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Why President Obama Hurts His Own Cause By Not Addressing Homophobia in the Black Community

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Over the last few days we have seen the White House struggle to answer questions about the failed discriminatory policy known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell, as well as respond intelligently to the recent positive domino effect of marriage equality occurring in states -- moves that affirm those governments realize separate is not equal.

Candidate Obama decided to regress his political position from supporting full marriage equality to a "God is in the mix" conflation of religious and civil marriage when he ran for president. What was seen as a political necessity/reality at the time has wreaked havoc on the PR front of late, but it has also allowed the anti-gay establishment to cite his opposition to marriage equality over and over again. The old unintended consequences -- at our expense.

Marc Fisher in the WaPo takes the position that yes, polls like Obama and fellow equality regression-sufferer Marion Barry, who are indeed using the LGBT community as a political football.

In 1996, Barack Obama responded to a Chicago newspaper's questions about the issue with these words: "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."

Obama has characteristically reached out to the center, writing in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope: "It is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided . . . and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history."

Yeah, that's his political escape hatch -- that he will have some "moment of clarity" sometime in the future, a political revelation (guided by polls, of course), that separate is not equal. Fisher offers this rationale for both Marion Barry's opposition to marriage recognition in DC and Obama's absurd position on equality:

Barry's claim to be "a moral politician" was catnip to the late-night TV comics. But he has positioned himself of late as the voice of pre-gentrification D.C. -- older black residents who feel that their city has been taken over by newcomers, especially affluent young whites. Add the faceoff between Barry and Mayor Adrian Fenty -- whose deepest support comes from exactly those newcomers -- and you have a compelling political rationale for Barry's flip.

The president's position is also rooted in electoral concerns, including the simple desire to be true to a campaign stance that helped him demonstrate that he is not a knee-jerk liberal. Just as Obama's selection of evangelical minister Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at his inauguration raised the hackles of many liberal and gay supporters, the president's stand on same-sex marriage sends a message of moderation to religious voters, even as he assures gays that he supports them on civil unions and repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

In other words, Obama and Barry don't want to challenge religious voters (or rather anti-gay religious voters, since there are those of faith who support equality, but they are always rendered invisible in these discussions) on their ignorance about the difference between religious and civil marriage.

Politicians such as Obama and Barry won't hesitate to go where the people are when the time is right. But on difficult and divisive issues, they're happier to hold back until the people have spoken. Call it timidity, call it craven, but it's how things work.

It's all about politics, friends, and LGBTs are still the field hands, not players in the Big House. There is no LBJ with political courage to look to on these issues, and Fisher gives them the classic out.

But I want to return to the subject of black homophobia, and the impact of President Obama's decision to purposefully confuse the issue, despite being a Constitutional scholar.

One of the readers at Pam's House Blend points to a great post on Jack and Jill Politics, Gay Marriage and the Black Community. Barack Obama showed courage in addressing homophobia in the black community during the campaign, but he has now left LGBTs, particularly black LGBTs, twisting in the wind to battle the ignorance he affirms. (It should be noted that LGBT POC are also frequently left twisting in the wind by the larger -- read: white-dominated -- LGBT community and leadership, that is loathe to address the racial discord that inhibits progress.)

Craig Hickman delivered a personal, powerful essay that intelligently gets to the heart of why civil marriage equality is necessary and important for the black community to support. It's the kind of message that leads and challenges, rather than follows, on this issue. It's something the President has abandoned since taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A snippet:

For me, civil rights is civil rights is civil rights. Equal protection under the law is equal protection under the law. In employment. In housing. In public accommodations. In adoption. In civil marriage. Either we all have it or we don't.

When a person has no recourse to force an undertaker to come and take a corpse out of their home because the survivor is not legally considered the next of kin despite their thirty-year relationship and the dead person's next of kin is thousands of miles away and, because of Alzheimer's, doesn't even remember who the dead person is anymore, but she is the only person alive who, by state law, can force the undertaker to remove the corpse from their house; when you wrap your mind around all of the practical and emotional turmoil that results in this situation because of this discrimination, I would argue strongly that that certificate of marriage is way more than just a piece of paper.

This is but one example. It's not a hypothetical, either.

I could provide many others, several much more devastating.

