Guest Blogger

By Seizing the Truth, We Seize the Upper Hand

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 15, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: African-American, California, Carlton Pearson, John Selders, Prop 8, same-sex marriage, seizing the truth

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.

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Dr. Firpo Carr's article in the self proclaimed "America's number one Black Newspaper would seem to argue against this point.

Today Carr openly outed and insulted the International Who's Who Mental Health Professional of the Year in the comment section of this paper as a woman of transsexual history and they referred to her as male, sir, he etc.

Just as the mainline Christian churches must own the reputation of Christianity as bigoted, homophobic and hateful due to not renouncing the loud and dangerous religious right, the African American community needs to, right now, disavow the openly bigoted hate speech of the Carr's.

I understand what you're saying. Speaking as the usually oversensitive white guy, I concede that you have a point. But, I must respectfully disagree.

We have to move past tit for tat politics. If we really want to accomplish something we need to work toward reconciliation, not simply scoring insult points. If we refuse partnership with those who would be our allies until they are contrite enough we'll be sitting in the corner all alone. If Bishops Pearson and Selders are willing to stand with me, I'm willing to stand with them;no pre-conditions asked.

As someone who represents and experiences multiple points of discrimination.....on gender, sex, religion, sometimes orientation, disability.......I don't and won't separate those issues.

Los Angeles African American leader Jeffrey King says, "There is alot of confliction in our (African American) community"

“Black homosexual people historically have not been visible around their sexual orientation,” commented Jeffrey King, executive director of In the Meantime Men’s Group, a local non-profit organization in the Crenshaw district, that’s focused on the health and well being of Black gay men. “So it’s not surprising that they are not visible or publicly vocal on the issue of same-sex marriage.

“However, it doesn’t mean that Black homosexual people won’t be getting married, it just speaks to issues of safety, security, socioeconomics, fear of losing job, and fear of being targeted in your own community,” King added, “We do not desire to be alienated from our own community. I also believe it has lot to do with shame based on what we have been taught to believe about ourselves. There’s a lot of confliction in our community.”

Black political organizations have been allies. Political organizations are not representative of their communities. The leaders usually exhibit more education on a wide range of issues. Can you explain why BET, Jet, and Ebony magazine-- bastions of African American culture-- have not yet engaged in honest discussions on the issue in the black community? Why representations of black LGBTs are nonexistent in these mediums?

As a side note:

I believe Bishop Pearson was recently featured in an episode of This American Life. A fascinating episode that examined the life and perils of a modern American "heretic."

Bishop Pearson has begun teaching what he calls "The Gospel of Inclusion" where basically, he teaches a Christianity devoid of Hell. Good on you Bishop Pearson, I wholly stand by your teachings of inclusion, and the overpowering love of Christ for all his children.

If you ever have a chance to sit and chat with Bishop Selders, jump at it. I interviewed him back before went national; it was a fascinating conversation. He's brilliant and very personable.

Bps. Pearson and Selders are unusual in the black pastorate in that they actively speak for inclusion of LGBTs in church life as well as secular life. (So does Rev. Gomes of Harvard, but that's not a job dependent on donations from the congregation.) There's real risk of unemployment when a pastor makes unpopular statements, and I have no idea how many pastors out there think that same gender loving, in a committed couple, is either neutral or a venial sin, and avoid the topic entirely. Of course, a huge number of pastors are sincere in their condemnation, whether or not they consider it an issue worth sermon time. I am sure that some pastors actively pursue the topic as a way to provide fire and brimstone that doesn't affect most of the donors, and maybe some of these pastors talk themselves into believing that SGL relationships are more important than infidelity, bullying, enabling others addicted to drugs, malicious gossip, and all the other common sins.

Cathryn, you are right that the A-A community should rise above nitwits like Carr. So should the white community rise above nitwits like Phelps and Dobson. The point is, both communities are highly diverse, jerks will always be with us, and all we can do is to speak out and hope to change somebody's heart/ mind/ soul.

As with white people, there are multiple reasons why people of color may have voted against the LGBT community on issues like marriage equality.

Outside of homophobia, the only reasons I could think of would be along the lines of feminist/queer/marxist critiques of the institution of marriage. Even still, I wonder if a person like that would vote in favor of an amendment that described the institution.

Are there any other reasons?

The other reason that springs to mind is non belief in the rightness of equality itself.

The authors are two of my favorite people and they make some very good points. However, California voters approved Proposition 8 by a 52 to 48 percent margin. A compilation of post-election polls in California suggests that 58% of African American, 49% of Whites, 59% of Latino and 48% of Asian also voted for Prop 8.
Voter support for Proposition 8 split along the lines of gender, age, race, religiosity, political views, and personal knowledge of lesbians and gay men. Men, older voters, the more religious, Republicans and conservatives were all more likely to support Proposition 8 to a statistically significant degree.

Though the association between voters’ racial and ethnic characteristics is complex, African Americans and Latinos were stronger supporters of Proposition 8 than other groups, but not to a significant degree after considering their level of religiosity. That is, much of the stronger support found for Prop. 8 among these groups is explained by their increased levels of attendance of religious services. This point should not be lost on the good Bishops.

After look at political characteristics (party identification and ideology) African American and Latino identity is significantly associated with support for Proposition 8. In other words African Americans and Latinos voted for Proposition 8 in numbers higher than expected given the fact that they are more likely to identify as Democrats and liberals than Californians as a whole.

So it appears to be religious bigotry not race—and African American are simply more religious (measured by weekly church attendance).

I would suggest that the first step is telling the truth about the harm done by those who use religion to justify discrimination and prejudice and the failure of our progressive religious movement to combat this reality.