human rights, and 7 percent said civil rights. And while a solid majority of black respondents rejected the labeling of the LGBT struggle for equality as civil rights, the survey found that this was not evidence of black homophobia. The term “civil rights” simply has a different meaning for black people, rooted in the right to vote, access to public accommodations and the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

David Love
The Grio

Republished with the author’s permission.

Posted: Tuesday, 22 May 2012

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