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Taking the NAACP seriously?

Timothy Kincaid

August 2nd, 2011

Last Monday, the NAACP held its first ever town hall meeting on LGBT issues as part of their Annual National Convention. No More Downlow was there.

The debate got heated when the current NAACP CEO Benjamin Jealous is asked by our executive producer Earnest Winborne, “How can the LGBT community take the NAACP seriously, when its current board members are out saying that gay rights are not civil rights” – referring to current NAACP board member Rev. Keith Ratliff recent statement “Gay community stop hijacking the civil rights movement.”

Mr. Jealous responded saying the gay community should take the NAACP seriously because the NAACP was there with the Human Rights Campaign helping to pass the Matthew Shepard / James Byrd Hate Crimes Bill. The NAACP were champions of fighting Prop 8 in California as well as fighting alongside the LGBT community in Maine, Massachusetts, in Washington D.C. and in Maryland, and in other places. Jealous also said the LGBT community needed to do more ground work in the black community and not come late in the game with an expectation. He also said the black community needed to be treated with the same respect as the other allies of the LGBT community

Rather than discuss Ben Jealous’ answer, I want to make three observations.

One: I may be mistaken, and I am no weather-vane for any social trends, but I believe that I have seen a change in the way that bloggers, writers, and commentators within the black community have been discussing gay people and, more importantly, responding to those who do make slurs. I’ll leave it to those who have a better sense of the community, but it may be that a breakthrough is coming.

Two: The problem is not limited to a lack of support for gay issues in the African American community. Equally concerning are issues of racism and exclusion in the gay community. We, all of us, whatever race, ethnicity, religion, orientation, gender, or whatever need to look more for ways of seeing each other as “just like me” instead of letting our insecurities drive us into looking for differences and ways to separate. But we must also be careful that “just like me” doesn’t erase concern for each others’ real and unique challenges.

Three: In this discussion, let us never forget that “they” are already “us”. We have strong intelligent effective gay men and women who are not always valued due to prejudices that we may not even know we hold. Those who walk with a foot in two communities because of their race, religion, political ideology or other separation deserve respect. They’ve proven themselves and fought for our community and often been rewarded by being treated as the scapegoat. We, as a community, have to stop that.

Comments

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tristram
August 2nd, 2011 | LINK

Typo in title – NAACP.

Matt
August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Equally concerning are issues of racism and exclusion in the gay community.

If possible, I would be interested in you expanding on this… if you’re willing and if you have the time.

I guess what I’m thinking/seeing is that a specific person took a specific organization, with a finite and discrete administrative body (the NAACP board) and faulted them for something… and this feels like a pivot towards a very broad/amorphous/unlimited group of people, and then saying their actions are equivalent. Do you know what I mean?

I’m just wondering if you have something more particular in mind, but aren’t going into that level of detail here. I’d be curious to know what, more specifically, you are referring to.
Thanks!

Priya Lynn
August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Timothy said “I believe that I have seen a change in the way that bloggers, writers, and commentators within the black community have been discussing gay people and, more importantly, responding to those who do make slurs. I’ll leave it to those who have a better sense of the community, but it may be that a breakthrough is coming.”.

With polls showing increasing support for marriage, one would think and hope the same shift is happening in the black community.

Christine
August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Did Earnest Winborn know that that NAACP includes “sexual orientation” in it’s anti-discrimination policy?

I joined (as a white woman) a local chapter of the NAACP years ago where I lived because I knew of their policy and wanted to support them in their anti-racist work because they supported me and because I supported their work too.

Winborn could have done a much better job of broaching this subject than making Jealous so defensive.

Benjamin Jealous in particular has been personally invested in reaching out to gay groups in a positive way (not in the way that the ex-gay movement seeks to “reach out”):

http://www.theroot.com/views/naacp-reaches-out-gay-rights-groups

Timothy Kincaid
August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Matt,

I rewrote this commentary about four times. Commentaries that touch on race tend to ignite passions and inspire rage so I don’t want to get into too much more detail.

So let me simply respond that statements made by Ratliff appear contradictory to the NAACP’s stated positions. Kudo’s to No More Downlow for pointing out how this plays in the gay community (especially what it says to black same-gender-loving men and women).

And as for what I see as issues of racism and exclusion in the gay community, here are a few observations:

1. LA’s community is segregated by race into entirely separate social and support networks. This is, I believe, usual in any large city.

2. Sometimes some very well intentioned organizations will seek diversity without measuring merit which can result in tokenism and ethnic minorities relegated to ‘Director of Outreach to People of Color’ or some other task for which their only qualification is their skin color instead of a position that values their skills and intellect.

3. The sexual interaction of single gay men can frequently include racial parameters which, taken collectively, can lump African Americans and Asians into some “less desirable” category (or worse, fetishize).

