Racial Divisions Challenge Gay Rights Movement California's black and gay communities have tried to mend fences since black voters turned out in large numbers to help pass Proposition 8, the state's ban on same-sex marriages. Now activists are seeing another rift as well, between white and black gays.
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Racial Divisions Challenge Gay Rights Movement

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Racial Divisions Challenge Gay Rights Movement

Racial Divisions Challenge Gay Rights Movement

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When California voted last month to ban marriage for same-sex couples, the gay community across the country was stunned. The measure, Proposition 8, received broad support from black churchgoing voters. And that revealed a tension between the white gay community and African-Americans, both straight and gay. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Jasmyne Cannick took up tennis a year ago, plays it without fail every day.

(Soundbite of a tennis game)

GRIGSBY BATES: And is starting to feel a little like the ball she routinely hammers back at her coach. Cannick, who is black and lesbian, has been cautioning white gays and lesbians against blaming black voters for Prop. 8's passage.

Ms. JASMYNE CANNICK (Political Consultant): While we are celebrating the election of the first black president, we're being villainized by the gay community.

GRIGSBY BATES: Cannick says gays need to understand what really defeated Prop. 8.

Ms. CANNICK: They just won't face facts. They ran a poor campaign. It wasn't diverse. They operated off of a one-size-fits-all civil rights model.

GRIGSBY BATES: Large numbers of blacks, Cannick says, supported the measure for religious reasons, something the anti-8 leaders would have understood if they'd run a more inclusive campaign.

Ms. CANNICK: I come out of this community. You don't come out of this community. I was raised in a black church. I was raised in black neighborhoods. I know black people because I am one.

GRIGSBY BATES: Many gay activists, like Robin Tyler of Los Angeles, were frankly astounded at black support for Prop. 8.

Ms. ROBIN TYLER (Blogger, Huffingtonpost.com): Seventy-six percent of African-American women I know that voted against marriage of quality for gay people.

GRIGSBY BATES: Tyler married her partner Diane Olsen earlier this year during that brief window when it was still legal in California. The couple's filed one of the original lawsuits that prompted the State Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage in June. When African-Americans turned out in big numbers to vote for Prop. 8, Tyler says she felt her years of supporting black issues had been totally ignored.

Ms. TYLER: And it really hurt me because we've been on the frontlines against racism for years and years.

GRIGSBY BATES: But that attitude frustrates Jasmyne Cannick. She says equating gay marriage with the black civil rights movement, something gay activists have tried to do for years, doesn't translate to black voters.

Ms. CANNICK: I really need them to back up off of that message that gay rights are civil rights. I'm not saying I disagree with it. I'm just telling you, it's dead on arrival when it gets to the black community.

GRIGSBY BATES: In a world where blacks are jailed more, shot more, and arbitrarily stopped by police more than any other group, Cannick says, African-Americans see civil rights from a different perspective than white gays. Many are insulted at the linkage.

Jasmyne Cannick believes the leadership in the gay community never really tried that hard to connect with African-Americans during the campaign against Prop. 8. Then during the demonstrations that sprung up immediately after 8's passage, some gay participants insulted black voters, even fellow black demonstrators. Cannick's not having it.

Ms. CANNICK: That's just unacceptable. It can't be "Kumbaya" November 3rd, and then I hate all black people come November 5th.

GRIGSBY BATES: Tensions have cooled down in the past few weeks as the post mortems on Prop. 8 continue. Some of the conversations have been between gays and blacks. One of the would-be peacemakers in Los Angeles is the Reverend Eric Lee, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. At a recent forum on Prop. 8, Lee said the controversial initiative has exposed the special pressure black gays and lesbians feel.

Reverend ERIC LEE (Head, Southern Christian Leadership Conference): One, they're fighting the homophobic issues that come from all of the society, but particularly within the black community. and then they're also fighting the racism that comes from the white gay community.

GRIGSBY BATES: Jasmyne Cannick agrees that the pressure is fierce.

Ms. CANNICK: I'm black and I'm also a lesbian. So what side am I'm supposed to be on?

GRIGSBY BATES: For many like Cannick, the answer is both. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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