Black, Gay Communities Collide Over Gay Marriage The controversy over California's gay marriage ban, known as Prop 8, has spilled into the streets. In some places, the fight for gay rights has turned into an public indictment of African-Americans who voted in favor of the ban. Farai Chideya moderates a conversation about the future of coalition building.
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Black, Gay Communities Collide Over Gay Marriage

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Black, Gay Communities Collide Over Gay Marriage

Black, Gay Communities Collide Over Gay Marriage

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From NPR News, this is News and Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. After a long presidential campaign where so-called social values issues took a back seat to the economy, the post-election politics of gay marriage are heated. On Election Day, California voters passed Proposition 8, which banned gay marriages. Unlike other states with ballot initiatives, gays and lesbians actually could marry by law in California until the initiative passed. Black voters make up only 10 percent of the electorate but were also the most likely to vote for the ban. Now some organizers blame black Californians for denying them the right to marry.

This isn't just a California issue, either. Protests have stretched from coast to coast with more planned for this weekend. At one Los Angeles march, a man lifted a sign saying, Gay is the New Black, a reference to voters who feel that while Election 2008 was a victory for race relations, it set back gay rights.

Today we're going to look at this issue specifically, but also the ramifications it has for American politics at large. First, we'll take a look at the issue from a neighborhood level. Gary Gates is a demographer from the Charles R. Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. Gary, how are you?

Dr. GARY GATES (Demographer and Senior Research Fellow, Charles R. Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, University of California, Los Angeles): I'm great, thank you.

CHIDEYA: So we've heard reports that there's a lot of tension on the streets. Some gays and lesbians of color are caught in the verbal crossfire. We want to play you just a little bit of a conversation we had with our blogger, Jasmine Cannick.

(Soundbite of NPR News conversation)

JASMINE CANNICK: There was a protest last night in Westwood wherein upon several people were accosted and called the N word. Some of those black people happen to have been gay, and they were being called those names by white gay folks who said it was you people, you people who took away our rights. They didn't know that they were gay. All they saw were black people.

CHIDEYA: Does this hold up to what you've been hearing about some of the tensions on the streets?

Dr. GATES: Well, I mean, I think clearly this has raised tensions, but what I think from my work is one of the things that I find in studying kind of the geographic and demographic patterns of the gay community in Los Angeles is that the distinctions that you see in the broader population are true in the gay population. You know, so here, you know, we have West Hollywood is seen as a gay center - a center of gay life in Los Angeles. That's primarily a white, gay male enclave, and black gay people and Latino and Latina and Asian - they don't necessarily live there. They live in - black gay people live in South LA, and Latino and Latina gay people live in East LA, so...

CHIDEYA: That's something that someone who came on our show earlier to - a filmmaker mentioned that he felt that basically what we call gay neighborhoods in America are places where people have come mainly from white communities, you know, in other cities or other places, and that African-American gays and lesbians tend to stay in the communities where they were born and raised. Do you find that there's any truth to that kind of assessment?

Dr. GATES: I mean, there's definitely truth that what we know of as gay neighborhoods - so, you know, the big ones would be like the Castro or West Hollywood or the New York neighborhoods, whether it was the Village or Chelsea or it sort of keeps moving - but those neighborhoods are primarily white and male, and there's multiple reasons for that, one of which I think is that in order to create neighborhoods, you have to be a mobile population, and to be mobile you probably have to have a certain level of economic advantage. And that's white men. And gay or not, that's white men in our society.

CHIDEYA: You know - tell me a little bit more from your research about socio-economic differences. Are there - is it pretty much the same socio-economic difference that you see between, say, gay white man and gay black man that you would between a straight white man and a straight black man?

Dr. GATES: Broadly, yes. I mean, what we see in the gay community is that people of color seem to have the same kinds of disadvantages in the gay community that they do in the broader community. And now that said, one interesting group that's - whether it's African-American or white - that seems to have a disadvantage in the gay community are people raising kids. All of those people seem to have lower economic status than their married counterparts, if they're in a couple.

But that said, if it's a black or Hispanic person - and by the way, those groups are two to three times more likely within the gay community to be raising children. So the image - the "Will and Grace" image of the white, New York, gay male couple raising kids is a really minority in the community. The real image of gay people raising kids are people of color, and they are substantially economically distressed relative both to their white counterparts and to the population in general.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want to bring a couple more folks into the conversation. We've got Patrick Sammon, national president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that supports gay rights, and Ron Buckmire, a board president of the Barbara Jordon/Bayard Rustin Coalition. It's a black gay rights group in Los Angeles. Hi, gentlemen. How are you?

Mr. PATRICK SAMMON (National President, Log Cabin Republicans): Good to be with you.

