Editors' Note: Today's guest bloggers are Bishop Carlton Pearson and Bishop John L. Selders, Jr. Bishop Pearson is the founder and senior pastor of the New Dimensions Worship Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bishop Selders is an ordained minister serving the United Church of Christ and is the organizing pastor of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut.
We've all heard the statistic: 7 out of 10 African-Americans voted in favor of California's Proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian couples of the right to marry. We've all seen the outrage and hurt that this alleged black homophobia has caused, especially since it occurred just as the nation elected the most pro-equality president in history.
We know now that this "7 out of 10" figure is false, but that it fit into a myth that for too long has divided those of us who want justice and equality under the law: that people of color are more homophobic than white people. Time and again, this myth has been shown to be false. Yet it is still reported in the media as fact.
A recent Newsweek poll shows that 40 percent of whites support marriage equality, and that 37 percent of "non-whites," or people of color, feel the same. That is a far cry from what the media has reported since Proposition 8 passed.
At best, the media's insistence on clinging to this disproved claim is laziness. At worst, it's complicity in a right-wing propagated wedge tactic, designed to keep the Black and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities from forming the kind of alliance that could bring the forces of hate to their knees. Because once we seize the truth--that all people of color and the LGBT community are natural allies--we seize from them the upper hand in this fight for justice.
As a strategy to dislodge the LGBT community from the broader civil rights movement, the conservative right has driven a competitive wedge in the relationship between the LGBT community and the Black community. The message to the Black community is that LGBT people are undeservedly honing in on their hard earned civil rights. The message to the LGBT community is that the Black community is homophobic. Both groups have tacitly bought into these rumors instead of meeting each other eye to eye to ascertain their validity.
Our enemies would have us divided. Their success is built on the dynamic that forces people to make choices between whether they see themselves first as a woman or as a lesbian; as an African-American or as a same gender loving person; as an Asian-Pacific Islander person or as a transperson. When as a movement we allow people to accept these false dichotomies, we diminish our power. We need to raise the profile of people of color and people of faith to bring brave new energy to our struggle.
The Black community has a history of support for the LGBT movement. The Congressional Black Caucus has always stood side by side with its LGBT brothers and sisters. Black mayors created the AIDS czars in the 1980s when most treated infected people like lepers. Every Black presidential candidate from Jesse Jackson to Barack Obama has included LGBT people in their campaign strategies and public speeches. The NAACP marched with the LGBT community on the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, and civil rights leaders like Julian Bond and Rep. John Lewis have stood up for LGBT rights. Black visionaries like Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Oprah Winfrey, Cornel West, Eric Michael Dyson, Susan Taylor, Quincy Jones, Tyra Banks and Spike Lee go out of their way to include the LGBT community in their creative and public works.
If we start by exploring the intersections in our work, we can move away from the unhelpful assertion that people of color are more homophobic than white people. As with white people, there are multiple reasons why people of color may have voted against the LGBT community on issues like marriage equality. In partnership, we must engage LGBT people of color and faith leaders to make the case that marriage equality is a means to help us be good neighbors who care for our own families responsibly and, at the same time, help build stronger communities.
Communities of color and the LGBT community have much work to do to foster the kind of coalition that will bring us to victory. But as a first step, we must join together to stand up against this insidious mistruth that is dividing--and, therefore, conquering--us. And when we do, we will seize the upper hand in this battle.