Guest Blogger

Intersectionality and the False Dichotomy of Proposition 8

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 05, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: African-American, Barack Obama, black, California, gay marriage, Henry Louis Gates Jr, Jasmyne Cannick, Keith Boykin, LGBT, marriage, marriage equality, Prop. 8, race, same-sex marriage

Editors' note: Carmen Morgan has been a community activist supporting grassroots initiatives for over 15 years. She is currently the Director of Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations (LDIR), a program that provides resources and skills to community workers and activists. Formerly she served as the Associate Regional Director for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), an international social justice organization, where she worked towards economic justice, gay liberation, and monitored human rights violations. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles.

Long IMG_ Carmen Morgan 7185a.jpggone are the days of segregated movements. There may have been a time when movement building benefited from the separate and particular locations of race, gender, class, and sexual identity, as each forged their own paths towards gaining credibility within a mainstream context. But today's generation, a generation of multi-identified, class-conscious, queer, people of color, expect more intersections, more interplay between issues of justice. As younger activist support community building and movement building activities, they expect a more complicated analysis that explores the contradictions and intersections of their lives. They identify as queer feminist of color, or transgender immigrants living with HIV. They do not identify solely as gendered or raced activists.

As we continue to develop strategies that address structural inequities, a fragmented approach, one that does not acknowledge the intersectionality of class, race, gender, and sexual identity, will miss the needs and expectations of "post baby boom" generations. These younger generations expect that the identities that shape their experiences will be included in all aspects of their movement building. If existing movements do not address their reality, younger activists will create their own movements.

Barack Obama's great appeal to Generation X is due in part to is own complicated set of identities. White and black. Holding both Midwest and immigrant roots. Raised working class but also Harvard educated. These identities coexist to form a more textured canvas. For Generation X'ers, Obama and his election were emblematic of the shift away from the rigid identity politics of the sixties.

Intersectional movement building could have addressed the false dichotomy that was created during and after California's "No on Prop 8" Campaign. The fallout from the California initiative to ban same sex marriages is still being felt within LA's activist community. The gay rights and African American communities, in particular, were reeling after the results of the 2008 November election. Some organizers in the gay rights community attributed the passage of the initiative to the African American vote. In turn, some leaders in the African American community responded by claiming racial insensitivity and lack of outreach as the reason why many African Americans supported the initiative. Coalitions were fractured amidst finger pointing and heated accusations.

When interviewed about her reactions regarding the passing of the initiative, Jasmyne Cannick, a black lesbian activist stated:

It was a poorly run campaign. There was very little outreach into the African-American community. There was just about no work done with the black gay and lesbian community down here in Los Angeles to do that outreach work.

In response to claims of black bigotry, Keith Boykin, a black gay activist formerly with the Clinton administration, argued that there is a misperception that the black community is overwhelmingly homophobic. He said that support for gay marriage will come from the black community if gay marriage is framed as a civil rights issue rather than a moral one.

What happens when we reduce people to one part of their identity, we make them not human and we only focus on the part we don't like.

Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates Jr. argued in his 1993 article published in The New Yorker that any gay rights comparison to the civil rights movement of the sixties is erroneous. He noted that the gay rights movement has not experienced the same level of violence or the same level of intergenerational poverty that informed the civil rights movement. Fifteen years later, California's Proposition 8, proved that the same tension continues. Some now argue that an effective strategy might be to refer to gay rights as a human rights issue, thereby avoiding the alienation of potential black allies.

In either case, black gay activists and white anti-racists are left wondering how racial justice and gay rights could ever be pitted against one another. Any gay rights analysis that is not anti-racist or any anti-racist strategy that does not include addressing heterosexism is tragically flawed. It may be helpful to remember the work of Audre Lorde, Lorraine Hansberry, Bayard Rustin, and other gay/civil rights activist, as we formulate more inclusive and broad-based community strategies.

Whether gay rights is framed as a civil rights issue or a human rights issue, it is clear that as we work to address social inequities, we will lose valuable ground if we do not frame issues of equity in the broadest sense. We will need activists with the ability to have an expanding and inclusive social justice analysis if we hope to not repeat mistakes of the past.

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Chitown Kev | April 5, 2009 5:14 PM

As someone who lives directly at these intersections (black and gay), this certainly Times hasn't been easy.

Part of the solution is to have multiple voices and to be able to do more than one thing at the same time. For example, Jasmyne Cannick (esp. in her LA Times screech after the election) did not represent my views AT ALL, in fact, I was as offended by that screech as I was at some of the racial slurs that were uttered at protests and on blogs by white gay folks. I can imagine that it alienated white folks because it alienated me.

Sometimes (even on this blog) if I am not pointing the finger at gay white racism, then and I happen to agree with a point or an action of the "elite gay white male," then the uncle Tom slur gets thrown (and I do consider it a slur) gets thrown. Never mind that I have experienced "black homophobia" up close and very, very personally in such a variety ways (within family and the community).

My whole thing is that this conversation, whatever it is, has to go both ways.

For example, I recently went to a local black LGBT meeting that damn near broke out into a church revival service. While I understand the importance of working with churches in the African American community and I respect that many AA LGBTs go to church, I felt every bit as "reduced" by this articulation, of sorts, of AA LGBT identity as I occasionally feel in mainstream LGBT circles.

These are my first thoughts which (as usual when I speak off the cuff) are rambling and erratic. But I'll be back

What, exactly, do we mean by "gay rights?" Despite the attempt at getting us to think about intersectionality, this post seems to assume that we've all about the nature of the movement, and that it's entirely about marriage. So, for starters, maybe it's time for us to admit that there's no one gay rights agenda.

The issue is not about marriage vs. racial issues; it's about marriage being held up as THE cause when many - if not most -- of us would like to see an expansion of the agenda (if not a removal of marriage from the roster entirely). This post upholds the status quo of gay marriage as the defining cause that's been forced down our throats.

As for Jasmyne Cannick, I think her criticism of the post-Prop 8 fallout was interesting and often accurate. But please, am I the only one who remembers that she authored an incredibly divisive anti-immigration piece in 2006, in which she wrote: "Lesbians and gays should not be second-class citizens. Our issues should not get bumped to the back of the line in favor of extending rights to people who have entered this country illegally. Bottom line."?

I wouldn't hold her up as any kind of an example of someone who can "formulate more inclusive and broad-based community strategies."

You can read the rest of Cannick's piece here:

Chitown Kev | April 5, 2009 11:07 PM

Yasmin, personally I think that, especially in a time of an economic downturn, that ENDA, hate crimes, and DADT should be priority until such time that marriage infiltrates the federal courts on a large scale. I agree with you on that point. And to give Cannick her due, she has made similar points.

It's interesting that you note her anti-immigration piece, though. Because I have often said that a discussion of "racism" should not be used just to beat "whitey" upside the head, that blacks have their as own racial prejudices and, yes, racism (if we are talking about immigrants) that has to be dealt with.

"Intersectionality" can also include so many other factors such as religious faith, geographic region, educcation, etc. It's difficult enough dealing with the these divisions with "the gay community" itself much less on this scale. Just because something is difficult soen't mean it shouldn't be done, mind you.

But it will be difficult.

It seems like we can't even mention Jasmyne Cannick in a post before it becomes all about her! I see she's burned a few bridges.

Personally, I put her in the same category as Andrew Sullivan: someone with a very different opinion from me with some incredible insights but also very different values, who speaks from a specific community of which I'm not a part, and who often says things that are very, very wrong.

The fact that he's a ridiculously paid journalist and she isn't speaks volumes about our culture and what we're willing to accept in our mainstream discourse.