Monday, March 14, 2011

Editorial- Is Racism Going to Figure Into The Battle For Same-Sex Marriage Equality In Maryland?

By Brody Levesque (Washington DC) MAR 14 | There's now a rapidly growing and disturbing trend resulting from the fallout over the Maryland House of Delegate's actions last Friday, that approved a motion that sent the proposed Civil Marriage Protection Act back to the House Judiciary Committee effectively killing it's chances for passage this year. Racism- Racist comments, mutterings, and off the record conversations all which centre on the divide between the Black Community and the White Community in Maryland in the debate on whether or not to allow the state's same-sex couples to have full equality.
[ The bill would have legally allowed same-sex marriage in Maryland. The measure had cleared the state's Senate two weeks ago on a 25-to-21 vote, and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D) had pledged to sign it. ] 
Baltimore Delegate Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore City), who is Black, said he found it offensive that the homosexual rights movement is compared to the civil rights movement. Burns also said that he's been threatened and called a "Nigger" regarding his opposition to the same-sex marriage bill.
He's not alone in that category either as other opponents hailing from Black Churches also are coming under fire- not for their religious beliefs that homosexuality is a sin, no not entirely, they're coming under fire for expressing the belief that homosexuality is a "choice," a behaviour," thus it absolutely is not an immutable trait such as skin colour.
ABCNews local Washington DC affiliate's senior political analyst, Bruce DePuyt, wrote in his Saturday column on the TBD/ABC7 Blogsite:
"Some white lawmakers are mystified by the hold the black church has on their colleagues. And in private conversations they wonder whether ministers who rail against the "evil" of gay marriage might spend their time more wisely working to shore up the black family. The most recent statistics show that 72 percent of black children are born out of wedlock."
In fairness, two of the measure's principal sponsors are Black and represent Black majority held legislative districts.
A respected commentator and columnist for the Huffington Post as well as Pam's House Blend, Columbia, South Carolina based Alvin McEwen noted in his column today:
We’ve all heard the hurtful sayings before - “you can’t compare gay rights to black civil rights because you can hide being gay,” “gays and lesbians were never oppressed in the same manner in which blacks were oppressed,” etc., etc.
It would be an awful generalization to say that all in the African-American community have these beliefs. In Maryland many African-Americans, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, publicly supported marriage equality.
However, statements voiced by some Maryland lawmakers unfortunately stand out and not in a good way. In answer to these comments, It distresses me to no end that on the subject of lgbt equality, some African-Americans are taking on the guise of those who oppress them.
Those who oppressed (and continue to oppress) African-Americans have the belief that somehow blacks are inferior and will never measure up. Therefore they figure that black people are not deserving of certain basic rights. What’s more awful is how they use the Bible to justify their discrimination.
Now, it seems that some African-Americans have told members of the lgbt community that their suffering is inferior and will never measure up. And therefore, the lgbt community are not deserving of certain basic rights. And guess what? They too use the Bible to justify their discrimination .
It’s a nasty, stupid game. And those who choose to play it should know better.
Is the problem that massive in Maryland? Some believe it is pointing to the campaign in California's Prop 8 debates, which many believe, the black Democrats who came out in droves to support Barack Obama in 2008 helped anti-gay forces regarding Proposition 8, the gay marriage measure.
The supporters of marriage equality insist that their struggle is part of the greater fight for full equality and civil rights. Numerous Black lawmakers disagreed saying that there is no comparison. They also acknowledged in their floor speeches that "the black church" -- an influential moral voice and source of organizational strength in the push for black civil rights -- was fired up and pressuring them to vote no.
DePuyt notes:
Delegate Cheryl Glenn, an African-American Democrat from Baltimore, said, "The black churches have never asked us for anything, and they are asking us now, 'Don't do this.'"
Delegate Jay Walker, a black Democrat from Prince George's, told lawmakers his constituents and the churches in his district were united in their belief that marriage should remain as it is. "I cannot vote against my base," he said, invoking a term usually used in political -- not policy -- discussions.
What has stirred up the animosity and incited racial tension has centered squarely around what some Gay activists both white & black are reading as reverse discrimination by the Black Church coupled with a history of homophobia within the Black community.
That homophobia is what has McEwen distraught and angered:
The saddest thing about the entire mess. When some African-American leaders rag against lgbt equality, they fool themselves into thinking that they are speaking against hedonistic upper class white gay men sipping fancy cocktails in a ritzy bars.
But that notion is so far from the truth.
African-American leaders who speak against lgbt equality are stabbing their own people in the back - the young black lesbian kicked out of her home for “acting like a man,” the effeminate black gay boy constantly picked on by bullies, the older African-Americans lgbts left adrift and rendered invisible by their own black community, and all of the other assorted black lgbt brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, and close friends not given the courtesy of simple public acknowledgement.
And while these self-righteous black leaders may claim that they don’t mean treat their own people in this manner, their pathetic mea culpa don’t mean a drop of water in the bucket to those like myself who have to deal with such things on a constant basis.
Through their barrage of hurtful comments, these black leaders foster a rejection of African-American lgbts like myself, thereby telling us that we are not a genuine part of the black community.
And that hurts.
One outraged Gay activist, who requested anonymity, said that maybe it's time that the greater queer community stop lending its support to Black civil rights. He cited Baltimore's Delegate Burns who had told reporters on Friday:
"The civil rights movement as I knew it... had nothing to do with same-sex marriage," he said, "and those who decide to ride on our coattails are historically incorrect. The civil rights movement was about putting teeth into the Declaration of Independence."
