The Proposition 8 Debate: Are “Gay Riots” Really The Way To Sway The Black Community?

I’ve been watching this same-sex marriage debate for some time and, like most of my community, I’m deeply conflicted about it. As sexual orientation is a deeply personal matter, I chose to remain silent in the pre-election debate. I believe what I believe about who I should be allowed to marry and was not prepared to castrate others for what they believe.

In my family discussions, the views were varied and, like many black families, the gay/lesbian orientation is “in the family.” So there couldn’t be an “us” versus “them” conversation. As we know all know too well in the black community, they are us, and we are them, as it relates to gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) lifestyles. Blacks are highly sensitized to this issue, however, African Americans are not homophobes. We are very religious, given our experience in America: God is about the only thing we could consistently count on to survive.

Thus, the African American relationship prism is framed by religion. It’s a deep, deep confliction for the black community, given our social conservatism, rooted in religious teachings. Same-sex marriage is a religious contradiction for most people, even if it’s socially tolerated. Tolerance should not be viewed as acceptability, point blank. That’s where most black people are. So when November 4th came and went, the initiative won and exit polling suggested 70% of black voters voted for the initiative (which is inaccurate—but a majority voted yes), the gay backlash against African Americans was vicious and vile. Oh, now we was “Ni**gers” again. I didn’t take kindly to being confronted by “No on Prop 8” folk on why Blacks didn’t support civil rights for gays.

That was their first mistake, this propensity to compare their equality struggle to ours. It’s offensive and inappropriate, and here’s why; the civil rights struggle for racial equality fought against a deeply entrenched race caste system that was deeply rooted in the American psyche and integrated in the public policy agenda (Constitution) from the outset. From slavery in the 17th, 18th, and most of the 19th centuries, to de jure and de facto segregation in the 19th and 20th centuries, racial discrimination was a cultural impediment rooted in hate solely based on skin color that subjugated and marginalized black people in a very regimented way by the total society—women, children, foreigners, it didn’t matter.

Signs were posted, protocols enforced, and social (not legal) penalties were enforced by the society—and reinforced by the courts. Discrimination could be imposed on sight. Not even the women’s movement could be compared to America’s race movement because not even women were mistreated, assaulted, and killed with the frequency and volatility of the African American and Native American. Women, who were also discriminated against on sight, were often turned on (told to “go home”) and assaulted if they persisted. African Americans were assaulted and killed if they persisted. Even womanists and feminists show a deference to the depth of hate waged against the African American and don’t compare their movement to ours.

Not so with gays, and therein lies the problem.

Sexuality is a disclosure (right of privacy) that lets people be with who they please, in enjoyment and cohabitation. It also lets people weigh their views on relationships against their moral values. Most in the GLBT community “pass” for straight for fear of offending cultural sensibilities on sex that are rooted in American Christian values. Gays have to “come out” before they are confronted. There are no signs that say “No Gays Allowed.” There are no restrictive covenants that say, “No Gays Served” or “We Do Not Rent To Gays.” Gays have always been able to vote, work, live where they want to live, and move about society freely.

Yes, their counterculturalist views on sexuality makes them vulnerable, but so does one’s views on bigamy, lawlessness, under-age marriage, drug use and other views that are considered countercultural. Gays are not attacked on their gender or race. They are attacked on their counter-cultural views that go against cultural beliefs around family and relationships. Gays don’t understand why their constant comparison to the black social justice or civil rights movement is so offensive. They need to be properly educated on this. I tried to do that last year in West Hollywood at a King Day panel, and the crowd turned real ignorant. My view is still my view. And now they found out it’s also my community’s view too. Now educate me on your view.

But since the GLBT community wants to reference and replicate the black struggle movement as their model to achieve social equality in marriage, they should know that the breakdown of the movement centered in the transition from nonviolent protest to violent protest. While the riots of the late 1960s represented a point of rebellion and frustration for cities and a new generation of Blacks tired of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled, it did little (or nothing) for racial reconciliation. Shouts of “Kill Whitey” only caused white people to leave the urban centers for the suburbs, arm up (buy guns), and continue their discriminatory behaviors from where they were. Affirmative action did little to change their views on race, and mandatory hiring and busing were failures as attempts to legislate behavior lost to the inability to legislate people’s attitudes toward race. Not until race was engaged in a more humanistic manner did (some) racial barriers break down. The GLBT community is going to have to humanize their issues around marriage with African Americans.

Attacking Blacks on their views is only going to re-entrench their attitudes. It’s not going to change anybody’s minds—particularly the way Hollywood uses gay lifestyles as a way to emasculate black men. Retaliating against those who may have supported the initiative in the black community is not going to bring them closer to enlightenment. Rioting against the black community, in the media, in the blogs, in community forums, will not bring black people closer to gays’ position on same-sex marriage. Education and a sensitive, humanizing approach will change some minds. Barack Obama didn’t change all white people’s view about black people. He did change some people’s views about black people. It was enough for him to win. The GLBT “NO on 8″ activists need to take a page from his book.

samad.jpgThe civil rights movement is over. Cultural pragmatism is in. Come out of the 60s and explain how America should embrace a culture shift on sexuality. Don’t just say, “It’s racism in the same way blacks fought against in the civil rights movement.” That’s a lie, an inappropriate comparison and an insult to the intelligence of black people—and probably why the initiative won.

