'The New Black': Film explores African-American resistance to gay rights

I would rather kiss the feet of a Klansman than help perpetuate the myth that black people are inherently more homophobic than every other race on the planet.

There’s never been concrete evidence that lent credence to such a theory, and while the homophobia that exists within our community may appear unique to those on the outside, it’s not any more vitriolic than it is within other cultural groups.

I hope that point is made strongly in the upcoming documentary, The New Black. The film, which will be screened at Washington’s AFI Docs Festival on June 22 and June 23, chronicles the black community’s history with marriage equality.

Not all blacks are anti-gay

Speaking with Politico, the film’s director Yoruba Richen explains: “After Proposition 8 passed in 2008, a very strong narrative emerged that African-Americans were more homophobic then other voting blocs. This was largely because of an incorrect exit poll that initially reported blacks voted for the measure by 70 percent. That these reports later proved false — and multiple researchers later showed it was around 58 percent — was not enough to counter the narrative.”

She goes to add that very vocal anti-gay marriage black ministers were able to “command significant” press attention for speaking against “marriage equality and gay rights in general.” Yes, though not as much attention was paid to the numerous black clergymen who have spoken in favor of marriage equality. Gee, I wonder why that is.

In any event, Richen cites “Jesse Jackson’s rainbow coalition in the 80’s” as proof that there have been black political and religious figures who have taken stances in support of gay rights very early on – countering this idea that all us black folks are sitting around the church pews whispering gay epithets in the name of Jesus.

Richen goes on to note that “in terms of polling, African-American support (like other groups) has varied depending how you phrase the question and the religiosity of the respondents.”

Look at that, y’all. We’re just like everyone else. Tell a friend – particularly a paler one in media controlling the news cycle.

Comparisons to the civil rights movement

One other aspect of the film will be comparing the gay rights movement of today with that of the Civil Rights Movement of yore.

As Richen tells Politico, “[Like] the gay community, we also weren’t allowed to marry who we wanted to, build families or have the societal legitimacy that entails. We were also denied rights based on who we were and treated as second class citizens. And of course a lot of the arguments that you hear against marriage equality are similar to ones used to justify miscegenation laws.”

While I do feel some anti-marriage equality believing black folks ought to be reminded of the tragic irony of their decision making skills, I’m not very invested in a tit-for-tat over who had it worse, why it is or isn’t the same. I understand why some might offense to the phrase “gay is the new black,” especially when you take into account how the larger gay rights movement isn’t always inclusive of minorities.

Still, I feel like it’s semantics and a pointless distraction. That said, some black people do need to accept the fact that we don’t have exclusive rights to injustice. Moreover, a comparison alone isn’t necessarily trying to downplay the struggle of black people.

The New Black will have its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 14 and then ultimately have a limited theatrical release later this year.

Ending the black vs. gay debate

Hopefully films like these along with the works of writers like Adam Serwer further chip away at the “black folks so anti-gay” narrative gnawing away at my last damn nerve. However, once we beat that silly fable down to the white meat, we need to move on and entertain meaningful conversation about the religious argument used to justify anti-gay biases by all.

In the 2007 documentary For The Bible Tells Me So, Daniel G. Karslake tackles homosexuality’s perceived conflict with Christianity – speaking with members of different sects of the religion along with a Jewish rabbi about the various interpretations of what the Bible says about homosexuality.

In it, Bishop Desmond Tutu, explains how “The Bible is the word of God through the words of human beings speaking in the idiom of their time.”

And times change. To that end, once we’ve settled this black vs. gay nonsense, we can tackle what’s really making it harder for gay people in this country.

Follow Michael Arceneaux on Twitter @youngsinick