This activist sees this as hypocrisy by a lawmaker who would willingly court the Gay vote to be elected but then spurn those same voters on equality issues.
Then comes what many see as the uglier truth in the debate over LGBTQ equality.  McEwen writes:
The majority white-led and populated religious right groups who exploit this tug of war between the African-American and lgbt communities are quick to be the so-called protectors of the civil right movement's legacy but render themselves conveniently invisible when issues like socio-economic inequalities in minority health and education pop up.
And that's not by accident.
However, we don’t recognize this because we forget to treat each other with dignity and respect. And because some of us become victims of inaccurate assumptions - be they religious, racial, or otherwise - which deceives us into thinking that the scars we bear due to hate are badges of honor and exclusivity instead of reminders of what we must never become.
Some African-Americans need to be forewarned. Ultimately this battle over lgbt equality will become less about gay rights and more about the soul of the black America.
At the very least, it poses a basic question - have over 400 years of oppression taught black America nothing about dehumanization, being exploited, and having to “prove” worthiness?
The Black Church's loudest voice is the Beltsville, Maryland based Bishop Harry Jackson, who has led the so far losing efforts in the neighboring District of Columbia to kill off same sex equality rights, including court battles all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court which refused to consider his petition.
Jackson was invited on to appear on the Christian Broadcasting's CBN News to explain what happened in the House of Delegates, where he declared that the Black Church had risen up and warned African American legislators they had better not listen to Democratic Party leaders who see them "as lemmings who are willing to just march off to your death" because there would be a price to pay when they returned to their communities. Jackson went on to warn that they would now set about trying to remove legislators who support marriage equality from office and "stop gay marriage in its tracks:"  (Note- Video quality is poor.)
Can the debate avoid the taint of racism? Another activist angrily told me that "Blacks are so opposed to marriage equality yet forget that just 50 years ago, it was JUST FINE to have civil rights for them and freedom to marry outside their own race...
Not to mention they're siding with the religious right - any cursory glance at history shows that the White Religious Right opposed civil rights for blacks at every turn. Idiots."
Prominent blogger and LGBTQ equality rights activist Pam Spaulding remarked:
I too have written on this subject many times, and you've [ McEwen ] articulated the sickness in a portion of the black community so well here.
How can they partner with these snakes in the grass -- the white evangelical homophobic ministers -- who fleece their own flock and foment hate. They ignore those socioeconomic ills because that doesn't suit their political agenda.
As you said, the fact that the term "civil rights" has to be danced around because some in the black community feel they own the term and tie it to a specific time on our country's timeline is pathetic. Everyone should be able to use the term in regards to all social justice movements about our rights as Americans and the system that governs and makes laws.
That has no color.
There are others who see this Maryland battle as a component of the battles within the Gay Rights movement over a perceived lack of a willingness to engage for equality for all queers.
Citing the examples of the LGBTQ Rights organisations of GLAAD & HRC do not come to black gay events the way they go to the ones in " white gay neighborhoods." These persons hold that if the LGBT community want to be seen as equals they need to treat the black communities as equals first.
Countering that point, Ben in Oakland California noted:
What if we long ago made it ILLEGAL to be black. If found to be black, you could be imprisoned if you were lucky, executed if you weren't, That is what gay people have faced for centuries-­- murder, imprisonment, vilificati­on, torture.
And in any case, you would be ostracized and marginalised from non-black society, and perhaps denied employment in a number of fields. No white jury would convict a white person of killing a black man, just like Matthew Shepherd was killed. And don't forget: your family, your marriage don't exist legally. the facts of your life are irrelevant.
Does that sound like anything familiar? Oh, wait a minute. It IS familiar. It has happened consistently to black people in this country, and still happens.
At least as a black person, you have the right to live your life OPENLY as a black person. there are black people to support and nurture you, and give you strength against a prejudiced world.
That is something that has been denied to gay people until very recently, and is still the case in much of the world.
Prejudice is prejudice. Oppression is oppression. It is exactly about civil rights-- the right to be treated without discrimination by your government­, and the insistence by our government that society reflect and support the principle of equal treatment before the law.
It seems that the debate in Maryland will only continue to be contentious and unless Olive Branches are offered, more acrimonious with the greater LGBTQ community suffering with a net loss and no gains. The divisiveness will also leave wounds that have the potential to not heal.
Is racism a factor? I absolutely believe it is and it needs immediate addressing.
In historic context though, here's a political cartoon and a portion of a column made addressing the Prop 8 battle in California by Dan Savage written in November of 2008. Kinda makes you wonder if Maryland is simply just revisiting the issue:
When dumb fucking racist white bigots in the south claimed that African Americans were trying to “take away [their] rights,” they were lying. What African Americans were pressing for “then” was equal treatment under the law—equal rights, equal freedoms, equal responsibilities. Nothing was “taken” from white people when blacks won the right to vote or to go to integrated schools or to eat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter or to marry a white person. Nothing was “taken” from white bigots except the “right” to oppress and discriminate against African Americans.
Gay and lesbians—including African American gays and lesbians—are “now” pressing for equal treatment under the law, equal rights and responsibilities. Nothing is taken from straight people when gays and lesbians are not discriminated against—nothing except the “right” of straight people to oppress and discriminate against gays and lesbians. And in California last Tuesday majorities of African Americans and Latinos—and others—voted to “take away” the right of gays and lesbians to legally marry. When gays and lesbians—including African American gays and lesbians—say that voters of color helped to “take away” our rights, it’s the truth.
Making a moral equivalency between “white power” and “gay power” is as offensive as it is ridiculous. It should particularly offend African American gays and lesbians. Who’s making you invisible now