A marriage certificate is akin to an adoption decree and an altered birth certificate: it creates a legal familial relationship.

Adoption and civil marriage are the only two ways the state allows unrelated people to create a legal family unit in this country. Both are established by a certificate -- a piece of paper filed with the office of vital statistics -- which protects that family unit against all sorts of madness and bullshit from other parties.

As Black people whose ancestors' families were ripped apart by the institution of slavery, how can we stand in opposition to the creation of a family unit and the safety and security, emotional and otherwise, that ensue for all of its members?

Tell me, Black people.

How?

This seems so simple to understand, so rational, right? You should see some of the comments that erupted in the thread at JJP. It shows you how difficult it is to penetrate 1) homophobia based on religious convictions and very selective readings of the Bible tossed casually out there as moral certainty while ignoring passages that condemn their own behavior; and 2) the odd zero-sum game that civil rights for LGBTs somehow diminishes rights granted to blacks as a result of the struggle of that civil rights movement. The fact that the two movements aren't wholly equivalent yet both have merit and seems to escape some commentators. Here's one:

Craig, I am sorry my friend you are off base. It seems that from your background you are fighting not for gay people but against a so-called establishment you never fit into being black, adopted, gay. Not to insult but you are a misfit and like all misfits you want the world to validate your abnormalities. You want acceptance and validation from the society that rejects you.

My friend you will never convince the majority of people that the lifestyle you live is anything but unnatural.The majority of us know gay people and have no problem with them. Most care not about this issue. This is a gay militant extremist equal to the KKK in White America that is trying to force this down the public's throat. I want to ask you some very serious questions. First of all, you are going to have violence soon, as sure as I am sitting here, if you keep pushing this on the Black community in the name of civil rights. That being said, do you think we should let men marry their daughters? Women marry their sons? There are people who believe that should be legal. What about a man marrying 5 wives? Or a woman with 5 husbands? Society has a right to regulate morals and behavior when it is just. Laws against interracial marriage were unjust, because they were created by racist not from any religious belief system so stop comparing the two please.

This is clearly an attempt to not only compare interracial marriage with gay marriage but to also trivialize the 400 years of pain of people who were forced into bondage. No one is forcing gays into bondage this is something they want not need.To suggest basic rights as a human being to a lifestyle shows you have bought the racist on the left's cool aid. They also think black people need them to lord over.

Note that this commenter has bought the whole bag of goods that the white, anti-gay establishment has been shilling in the community for some time now. Where is our counter message? Oh, that's right, the first black President believes (in public) that "God is in the mix," and that separate is equal. So that gives these commentators license to continue spewing this nonsense. There's no leadership coming from the White House to counter the issue of black homophobia that he called out so clearly in the past. From his speech delivered at the house of worship where Dr. Martin Luther King preached, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in January 2008:

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them.

Where is this Barack Obama? Will he continue with his silence, allowing ignorance to continue to divide us? People at JJP are clearly seeking answers in their dialogue with one another, but they clearly want and need leadership on this issue to have their back, against a religious community that is red alert anti-gay.

I feel you Craig on the "family unit" standpoint, but how would you respond to those citizens who argue, "I don't want my children 'exposed' to homosexuality. I don't ever want to have that conversation with my child." So from their vantage point, their fighting to protect their "family unit", family values, etc.

These people have internalized gay marriage as the greatest threat to their family units (greater than any economic calamity or terrorism). They could give less than a fuck about the "Rights of Kin" or what happens at the funeral home with gay lovers. They are fighting to perpetuate their bloodlines through the traditional definition of marriage: a man and a woman.

But contrary to popular belief in the LGBT community, there is reasoned, honest support out there and allies that should be cultivated. It's why we need more cross-cultural dialogue, rather than retreating to corners of silence and comfort.

This is an issue that has bothered me over the last few months, especially after the race baiting that went on after Prop. 8 in California. However, over the last few weeks, two different storylines have moved me to tears.

I watched three parents on Oprah who buried their little boys because of sexual orientation bullying. We have made homosexuality so taboo and disgraceful that these beautiful little boys would rather be dead than be taunted with a gay "slur". It occurred to me that those of us who have been silent on this issue have somehow fed into this notion and that was devastating.

