December 29, 2008

"Is Gay the New Black?"

That's the title of an essay African-American GLBT activist and journalist Keith Boykin wrote a few days ago. Among the issues he discussed were the level of homophobia in the black community and how best to get more of them to support same-sex marriage. Here are a couple of excerpts: (hat tip to Freedom to Marry)


The issue is not whether blacks are homophobic or not. Of course we are. We all live in the same racist, sexist, classist, misogynist, homophobic, heterosexist, culturally imperialistic society. Everyone is affected by those prejudices at some level. The question, though, is whether blacks are more homophobic than others, and that depends, of course, on how you measure homophobia.

On the personal level for many black gays and lesbians, the black community certainly feels more homophobic for those who face the slings and arrows of insult from their friends, family, church members and co-workers. But on a political level, it's hard to prove that blacks are any more homophobic than whites.

Even back in the 1990s, when I wrote my first book, polls showed blacks were more supportive than whites of outlawing employment discrimination against gays, but blacks were still far less supportive of same-sex marriage than whites. How do you explain that?

Same Sex Marriage Support: Many critics of black homophobia fail to grasp the difference between the politically progressive and the socially conservative streaks in the African American community. To communicate effectively to blacks, you need to know how to frame these issues.

If you can figure out how to frame the gay question as a political issue for basic rights instead of a social issue about acceptance, then blacks are much more likely to support it. That's a hard sell for same-sex marriage because many blacks see marriage as a religious structure, not a civil institution. But it creates opportunities to learn effective messaging.

It's important to remember the messenger is just as important as the message. Straight black people are not likely to sympathize with white people preaching to them about the evils of gay discrimination. That's a message that can most effectively be delivered by other blacks, straight and gay. Until the white LGBT movement learns this obvious point and implements strategies to include many more LGBT people of color in positions of visibility and responsibility, they are doomed to repeat the same tragic mistakes of their past failures.

It's also not helpful for gays to equate one movement with another. The civil rights movement is not the same as the gay rights movement, racism is not the same as homophobia and blacks are not the same as gays.

Although there are similarities between the two movements, there are also major differences. But why do gay activists feel the need to prove the struggles are the same in the first place?

I think Boykin's point about the need to raise up black LGBT leaders to mobilize the black community is dead on. Let's face it, any minority will respond more to someone that looks like them and has a similar cultural heritage. Where are those black leaders, either gay or straight, with enough courage to go against the tide and help push their people into becoming stronger allies in the fight for equality?

Click here to read the rest of Keith Boykin's essay.

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