Mr. RON BUCKMIRE (Board President, Barbara Jordon/Bayard Rustin Coalition): Nice to be with you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So, Ron, I'm going to start with you. What's your assessment of how this issue has played out so far in terms of, you know, bringing together the issues of race and sexual orientation but also just the anger that's expressed?

Mr. BUCKMIRE: Well, it's been a hurricane, basically, since Proposition 8 passed. Well, since Proposition 8 passed and the exit polls released showing - the CNN exit polls released showing that 70 percent of African-Americans voted for Proposition 8. There are still some questions about whether - how accurate that poll is because in that poll it also says that the African-American electorate is 10 percent, which is a very iffy number. African-Americans make up six percent of the population of California.

But regardless, it is pretty clear that African-Americans voted for Proposition 8, voted to eliminate the fundamental right to marry for same-sex couples at a much higher rate than any other ethnic group in California. And that's very, very distressing, especially to people like me, who are in both groups, are black and are gay.

CHIDEYA: Why do you think that black voters were the most likely to vote for Prop 8?

Mr. BUCKMIRE: I think it's complicated. I think it shows that there is a lot of work that the gay groups need to do, and also, frankly, the gay black groups need to do to reach out to the African-American population to make them realize that Proposition 8 was not about religion. It was about a civil marriage ceremony. It was about a fundamental right. And passing Proposition 8 was an incredibly horrible precedent. People in California said they were going to just reach out and rip out a right that had been granted by the Supreme Court of California, and then 173 days later basically divorced me and, you know, 18,000 other couples like myself who had gotten married in the interregnum.

CHIDEYA: When you think about this issue, Patrick, your group, Log Cabin Republicans, has been a group that - obviously, you're Republicans, but you've also had some differences with, for example, the party platform. How did you come down on Prop 8? And then what did you do as a group in addressing it?

Mr. SAMMON: Well, we were the first - one of the first national gay rights organizations to support marriage equality back in the early '90s, and so we were obviously very much against Proposition 8, and we were proud that Governor Schwarzenegger, at our national convention in April, came out against any constitutional amendment to roll back marriage. We actually had a campaign, Republicans Against 8, which complimented the broader No on 8 Campaign, where we were working to get Republicans opposing Prop 8.

You know, the thing that's so unfortunate to me about what's happened here is it shouldn't be blaming anyone. I would hope that what our community goes through is figuring out why we lost and changing our strategy next time to make sure it doesn't happen. So it really is awful that any group is being blamed. I mean, 84 percent of Republicans voted yes. They should be blamed.

You know, a couple of numbers that stuck out in my mind was 38 percent of the yes votes were Barack Obama supporters, and so that just shows us that we need to make progress with Democrats and independents and Republicans. And then another group, 84 percent of weekly churchgoers voted yes on Prop 8. So rather than pointing fingers at anyone, I think we just need to look at the numbers and understand where and how we need to do better in the future, both in California and other states.

CHIDEYA: What do you think is the next step for a group like yours, who, you know, you can sit down with the governor, you can have a conversation, and Governor Schwarzenegger himself has changed over time how he addressed the issue. But we're going to talk more about what the future strategies are, but where are you going from here specifically?

Mr. SAMMON: Well, at the end of the day, equality is impossible to achieve without Republican votes, and unfortunately, the outcome here in California showed that. So we're committed to continuing to work with inside the Republican Party to make it better. Even with bigger Democratic majorities in Congress, they're going to need Republican votes to pass a lot of that legislation, particularly in the Senate, where you need a filibuster-proof majority. So we're committed to doing the difficult work.

We know we're making progress with rank-and-file Republicans. On an issue like Don't Ask, Don't Tell, way back in 1993, only 32 percent of Republicans favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military. Now that number's up to 64 percent. So there's no question we're making progress, but the results here in California certainly show how much work still needs to be done.

CHIDEYA: Ron, we're going to go to a break shortly, but just before we do, just quickly, and I'll use this as a teaser, do you think black people are more homophobic than white people? An issue that's come up many times.

Mr. BUCHMEYER: I think the - no, I do not think that. And I think the great response to that is a - I think of my friend, Keith Boykin(ph), who wrote a famous blog post entitled, "Why are White People So Homophobic?" And he talks about there are so many examples. For example, at the time it was the head of the military, Peter Pace, talking about how he didn't accept gays in the military, that it was just wrong. It was just his moral, religious views. There are so many more examples of white people saying homophobic things than there are black people saying homophobic things. It's just fascinating to me that people sort of get caught up in this strange meem(ph) that quote unquote black people are more homophobic when really, homophobia happens in all communities.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, that's a great place to leave us before the break. We want all of you to stick with us. We're talking about Proposition 8 and how it's had a ripple effect on the conversation about race, sexual orientation and equality. Just ahead, more on the tension over gay rights and Prop 8. And does the White House press corps have a diversity issue? Two media insiders give us the scoop.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: This is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. We're taking a look at the battles over race and gay rights launched by California's Proposition 8. With us, Garry Gates, a demographer at the University of California, Los Angeles; Patrick Sammon, national president of the Log Cabin Republicans; and Ron Buchmeyer, board president of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition.