The second was watching the happiness on the faces of same sex couples with the decisions in Iowa and Maine on gay marriage. Why should they have to fight to be seen as equals? Why should they have to convince people that they deserve the same rights that many of us take for granted and enter into legal marriages for a variety or reasons, many of them silly and many doomed to fail. Why should their rights be decided by ballot initiatives?

The sad reality is that if black equality of the 1960's was decided by the opinions of everyday God fearing, church going Americans, we'd still be eating at segregated lunch counters and riding on the back of the bus. Please stop using religion to cover your bigotry as I can assure you that since the advent of the slave trade, people have used those same arguments to defend the systematic racism, rape, and genocide of black people.

Great post, Craig. Marriage is a civil contract, as evidenced by the piece of paper given to the couple by the religious official who performs the ceremony and the words spoken, "By the power vested in me by the State of ___..." We still have separation of church and state in this country, although you wouldn't know it by some of the laws being passed. And although I am a white, straight woman, I am always saddened and confused when I hear AAs say that gay marriage is not a civil right or that gay rights do not equate to civil rights. As the mother of a gay son, you cannot tell me when he is denied the very same rights my straight son has, that is not about equality and civil rights. I will fight to my dying breath for those rights for my son and his partner and for all LGBT people in this county and everywhere I can.

[and note this response]

Neither of your sons are denied any rights. You have one son who chooses not to marry the opposite gender and thus he is denying himself 'rights' because he is not engaging in marriage in the way society has deemed in it's best interest. Societal interest when it comes to marriage is not about the individual rather, the state of matrimony itself, is set up to circumscribe individual pursuit of happiness, thus the incentives/benefits given to those individuals who choose to enter in the state of matrimony where they lose individual rights under the law when it comes to property.

The problem here is that 'gay folks and their advocates' think marriage is about the individual and it is not.

Now the adoption of particular language of Civil Rights and the co-opting of African-American culture to promote Marriage Equality (and Feminism too for that matter) bothers me because it's white people (men mostly) using it while ignoring the contributions of AAs who may also be LGBT - and that REALLY bothers me.

I'd like to see more AA LGBTs step forward in leadership positions and address this because it is an impediment from getting all the support available.

Setting that aside for a moment though I absolutely agree that legalizing marriages between adults who are the same gender, transgendered, etc is not something that should be barred. The irony is that other states have moved forward while CA has not, but it's all blowback in my opinion. $40M and 12 years of planning didn't stop other people in smaller areas from passing legal protections.

People may not realize that the image of the oversexualized (white) male having indiscriminate sex is not the life of the average LBGT anymore. AIDS took care of that and people realized "traditional" relationships would stop the cannibalization of the majority population. Quite frankly, the behavior of some had to change to preserve the lives of the majority. I am hoping a similar shift in attitude and political advancement results from the majority of AA women who are now the hardest hit group of HIV/AIDS.

We just have to keep making inroads and keep marching around the embattlements because like reproductive rights some will always be in attack mode and we must be very diligent about guarding the things we value. Bigotry does not give religious beliefs free reign.

I could go on and on posting some of the extremely interesting comments, but I encourage you to surf over and check it out.

Where does that leave us -- the black community, the LGBT community, the black LGBT community -- in dealing with a President reticent to do much of anything about LGBT issues or homophobia in the black community unless there's overwhelming support to give him cover? Obviously I don't have the answers, but I do know we have to to discuss these outside of the respective echo chambers in order to succeed.

Our fractured communities are so easily played against one another; sitting here in virtual space I see it way too often. Our organizations often look impotent (from the outside) in dealing with this White House. There is little evidence that any meaningful pressure is being applied. We need to have our acts together and working in concert for equality in order to make this administration hear us -- and hold Obama to his promises to embark on meaningful change, as well as challenge those who uphold bigotry in the name of religion who should know better.

Related:
* Where's Barack Obama, the 'Fierce Advocate' for LGBT rights?
* The White House has nowhere to hide from MSM equality questions as Gibbs blows it at presser
* CNN report 'Gay Issues Closing In On Obama' shows the MSM is noticing the White House silence
* The Obama admin doesn't know how to respond to the marriage equality dominoes
* Words Mean Everything
* Which way is Obama's religion wind blowing?

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