4. The black gay community has unique needs and challenges (one example: HIV/AIDS prevalence is about nine times that of whites). And organizational priorities that do not consider unique needs and challenges can feel exclusionary.

I’m sure there are many many more examples of the ways in which the gay community is less homogenous and democratic than we might wish. My point isn’t to list them all but to note that such problems do exist.

And I probably said too much already.

Matt
August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Thanks for the response!

In regards to No. 2 on your list, I’m wondering if you’ve read Bruce Bawer’s A Place at the Table. Maybe you have; maybe you think it’s old hat (it’s from 1993, I think — eons ago, gay-culture-wise, perhaps). But it seems informative on this topic.

And I probably said too much already.

Sorry! Not trying to bait you.
Thanks again!

Timothy Kincaid
August 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Matt, I did read A Place at the Table, but that was probably around the time it came out so I really don’t recall much of it.

Rob in San Diego
August 4th, 2011 | LINK

“The NAACP were champions of fighting Prop 8 in California…”

Umm last time I checked we lost in California, and 78% of all voting blacks (most of which I’m sure are a part of your group)voted against us.

Would you care to rephrase that NAACP people?

Donny D.
August 4th, 2011 | LINK

Rob in San Diego,
I believe that figure you are referring to is 70%, which was subsequently discovered to be erroneous, and turned out really to be 58%.

My understanding is that black people poll as supporting non-marriage-related LGBT anti-discrimination laws at higher rates than does the U.S. population as a whole.

Timothy Kincaid
August 4th, 2011 | LINK

Donnie and Rob,

The NAACP released a statement in opposition to Proposition 8, encouraged the legislature to officially support the challenge to the proposition, and filed an Amicus in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

But, similarly to gay organizations, the positions taken by the advocacy organization as coalition building steps may have no relation whatsoever to the positions of the community.

Exit polls showed that African Americans voted 70% in favor of Proposition 8. There was a response from NLGTF claiming to have a “real” voting response in the 57-59%.

Box Turtle Bulletin ran a series of commentaries about this report. Jim was satisfied with NGLTF’s evidence for the lower number, though not their ‘blame religion” explanation. I found its inadequacies to be verging on magical thinking. And NGLTF weighed in as well.

But the real problem is not whether the number was 70 or 58. The real problem is the terror to recognize the problems or address them.

Ben In Oakland
August 4th, 2011 | LINK

“The real problem is the terror to recognize the problems or address them.”

I think the real problem is that many of the online conversations I have had iwth some black commentators have left me with the feeling of…

I don’t believe that I am having this conversation with a black person. A black person should know amd understand the spiritual damage caused by being dehumanized, treated as less than, told under authority of law that equality before the law is not for the likes of me.

I don’t presume to lecture black people about this, even though i want to slap quite a few of them upside the head because they cannot saee the obvious. Nor do I wish to compete in the oppression olympics.

And I know there are a number of prominent black people that have spoken up on this issue.
what I don’t understand is why there aren’t more.

Timothy Kincaid
August 5th, 2011 | LINK

Ben,

It’s not that black folk cannot feel empathy for our cause. But where we may see shared oppression, the black community quite often cannot see any similarity at all. And when we make or assume similarities, some can find this to be diminishing of their experience and offensive. “You want me to care about your stubbed toe when I have cancer?!?”

The experience of Jim Crow is still very real in the real memories of real people in the black community while the experience of gay discrimination is a bit theoretical and intangible.

As a recently article by a black man who had no issue with gay marriage said,

I also have a problem with comparing the plight of gay Americans to that of black Americans. Sure, it all falls under the heading of discrimination, but gays weren’t bought over here on a ship against their will. And even though it’s not right, gays could go to the same schools and hold the same jobs as anyone else, as long as they stayed in the closet.

For blacks, there was no closet. As soon as somebody turned on the lights, we were outed.

He’s wrong, of course. For a lot of “gays going to the same schools”, there is no closet to hide in. And in some ways that might be an advantage. Most gay kids (not all) will survive the physical torment of public school; but few survive the closet without some damage to their soul.

Timothy Kincaid
August 5th, 2011 | LINK

Ben…

A follow up.

We are not the only community that knows the closet. Jews have had centuries of experience with that particular place.

Which may explain an oddity.

Nothing – no recent human event – compares to the Holocaust. It is offensive to even suggest that the experiences of gay people can be discussed in the same conversation as the intentional, organized effort to exterminate an ethnicity and to do so in the most inhumane way imaginable.

But the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s programs to “teach the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations” includes homophobia as a lesson to learn about. The Museum of Tolerance has a regular weekly program about hate and hope presented by a gay man and the skinhead who almost killed him. It is just as much a part of the message as is their display of Hitler’s first anti-semetic writings.

Maybe to “get” the closet, you have to know it.

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