Obama Talks All Things LGBT With The Advocate
BY Kerry Eleveld
December 23 2008 1:00 AM ET
How old were you then?Eighteen … 19. It does remind me, though, I remember in my first two years of college that was when I first saw students who were self-identified as gay and lesbian come out and start organizing around gay issues, so that would have been in 1979 and ’80. I think what’s encouraging is just to see how much progress has been made in such a relatively short period of time.
Just draw that thought out a little bit in terms of comparing it to the African-American civil rights movement.You always want to be careful comparing groups that have been discriminated against because each group’s experiences are different. I think that the transition toward fuller acceptance of the LGBT community has happened without some of the tumult and violence that accompanied the civil rights movement. But we still have a long ways to go, and I think that it also obviously varies geographically. I think in urban communities, you can’t say there’s full equality, but in terms of the LGBT community daily round they’re not as likely to experience certainly the discrimination that they experienced 25 years ago.
Whereas, in the African-American community, you can still see some fairly overt racism. On the other hand, in rural communities, I think attitudes are slower to change.
There’s plenty of homophobia to go around, but you have a unique perspective into the African-American community. Is there a…I don’t think it’s worse than in the white community. I think that the difference has to do with the fact that the African-American community is more churched and most African-American churches are still fairly traditional in their interpretations of Scripture. And so from the pulpit or in sermons you still hear homophobic attitudes expressed. And since African-American ministers are often the most prominent figures in the African-American community those attitudes get magnified or amplified a little bit more than in other communities.
Do you think there’s a specific prescriptive, which is not to say that there’s more homophobia in the African-American community. But is there a different answer to…Well, I think what’s important is to have some of that church leadership speak up and change its attitudes, because I think a lot of its members are taking cues from that leadership.
Do you have any regrets about the South Carolina tour? People there are still sort of mystified that you gave Donnie McClurkin the chance to get up onstage and do this, and he did go on sort of an antigay rant there.I tell you what -- my campaign is premised on trying to reach as many constituencies as possible and to go into as many places as possible, and sometimes that creates discomfort or turbulence. This goes back to your first question. If you’re segmenting your base into neat categories and constituency groups and you never try to bring them together and you just speak to them individually -- so I keep the African-Americans neatly over here and the church folks neatly over there and the LGBT community neatly over there -- then these kinds of issues don’t arise.
The flip side of it is, you never create the opportunity for people to have a conversation and to lift some of these issues up and to talk about them and to struggle with them, and our campaign is built around the idea that we should all be talking. And that creates some discomfort because people discover, gosh, within the Democratic Party or within Barack Obama’s campaign or within whatever sets of constituencies there are going to be some different points of view that might even be offensive to some folks. That’s not unique to this issue. I mean, ironically, my biggest … the biggest political news surrounding me over the last three weeks has been Reverend Wright, who offended a whole huge constituency with some of his statements but has been very good on gay and lesbian issues. I mean he’s one of the leaders in the African-American community of embracing, speaking out against homophobia, and talking about the importance of AIDS.
And so nobody is going to be perfectly aligned with my views. So what I hope is that people take me for who I am, for what I’ve said, and for what I’ve displayed in terms of my commitment to these issues, but understanding that there’s going to be a range of constituencies that I’m reaching out to and working on issues that we have in common, even though I may differ with them on other issues. And that’s true, also, by the way … well, I think that’s going to be true so long as I’m reaching out beyond the traditional Democratic base.