(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
I have spent many hours in lectures, panels and private conversations trying to explain why Black people, in poll after poll, overwhelmingly do not support same-sex marriage. But my arguments are beginning to lose steam and I am not sure I believe them anymore regardless of how I feel about gay marriage. At the end of the day, there is no excuse for homophobia and I am tired of indirectly defending it.
Hours after the California Supreme Court decided to uphold Proposition 8, effectively banning future same-sex marriages in that state, I found myself standing along a protest route where about 1000 same-sex marriage activists marched along 14th Street in Manhattan to rally in Union Square. Suddenly behind me I heard someone shout “God meant marriage for a man and a woman! Stand Strong Obama!”
I turned to find a stout, middle-aged Black man apparently in the midst of a days work making store deliveries from the large truck parked nearby that bore the same logo as his drab-green uniform. This refrain he shouted repeatedly, I think for the benefit of the marchers and myself (he stood unnecessarily close), for the better part of ten minutes.
What he didn’t know was that I have never been a cheerleader for the same-sex marriage movement. I was not attending the march. I was not happy about the court decision but as a Black gay man I have never felt marriage was my number one political priority, nor that it would end other forms or racial, economic and heterosexist oppression that more regularly impact my quality of life or in fact my mortality.
I have been bothered by the arrogant and shallow invoking of the Civil Rights Movement that many white gays and lesbians have continued to bludgeon the Black community with, and the racist onslaught that has been unleashed since the passing of Prop 8 with Black voters in California being blamed for its passing.
But despite the fact that I think the push for same-sex marriage is deeply flawed in many ways, I can’t help but begin to really be very angry at most of what is undergirding the resistance to it in the Black community: deep-seated homophobia.
How does that brother on the street see President Obama’s homophobia as evidence of his Black manhood? How does the Black community’s love-affair with the possibility of Obama’s “acceptable” Black heterosexual masculinity translate into hope for his disavowal of legal protections for queer people, many of whom are also Black?
I can, and have, tried to explain the nuances of homophobia in the Black community. I have also taken many white gay organizations to task for their continued arrogance and racism. Why are Black LGBT folks put into a position where we end supporting homophobia by default? How can we get down to the business of organizing to really aggressively confront the intense marginalization, harassment and rampant violence against Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Black community unless we’re no longer willing to give homophobes cover?
I don’t have to support gay marriage. But I don’t have to give excuses for Black people’s homophobic behavior either.