So welcome back, guys, and you know, I'm wondering. Garry, you mentioned specifically gay male neighborhoods, mainly white. Do you know anything about where lesbians tend to live? Are there lesbian neighborhoods?

Mr. GATES: There are. But they generally are - this is oversimplified, but the pattern tends to be that they're around white, gay male neighborhoods. So a little further out, probably a little bit more kid-friendly, a little less expensive neighborhoods than where the gay men live.

CHIDEYA: And is it also a situation where those neighborhoods tend to be more racially...

Mr. GATES: They do tend to be a little more racially and ethnically mixed, in part because they are less expensive neighborhoods than the gay male neighborhoods. So - and there's much higher rates of child rearing, obviously, among lesbians and lesbian couples. And so, again, those neighborhoods are seen as more affordable.

CHIDEYA: Ron, when you think about what we're talking about and we on News & Notes have tried many times to have conversations about the intersection of race and other forms of identity. Is this a case, as some people argue, where one identity was prioritized over another? For example, not just race but identity as a churchgoer. You know, if your identity as a churchgoer was prioritized over, you know, other identities that you have of being someone who, you know, sees gay and lesbian members of your family and who wants certain things for them. I mean, how do people in your experience, that you've met, prioritize what they believe in when it comes to a situation like this that is a social values issue?

Mr. BUCHMEYER: Well, that's what I mean by more education needs to happen. It's true. I simply can't understand it myself how - and I've spoken with people who are, you know, college professors and are religious, and they know that we're talking about civil marriage. We're - it has nothing to do with going to a church, but yet they say, you know, my pastor says I have to vote yes on Proposition 8, and that's what they do. So clearly, they are prioritizing one particular identity over another.

But another part of the question which sort of raises my hackles(ph) is the question about, well, which are you first? Are you black, are you gay, are you gay, are you black? And it sort of - it denies the idea that one can be both simultaneously. It's like asking Barack Obama, which is he? Black or white? White or black? He is both.

CHIDEYA: Patrick, what's - when you think about the response to this, there have been protests all over the country, some of them tense, some of them very specific. Like this person gave this money to this part of the Yes on 8 coalition. We're going to protest in front of this business. Some of them much more general. One of things that came up over the course of the past eight years was with antiwar protest. Is protest still an effective form of civil interaction? From your perspective, as someone who watches politics, do you think these protests are accomplishing what they set out to do?

Mr. SAMMON: Well, as a Republican, I'm more conservative, so protests are never high on my list, but I have to say, for myself, even, my reaction to this passage of Prop 8 has been anger. And so I can understand why people want to do something to show their anger. I think our challenge going forward as a movement working toward equality for all is how we, within the next few weeks, transfer that anger into positive momentum to move forward. Because at the end of the day, anger won't get us any closer to achieving where we want to go, so what we need to do is, again, figure out why we lost and get more people involved.

I wish there would have been people marching before the vote. I wish there would have been more people working phone banks and knocking on doors. And I know a lot of people did all that they could to try and defeat 8. It's a bit frustrating, in my mind, that there wasn't this activism before the vote. So what we have to do is make use of the energy and the anger, and move forward in a positive way, rather than just throwing rocks.

Mr. GATES: I will add, just briefly, that as a sort of stats person, from 2000 to 2008 the percentage who voted against same-sex marriage has gone from 62 percent to 52 percent. That's enormous for any social issue to change that much in that short of a time. So I think there is a little bit of perspective here to say that there is enormous change going on already.

CHIDEYA: I'm going to give you the last word, Ron. We're going to have to make it short, but if you had to say to someone who just absolutely says, look, my pastor - and this is something many people have said - my pastor told me to vote yes, and I did, what's your shorthand answer on that one?

Mr. BUCHMEYER: Well, if it's a black person, I would say, there are, you know, there are black LGBT people, like me. When you are voting to eliminate my right to marry, you are hurting members of the black community. You are hurting your own community by doing that. Black LGBT people need access to all the rights and responsibilities of marriage just like everyone else, and so please, don't do that.

CHIDEYA: Well, thanks guys. Appreciate it. We were speaking with Ron Buchmeyer, board president of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, that's a black gay rights group in Los Angeles; also with Patrick Sammon, national president of the Log Cabin Republicans; Gary Gates, a demographer from the Charles R. Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law at Public Policy. They all joined us here at NPR West. And if you want to see video of our conversation, please check it out at our blog,

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