The anti-gay-marriage amendment that passed in California, known as Proposition 8, not only took away the right of gays to marry but has also sown distrust and disunity. With the initiative’s stunning 52 percent to 48 percent passage, many were left confused and angered. How could this much-touted gay-friendly state, with its gay meccas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, approve such a measure?
Before the ballot-counting was even finished, the finger-pointing began. The media reported that 70 percent of African American voters voted for the amendment, sparking cries of betrayal within the gay community. Rather than noting the need for unity and looking at the actual numbers, some white gay activists turned to racist attacks painting the African American community as homophobic.
One prominent gay writer, Dan Savage, wrote, “I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there — and they’re out there and I think they’re scum — are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.”
At a demonstration against Prop. 8 in LA after the vote, gay African Americans wearing anti-Prop.-8 shirts were verbally attacked by other demonstrators using racist epithets.
But let’s look at the numbers behind the frenzy. The poll so often cited is a CNN exit poll of 2,240 voters. Of those, 10 percent were African American, 64 percent were white and 18 percent were Latino. I was not able to find raw data on voting patterns by race for Prop. 8. I used the stats from CNN’s poll and applied them to the total number of votes for and against this amendment. I came out with a very different situation from what’s been bandied about.
About 10.7 million people voted on Prop. 8, with 5.7 million voting for the amendment. Applying the CNN poll figures would indicate that 761,362 African Americans voted for the amendment along with 959,315 Latinos and 3.3 million white voters. Clearly, then, we cannot place the blame solely on African Americans and Latinos for the passage of this measure.
Also, not talked about is the low voter turnout in California on Nov. 4. Nearly 1.5 million fewer Californians voted in 2008 than in 2004, and almost 80,000 people who voted for a presidential candidate did not vote on Prop. 8. Moreover, the anti-gay-marriage coalition targeted African American Democrats with robo-calls selectively quoting Obama saying he does not support gay marriage. The calls urged voters to vote “yes” on Prop 8. But Obama, while he does not support gay marriage, strongly opposed such amendments.
What is needed now is unity, not hatred and distrust.
In a post-election letter, Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way, pointed out the far right’s strategy of splitting the African American and LGBT communities. For years the religious right has been cultivating relationships with ultra-conservative African American clergy, and has spent millions on a propaganda campaign promoting the notion that white gay activists “are ‘hijacking’ and ‘raping’ the civil rights movement”. All the while these same people, including personalities like Trent Lott and Ed Meese, continue their racist fear-mongering aiming to turn back the clock to the Jim Crow era.
So, while voters in California, Arkansas, Florida and Arizona passed anti-gay amendments on Nov. 4, voters in Nebraska passed Initiative 424 barring affirmative action based on race, gender and ethnicity in public education and employment.
The struggles for gay equality and for African American equality are bound together and face a common enemy: the ultra-right. It is the ultra-right that is pushing and funding ballot initiatives like Prop. 8 and Nebraska’s Initiative 424. African American leaders such as Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, came out strong against Prop. 8 and worked alongside white gay activists to try to defeat it. It is this type of unity that is needed going forward.
By giving into racism or homophobia we play into the hands of the ultra-right and ensure that we will not be able to move forward in the struggle for democracy and equality for everyone.
Lawsuits are being filed asking California’s Supreme Court to strike down Prop. 8, and nationwide protests are planned for Nov. 15. I hope these outcries work towards strengthening alliances among all progressive forces, and not continue down the road of disunity. If we are to win any gains, whether for gay marriage or against racism, we have to be united.
Adam Tenney (firstname.lastname@example.org) is national education coordinator for the Young Communist League, USA.