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Building Bridges
in the Wake of Prop. 8

Building Bridges
in the Wake of Prop. 8

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In the wake of finger-pointing following California's passing of Prop. 8, television writer and producer Tajamika Paxton suggests the time has come to build a bridge between the LGBT and African-American communities -- to engage in discussion rather than looking for somewhere to place blame.

The passage of Prop. 8 and the subsequent fallout show that there is now a renewed urgency to the debate over gay rights. The time has come for discussions that avoid placing blame on one group -- discussions that avoid treating a group in any way that suggests that group is monolithic. It's time for discussions that create harmony, not acrimony. Time for us to understand our unique connectivity on this issue of human rights and, in the words of the Dalai Lama, understand our interdependence.

Clearly, there's plenty of emotion flying around. Some of the white gays who felt threatened by the passage of Prop. 8 succumbed to simmering hatred. Some African-American gays, in response, raged and pointed fingers and labeled white gays blaming African-Americans for the passage of Prop. 8 as racist. The game of hate and blame continues.

As a society we can look at the election of Barack Obama as a symbol of racial equality. But the man and the campaign he ran are about far more than his racial background. Let's model his even-tempered, thoughtful approach -- his civility in the face of cruelty, his graceful composure in the face of conflict, his ability to reach toward those who opposed him and understand how working with them can further common goals. For within the community of humanity -- in general and specifically -- that is what this crisis requires right now.

There's always a tendency for people to create little fiefdoms of belief. I believe x, so this is my camp. You believe y, so that is your camp. Within the Prop. 8 debate, such fiefdoms threaten the entire movement. The bedrock of fiefdoms is made up of hardened prejudices that create enemies, not allies. "I'm a gay white male and I think African-American churchgoers are ignorant and extremely homophobic," or "I'm a transgender African-American and I think gay white males are all inherently racist."

Thus everything said or done is perceived through this filter and accepted as truth. Us vs. them. It's dogmatic and shortsighted to continue to think this way. There's no openness, no space for dialogue. There's only media-fueled finger-pointing. It's like that moment when your parent looks at you and says, "You know better."

We know better.

I sit in a uniquely schizophrenic position in this movement -- an out same-sex loving woman, an African-American woman, and a proud product of the Pentecostal Church (I'm talking big church hats and speaking in tongues, the whole nine yards) -- and there's some room for growth within all these groups.

It's really time for the gay community at large to raise a flag for an issue that does not, on its surface, directly benefit white gay males -- such as the Human Rights Campaign taking up the charge for hate-crime victims Sakia Gunn or Rashawn Brazell. When young African-American teenagers have nooses hung in front of them at their schools, gay communities will have to show they care by sending representatives to demonstrate against such acts, solely on the basis of universal human rights. I welcome statements from HRC, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Lambda Legal, and all organizations willing to take a stand against condemning any group, especially African-Americans, for the outcome of Prop. 8. In fairness, GLAAD makes a nod to reason on its website news alerts, but that's altogether too tame for an organization that knows how to make itself heard.

As African-American gays, I think it's time we take the issue of gay rights to our proverbial parents and elders within churches, schools, and beyond and say, "It's not enough that we are tolerated. We ask to be heard and respected." Wanda Sykes's coming-out was a courageous act, made more so because she has always sought to keep her personal life private. But that's no substitute for the bravery required by African-American gays not in the spotlight. Wanda Sykes, Queen Latifah, and Moses himself could come out, and it wouldn't matter nearly as much to our families as would living gay and proud within our own spheres of influence.

As African-American activists labor with political leaders for employment or housing, it's perfectly fine to leverage your position and ask that same African-American political leader to stand with you on gay rights. It's not a question any longer of whether gay marriage is the appropriate issue for the community to advance. I support any movement that removes the "otherness" from the discussion around gays. Perhaps more important, I support any movement that cements the idea that someone or something can be "other" without posing a threat to the mainstream.

The accepted truth is that the push for gay marriage began as a white-led movement. But does "white-led" automatically mean "exclusive to whites"? In Kai Wright's article for TheRoot.com, he cited a Census report stating that people of color account for 10.5% of U.S. households headed by same-sex couples, and those couples are more likely than their white counterparts to be raising children. Surely, equality under the law affects them. So if one is waiting for the cause of same-sex marriage to directly affect African-Americans, there it is. But again, being directly affected is not a prerequisite for passion.

It's foolish to criticize the diverse denominations of African-American churches without understanding the role those institutions have played in African-American lives. The church provides economic and political force. The sense of community and connection with a higher power has helped many to psychologically bear the pains of second-class citizenship. I stand with those in the African-American faith community (and there are growing numbers) who want our churches to shake loose some of their "religulous" nature, their blind allegiance to pastor demagogues and narrow ideologies.

But when you attack the church, you attack the cornerstone of the Civil Rights movement. Sit-ins and protests were organized in these churches. Churches were the communication hub for organizations traveling through the South. People of all colors ate meals in churches during days of organizing. It seems that some in the gay community at large have been too quick to liken the struggles of gay rights activists to black civil rights activists without taking the time or having the curiosity to understand the nature of that struggle at all. The work the National Black Justice Coalition is doing among religious leaders with its Black Church Summit is a step in this direction.

So within this movement, we each have a role to play. And the integrity with which we play our roles impacts one another. Human rights is not a game of selfish gain. You offer your best and you understand that what you do impacts people in ways you may never even live to see. So in that way, the movement must put its long lens on and really begin the task of forging authentic relationships within each of these groups in order to reach a common goal. Enough talking. It's time to go and call my pastor. I'm doing my part. Will you do yours?

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Tajamika Paxton