Miseducation tends to bring about misguided results. Educate yourself about our (the civil rights) movement, then educate the black community about your same-sex equality movement. They are two different and distinct movements. You might just get some traction, but we’re not going to be nobody’s ni**gers again. You can riot if you want to. It won’t change any minds.

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Articles by Anthony:


  1. Robert Griffin says

    Dear Sir,
    You state that ‘Gays have to “come out” before they are confronted.’ This is not true. Only a suspicion of homosexuality is necessary.
    Do you suppose that the Louisiana woman who was upset to find out she was part black had not been confronted with anti-black stereotypes? Gays who ‘pass’, while perhaps not being the direct targets of anti-gay speech, are definitely affected by it.

    I see the black community as little different from the Armenian and Assyrian communities on this issue. All three communities are strongly opposed to behavior outside gender-norm. All three communities tend to see such behavior as an import from secular Euro-American culture, rather than as something found cross-culturally throughout humanity.

    I strongly support your freedom to not participate in or support gay marriages, just as I support the freedom of Muslims to refuse support for inter-faith marriages where the woman is Muslim. However the desire to control behavior OUTSIDE the community, OUTSIDE the churches and mosques I CAN NOT support.

    It makes no difference that I am tired of being told that I am ‘less than’, that my issues don’t count, that it’s OK what is said or done against people like me. It makes no difference to folks in the churches I grew up in, to folks in your community, and even less to folks who see us as some sort of attack on humanity.

    I do agree that those who parade their sexuality in public tend to offend. But I wonder if they are that different from those who parade in-your-face/hard-core intentionally offensive ethnic expressions. Anger and frustration are understandable from all parties in these situations.

    Be Well,
    Bob Griffin

  2. John says

    This guys an idiot. Gays cannot be in the military,can blacks? We are barred from the boyscouts, are blacks? we cannot adopt children, can blacks? Telling me if I hide who I am to fit in is like me telling you to wear white face. Civil unions are a joke they give non of the tax or immigration rights marriage does, and the only think Anthony made me feel was racism, because it makes me see blacks as angry and intolorant to other minoritys needs.

  3. areocam says

    I can’t begin to understand what African Americans have been through, me being the Australian child of Caucasian British immigrants but I can give you the perspective of my sexuality.

    You seem to be crying foul over the history of African-Americans and their treatment and then saying it’s the worst, nothing compares to it as if this history is the only history and nothing else can be considered. Here is where your argument falls down because you fail to look back beyond your own history, as if nothing existed before it. I’ll up you on that one; my people have been persecuted for thousands of years, tortured, murdered, ostracised and denigrated. That beats your two-hundred odd years, doesn’t it? Of course it doesn’t but this is what your argument smacks of.

    Are you ashamed of being gay? You’d never look in the mirror and feel shame for having dark skin, would you? Why do you regard being gay as something different, something that your writing implies, was chosen, and not biologically present.

    Here’s where we differ. I regard my sexuality as being as much a biological imperative as the colour of my skin, not some trifling choice.

    I don’t have the benefit of th American perspective and I don’t mean to belittle the struggle of a proud and beautiful people. There may be a lack of “no gays allowed” and other signs of that ilk…it never needed to be so put. To my friends who were beaten and discriminated against, refused equal treatment under the law, to the Matthew Shepherds of the world, whose voices we must now speak, lest they be forgotten: You do us a great injustice Sir, when you speak as if persecution belongs to you alone.

  4. Natalie Davis says

    Hmmm… being a brown-colored human who is queer (and refuses to identify as African-American or black; I’m a mutt who is as proud of all of her ancestry as you are of yours), I disagree with pretty much all you say. This issue is not about religion, save for its imposition in a secular matter. It *is* about civil rights. We’re talking about civil marriage here, not a religious rite. If you want to discriminate in your church, have at it. But to discriminate under law to promote a religiously promoted sexuality-based caste system is immoral. You don’t like “gay riots”? Back in the day, the accepted classes didn’t like “black riots”. It’s the price of making America be what it is supposed to be — a place for ALL, even those who don’t belong to your religion or follow your religious rules.

    Why should we punished under *secular* law because your religion opposes our existence?

    Oh baby, the civil rights movement isn’t over. Not by a long shot. And it will not end until the nation stops lying and giving your kind (anti-GLBT religionistas) legal preference. This is a PLURALISTIC society governed by SECULAR law. And you insult millions of people with your “civil rights only belongs to me and mine” assertions. Shame on you. And you’re wrong. We *do* change some minds. Talk to my proud African-American mother sometime. Talk with a host of others who identify as you do and others of other ethnicities and religions when we crossed paths at points during the past 47 years — even at so-called “gay riot” events. They get the difference between civil marriage and religious marriage, between religious rites and secular law. Just because you can’t or won’t doesn’t mean other people who look like you don’t.

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