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Gay Activist Talks About Same-Sex Marriage Debate

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Gay Activist Talks About Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Gay Activist Talks About Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Gay Activist Talks About Same-Sex Marriage Debate

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Farai Chideya talks with Jasmyne Cannick, an activist and social commentator who writes about, among other issues, gay and lesbian communities of color. Last year, Essence magazine listed her among the top 25 "Women Shaping the World."

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

For more on Alicia and Saundra's fight for same-sex marriage, I spoke with Jasmyne Cannick. She's a Los Angeles-based activist and commentator who often focuses on gay and lesbian communities of color.

Last year, Essence magazine listed her among the top 25 women shaping the world. Cannick says that as a result of Alicia and Saundra's case, the New Jersey legislature has several options. It could maintain the marriage ban, but grant same-sex couples' marriage rights to civil unions. Cannick thinks that's a bad idea for several reasons.

Ms. JASMYNE CANNICK (Activist and Commentator, Los Angeles): One, civil unions are not transferable, meaning if I decide to move from California with my partner to, let's say, Utah, our domestic partnership, our civil union would not be recognized.

Second of all, we need to move away from this notion that gays and lesbians should be excluded from marriage. We pay taxes like everyone else. We contribute to society. We're teachers. We're parents. We're lawmakers. We're all over this country. And we have to stop making these categories where people are not considered equal.

CHIDEYA: The story that we just heard about Alicia and Saundra in New Jersey was interesting because, you know, they're African-American, and the face of gay civil rights advocacy so often has been white and, you know, sometimes white male. Is there a shift underway where African-American gays and lesbians are gaining more prominence overall?

Ms. CANNICK: With any African-American community, it's important that African-American gays and lesbians are prominent. We've been a part of this community since blacks were brought over here. There have always been gays and lesbians that were African-American. Oftentimes in the civil rights movement for gay and lesbian rights, that's not the picture that you see on CNN and Fox News. You see the affluent, white, gay male couple.

But that's changing because in 2000 and 2004 - when gay marriage was used as a wedge issue within the African-American community - black gays and lesbians realized that we're the ones that need to talk to our parents and our grandparents and our neighbors and our friends. They need to know that when they discriminate against gays and lesbians, they're also discriminating against us.

I hear over and over again from older African-Americans who don't realize that there are, you know, aren't thinking about the fact that there are black gays and lesbians. When they see that white male on television saying gay civil rights is a civil rights issue just like the civil rights movement of the '60s, they get highly offended.

And I think - I've always said this - that the messenger is just as important as the message is. There is a certain way, for example, there's a certain way I talk to my grandmother about this issue - a way in which other people who are not African-American cannot reach my grandmother and people like my grandmother to talk about this issue. It's important that when we have these movements that people of color take their movement for themselves.

I would never try to go into the Latino community and try to drum up marriage support for gays and lesbians. Why? Because I probably wouldn't know how to say it. And being the messenger, they probably wouldn't take the message well from me, an African-American woman.

CHIDEYA: Give me quick snippet of something that you'd say to your grandmother.

Ms. CANNICK: Well, that's funny. I just talked to her this morning. I tell her, you know, grandma, why should I not be able to have the same rights that you have? You know, I always say to my grandmother, you know, when I get my bills in the mail, it doesn't say gay and lesbian, you pay this amount in taxes and straight folks pay this amount in taxes. No. I get taxed like everyone else.

And through the years, believe it or not, she has really come around. She really looks at this from a different perspective because a, I'm her granddaughter; b, she sees what it's really all about. Because, you know, with black folks - maybe not just with black people, but a lot of people try to say, oh, being gay is all about one's sexual orientation. Now, it's about more that. It's about having relationships and building families and being able to take care of our families.

CHIDEYA: But looking nationally, if you take Arizona, it was the only state out of eight that had proposed same-sex marriage bans that said no, we're not going to have this. The seven other said yes, we will. So what does that mean across the board?

Ms. CANNICK: Well, I think what is important to mention in terms of the past election and the same-sex marriage bans is one, that a lot of the initiatives in the various states failed to get more than 60 percent of the vote. They did pass, but not in the overwhelming numbers as we saw in 2004 and 2000.

At the end of the day, people still are not comfortable with the idea of gays and lesbians getting married. But what I think is important - especially in the African-American community - is that we continue to do a lot of outreach and we continue to talk to one another. And for gays and lesbians who are black, that we continue to be visible in our communities.

I've always said, you know, we're a big part of the church and not just in the choir. We're pastors and deacons and so on and so forth. We're a big part of our community - and not just hairdressers. And we're teachers and other things, and we just have to let our community know that we're here.

CHIDEYA: Well, Jasmine, thank you so much.

Ms. CANNICK: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Jasmyne Cannick is an activist and social commentator who writes about, among other things, the gay and lesbian communities of color. Last year, Essence magazine listed her among the top 25 women shaping the world.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Coming up: in Texas, at least one small business won't do business with gays. And Washington breaks ground on the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. We'll discuss these topics and more on our Roundtable - next.

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