First, Proposition 8 passed and there was a wave of gay-friendly outrage, most of which was aimed at the Mormon church, and some of which was, apparently, leveled at the African American community. Now there’s a backlash at the gays who have appeared–to some–as a pack of wild, fornicating racist assholes. The back and forth is a somewhat unprecedented, and due mostly to the fact that other than Will & Grace and the handful of TV shows and movies that have featured gay characters (or gay themes, like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model), America has not yet had the BIG GAY CONVERSATION. Even after AIDS, our country has a lot of growing up to do in terms of our discussion of queer politics. Although, it may actually be happening, like right now.
If feel obligated to revisit the issue of gays and race since part of the inspirational email I blasted out to my friends (and posted here) addressed the supposed “Obama factor,” which was a theory that the high turnout of African American voters who would turn out to support Barack Obama would generally, and to a larger degree than the general population, oppose gay marriage, which would have spelled disaster for Proposition 8.
Here’s what I wrote in my missive:
Ironically, it looks like the big African American turnout in California hurt gay rights. We cannot ignore the fact that the community overwhelmingly voted for the measure. But this should be looked at as an opportunity to really ramp up outreach within the black community, not as some kind of inevitable factor that can never be overcome. It only points out how much work there is to do to solidify equality for gays in all American communities.
I can’t see anything factually wrong with what I wrote. There was a big African American turnout in CA, and many of them did vote for the proposition, and at a rate higher than the total average. Although, I suppose my wording, “the African American turnout…hurt gay rights” [ital new], suggests blame, or at least may have led one to believe that I was trying to say that Prop 8 wouldn’t have passed without the black vote. In no way did I intend this as a scapegoat. I included this as a note of interest that reaffirmed what I already thought I knew about queer politics and race, which is that minority communities are said to be less tolerant of gay individuals within those communities (we’ll get back to this). I’m also pretty sure my conclusion was that our response to the perceived statistics should be one of responsible outreach, not divisive blame, and that we should not succumb to a belief that change within the black community is not possible.
Since I wrote this, one friend sent me this link to a response from Kathryn Kolbert, President of People for the American Way, who warns “white gay activists” against “blaming” African Americans for the passage of Prop 8. Then statistical superhero Nate Silver posted this. And now everyone’s like, gays are just pissed off and looking for people to blame. Continue reading