Unwedging the Wedge

Recently, the GLBT community has expressed anger over the strategy of the National Organization for Marriage to drive a wedge between African-Americans and the Gay Community.  An exhibit from litigation in Maine reveals tactics to derail marriage equality, including “sideswiping” Obama by “exposing” him as a “social radical.” It’s unsurprising that NOM would target a president who has done more for the GLBT community than any other president.  It’s equally unsurprising that NOM would also identify discrete ethnic and racial groups for targeted outreach.  NOM’s “Latino Identity Project” intended to ensure that support for marriage would remain “a key badge of Latino identity” and “a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation” of Latinos into (allegedly) “Anglo culture.”  But it’s NOM’s “Not a Civil Right Project” that garnered the most attention, as it blatantly established a strategy to drive a wedge between gays and blacks by “provoke(ing) the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing (African-Americans) as bigots.”

Predictably, the GLBT Community cried foul that NOM would manipulate us.  Sadly, GLBT leaders ignore what is blatantly obvious to many in the GLBT Community – NOM’s strategy worked precisely because a racial divide exists in the GLBT Community.  This became terribly clear in Maryland in the 2011 legislative session when delegates of color – most notably Sam Arora and Tiffany Alston – delayed the vote on the marriage bill.  Language aimed at Delegate Arora by white gay men included “I am not collecting donations for Sam back to the Middle East” and “the enemy here (is)… African American churches.”  A white transgender woman called the failed 2011 marriage vote “karma” for gays and lesbians supporting a “Jim Crow” gender identity law lacking public accommodations.  A heterosexual white woman, handwringing over the parallels between marriage equality and the Civil Rights movement, found “the refusal of many, particularly those in the black community, to see the similarities … depressing.”  Jonathan Capeheart in the Washington Post decried the “wedge being driven between African Americans and gays” without acknowledging that the wedge could be driven because of GLBT Community racism.

And where do we see “obliviousness” about race in the GLBT Community?  Open your eyes.  In February, blogger John Aravosis called out Delegate Mary Washington for alleged “racism” against white gays for making a class argument as to why marriage equality matters to African Americans. As Delegate Washington is the only African American lesbian legislator in the General Assembly, the optics seemed – to be polite – unfortunate. More recently, Kevin Naff of the Washington Blade demonstrated “supreme obliviousness” by deriding “[r]eckless pot-stirring by ambulance-chasing zealots like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, along with typically lazy and even deliberately inaccurate reporting by the mainstream media” for “stok(ing) racial tensions” in connection with the murder of Trayvon Martin.  A generous interpretation of Naff’s piece is that he intended to draw attention to  lax gun laws.  We lost that point underneath Naff’s snide criticism of GLBT advocacy groups for “draw[ing] parallels between black and LGBT crime victims and express[ing] solidarity with Martin’s family.”

In response, a commenter named Terence observed that:

“[w]hat is constantly overlooked by members of the non-racial-minority LGBT community is how their own insensitivity towards issues concerning race-relations, particularly towards African-Americans, often trumps that of society at large. This is blatantly displayed for all to see with this article. A simple op-ed from a contributor would be one thing, but The Washington Post, New York Times or any major reputable newspaper would never publish an editorial like this as representative of the views of its senior staff. The sad reality is how many self-proclaimed liberal Caucasian LGBTs will read this and immediately come to agree with Naff.”

I agree. The white GLBT Community’s “obliviousness” to the concerns of African American GLBT Community members fuels this “wedge” between blacks and gays, as African American GLBT Community members feel – quite rightly – that their experience as black in a racist society impacts them more than their experience as gay.  White gays, unable to understand – and lacking the desire to learn – that race matters, accuse black gays and lesbians of “disloyalty” to gay causes.  This dynamic influences the GLBT Community’s political priorities, with white gay males seemingly united to push for gay marriage, and everyone else noting that other concerns might matter more, particularly to African Americans.

How do we unwedge the wedge?  We cannot move forward unless we – as a united GLBT community – engage in honest conversation about GLBT community racism.  White GLBT community members must listen to our brothers and sisters of color.  If we can listen, and engage in honest dialogue about the interests we share and the interests we should support as allies, our Movement will become invulnerable – unwedgeable, as it were – to divisive tactics by people who seek to destroy all of us.

Thanks to Kalima Young for making me smarter.

Friday, 20 April 2012


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