Black Gay and Lesbian Voters Make Voices Heard They may be a small part of the electorate, but they are finally speaking out. For more on the issues of importance to black gays and lesbians this election season, Farai Chideya talks with Jasmyne Cannick and Abner Mason.
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Black Gay and Lesbian Voters Make Voices Heard

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Black Gay and Lesbian Voters Make Voices Heard

Black Gay and Lesbian Voters Make Voices Heard

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We've heard about race, local economics, campaign money, but how are black gays and lesbians thinking about the election. We have two voices from opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Jasmyne Cannick is an activist and journalist and a liberal voice you hear regularly on our show.

And Abner Mason is the executive director of AIDS Responsibility. He's also a former president of the gay and lesbian advocacy group, the national Log Cabin Republicans.

Welcome, guys.

Mr. ABNER MASON (Executive Director, AIDS Responsibility Project): Hey.

Ms. JASMYNE CANNICK (Blogger; Activist, Los Angeles): Hello. Thanks.

CHIDEYA: So, Abner, let me start with you. There's - I'm remembering a sketch on "The Daily Show" where basically Stephen Colbert runs around gathering up all the constituents for the Democratic Party and there's like one lesbian, one gay guy, one black guy, one South Asian. There's kind of a joke about how the Democrats have all these different constituencies, but so do Republicans. And how did you get involved as a gay black man with the Republican Party?

Mr. MASON: I think like a lot of gay Republicans, I think the most physically conservative, socially, more moderate and liberal. And so that is the sort of formula that I think defines, that politically defines, most gay and lesbian Republicans and I also worked in government for quite a while in Massachusetts.

I was chief party adviser for their previous two governors, both from the Republican governor Paul Cellucci and Governor Swift. So I was politically involved in terms of philosophy, but also I worked in the Republican administration.

CHIDEYA: How did your leadership of the Log Cabin Republicans add race into the mix there, because I'm assuming that the organization is mostly white?

Mr. MASON: It is. I think Republicans tried - they'll always (unintelligible) that, but tried to view race as not a defining issue and to treat people equally regardless of the race or gender. So from my perspective when I was president of Log Cabin, people (unintelligible) that I do a good job and hopefully I did. I think they were pleased to have some diversity in the leadership, but it felt there was not a situation where people say, oh, we need someone black, so we'll pick Abner.

CHIDEYA: Jasmyne, let me turn to you. So when you think about your role in the universe where you have a blog, you do political advocacy, you do a lot of different things. Where do you fit it in terms of raising specifically gay and lesbian issues, and then also translating them to the black community and to other communities?

Ms. CANNICK: You know, I sort of look at my role as just that of, you know, being an African-American female who is also lesbian. So, you know, I'm dealing with all of the issues that, you know, we deal with us as blacks, issues we deal with as gays and lesbians, as well as just being female.

So when I look at the work that I do, I'm always very conscious to make sure that, you know, especially sort of in the gay and lesbian political arena -which oftentimes it's very colorless - that, you know, we have a voice and that we're represented. And that's very, very important to me. And at the same time, let me ask the American community, it's very important that it's known that we're not all homophobic and that we're not all heterosexual and that we are and have always been an important part of the community. So it's kind of blending the two together. And race, you know, becomes an issue oftentimes between the gay and lesbian community as well as homophobia in the African-American community.

CHIDEYA: Abner was just saying that being fiscally conservative is one of the issues that he thinks unites black gay Republicans. Is there such a thing for liberals or Democrats?

Ms. CANNICK: We have a lot of issues that that unite us. I think one misconception that has been out there a long time, especially as it relates to gay politics, is that all gays are only concerned with gay marriage. And I had to be the first one to tell you that as an African-American that's probably the last thing on my list, if it's on my list. I'm trying to pay the rent, put food on my table and keep a roof over my head as many, not only African-American gays and lesbians, but Latino and Asian who - you know, we oftentimes don't live that life you see on "The L Word" or in "Queer as Folk." We don't live in West Hollywood, you know, we live in West Adams and we live on North Park, and we live where other - where, you know, where other blacks and Latinos tend to live.

And I think that, you know, is probably one of the more defining issues that unite us in terms of the economy and economics and being able to take care of each other. I know that health care is a huge issue for all of us right now, being able to, again, put food on our table and have a job to go to.

CHIDEYA: Abner, is there room to reach across the aisle, not based on sexuality but to gay and lesbian Democrats?

Mr. MASON: You know, to reach across the aisle in the sense of…

CHIDEYA: Across political parties.

Mr. MASON: In the sense of trying to get to accomplish things that are good for the country?

CHIDEYA: Well, yeah. In trying to push a legislative agenda around whatever it is, around healthcare. I mean, could there be a coalition - the Log Cabin Republicans reaching out to some…

Ms. CANNICK: To Stonewall Democrats.

CHIDEYA: There you go.

Mr. MASON: Yeah, I think that there are definitely opportunities for common ground and, you know, we have to find, though. That's not always easy because they live in such a polarized political environment. But if you're going to accomplish good things for our country that we all love and we all want, you know, America to be better tomorrow than it is today, if we want to solve problems, I absolutely think it's going to be critical that we find ways to work together and that's going to require some mutual respect and a real search for common ground. But it's not easy in the current environment.

CHIDEYA: Jasmyne, you're putting together a forum in Los Angeles dealing with African-American gays and lesbians and political agendas. You reached out to the candidates, did any of them respond? Do you feel like the candidates even have this on the radar?

Ms. CANNICK: No, I don't feel like they have it on the radar. I've heard from Obama's camp. I've heard from Hillary's camp. We did reach out to both the leading Democratic and Republican candidates. I think it's, you know, the forum for me and for a lot of people is particularly important because when you think again of gay and lesbian politics, you'd never think of sort of the subgroups that are come in to the African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.

And if - I think if the candidates and the people who are, you know, do their strategic planning, you know, put all of that together, there could really be some quote, unquote, a "audacity" of some change out there. I mean, when I think of last year, I'm sure you'll remember this, Farai, when, you know, Obama, you know, went to South Carolina and had Donnie McClurkin, there was some effort over that, but, you know - and this, again, was an inventory chapter to African-American constituencies out there.

CHIDEYA: Just put it out there. He is the singer and pastor who…

Ms. CANNICK: Right.

CHIDEYA: …has criticized homosexuality.

Ms. CANNICK: Was once gay and now he's turned openly homophobic towards all gays and lesbians. So, you know, instead of, you know, maybe reaching out to an African-American gay and lesbian community, Obama's, you know, camp went and found a white gay pastor and put him in front of this southern black audience. And those were the kind of things that I hoped not to see happen again. And one of the ways that can happen is by having this conversation.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, Jasmyne and Abner, thanks for coming on.

Ms. CANNICK: Thanks.

Mr. MASON: Oh, thank you.

CHIDEYA: Jasmyne Cannick is an activist, blogger, and liberal voice you hear regularly on the show. She joined me here in the studios of NPR West. And Abner Mason is executive director of AIDS Responsibility. He's also a former president of the Log Cabin Republicans.

And next on NEWS & NOTES, our Web producer Geoffrey Bennett on how you have taken control of the political debate on our blog. Plus, Angelina Jolie, the NAACP and the writers' strike on our Bloggers Roundtable.

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