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Politics of Race

Politics of Race


A black LGBT presidential forum in Los Angeles helps define a powerful voting bloc

Without all the pomp and circumstance usually involved in presidential election events, the black same-gender-loving community came together in Los Angeles this January for the presidential election forum It's a Black Thang: The Black LGBT Vote.

You may be asking yourself, Why do we need a black LGBT forum? Previous presidential election forums that have attempted to address us as constituents have been either gay and overwhelmingly white, or black with no mention of the word "gay."

During South Carolina's Democratic debate, the term "African-American" was used 26 times, while the word "black" was used 13 times. The word "race" was used 14 times, and "women" logged 13 mentions. Sen. Barack Obama offered the only use of the word "gay" during the debate, and Sen. Hillary Clinton was the only candidate to mention "sex," just once, not counting references to sexual abuse.

So what does all this mean?

It means that no matter how we cut it, slice it, spin it, and serve it up, issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation will continue to be as prevalent during the race to the White House as they are among gays.

Believe it or not, most black same-gender-loving people tend to vote in concert with other African-Americans. And African-Americans overwhelmingly support Obama for president. That fact was made painstakingly clear during the forum when panelist after panelist declared support for Obama.

There's a misconception that gays are overwhelmingly for Clinton. For white gays, that may be true. But when you throw race into the mix and open up the vote to include voices beyond the white majority, it's clear there are many of us, including myself, who support Obama or another candidate.

It's important that black gays are represented at some point during this election. Especially given the debacle last year that had Obama in South Carolina with homophobic gospel singer Donnie McClurkin in an attempt to sway black voters. Matters only got worse when, after nationwide protest and advice from the Human Rights Campaign (an organization that clearly supports Clinton), Obama's camp extended an invitation to an openly gay white pastor to address an audience of Southern Christian blacks. Southern Christian blacks. Talk about sabotage.

Prior to our forum--which was held in a coffee shop in L.A.'s historic African-American community of Leimert Park--I received an e-mail from Lorri Jean, executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, inviting me to join her and "some of our most respected and effective leaders" for a briefing the night after the forum to discuss California's marriage fight. Those "respected and effective leaders" included HRC executive director Joe Solmonese, NGLTF executive director Matt Foreman, Log Cabin president Patrick Sammon, Equality California executive director Geoff Kors, and PFLAG executive director Jody Huckaby.

I quickly sent a reply to those involved questioning what makes someone a respected and effective leader, and more important, asking whether any of those leaders are black, brown, or any other color except white. To date, the only one to answer the question was Matt Foreman: "The painfully obvious reality is that the national [organizations' executive directors] are overwhelmingly white. This reality hinders our movement in so many ways and helps perpetuate the myth that LGBT people are all white and privileged."

You got that right. But it gets worse. I received a phone call the day of the forum from a group that wanted to stand at the doors of the coffeehouse and enlist people to go to precincts in south Los Angeles on Super Tuesday to collect signatures in support of gay marriage. Naturally I said, "Hell, no." There's no way that I would support any group coming to a part of town they (a) don't frequent on a regular basis and (b) are just using to spread the holy gospel of gay marriage into our neighborhoods.

I don't know about you, but it seems to me we've got more pressing issues to worry about than signing up people to support gay marriage. I think the caller was a little shocked and taken aback. Don't pimp my community out for your cause when you're not down for our cause.

The black LGBT presidential forum made it crystal clear that the economy, health care, education, the war in Iraq, and Social Security are all issues that take precedence over gay marriage. For two hours the forum gave a voice and a face to a community that is often overlooked and undervalued. But more important, it allowed us to define ourselves, which is something that we aren't always able to do within the LGBT community.

I look forward to keeping the conversation going.

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