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All Hands, Black
and White, On Deck

All Hands, Black
and White, On Deck

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The high number of African-Americans who voted to pass Proposition 8 may have surprised some people, but not the folks at the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT Americans. NBJC's CEO offers some insights about the black-white divide and how to mend it going forward.

The National Black Justice Coalition -- along with the rest of our country -- is witnessing a historic event as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to become the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American commander in chief. But even as we share in the unprecedented hopefulness for our nation's future and the future of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, we have seen the record turnout of African-Americans who voted 95% for Barack Obama sometimes used as an explanation for the passing of anti-LGBT propositions in four states.

The California marriage amendment, in particular, has attracted the attention of politicians, commentators, and strategists alike, and some have concluded that blacks voted to pass Proposition 8 because, even though we are generally more progressive on issues like universal health care access, economic (and tax) equality, and most social justice issues, we do trend more conservative on issues of equality for LGBT people. While this conclusion is open for debate, we fully reject the racially biased musings that African-Americans were the deciding vote or that the presence of a black man at the top of the ticket led to this disappointing defeat.

Moreover, we believe that it is far too simplistic to label all who voted against marriage for same-sex couples as homophobic. We would do well to remember that African-American opinions and attitudes about marriage are shaped by religious beliefs and a tortured history, which includes the sanctity of our families not being honored in the context of slavery. For many black Americans, the Obamas' intact and loving family is as significant as his presidency. Today, fully 70% of black children are born to unmarried people, while only about 42% of Latino children and 27% of white children are now born outside wedlock. It is into this reality that opponents of marriage equality have found fertile ground to plant their seeds of fear of religious intolerance and the further undermining of the black family.

However, we can draw some lessons from an analysis of turnout and its correlation to racial demographics that are obvious on their face. For one, we know that too few resources were dedicated to influencing African-Americans' perceptions (and votes) on LGBT issues during this election. Of the approximately $40 million raised to fight the propositions, scant resources were directed toward the black vote in California, no attention was paid in any meaningful way in Florida, and we were hardly considered as a group to influence in other states with anti-LGBT propositions.

President-elect Obama was against Proposition 8 because he did not feel that states should put discrimination into their constitutions. Although he has said that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, he also believes our families should have all the rights, benefits, and responsibilities afforded to him and his wife. A serious consideration of his nuanced position would have been a good place to start a discussion about full equality in the African-American community.

As we go forward, we need to be mindful that our foes will continue to attempt to use President-elect Obama, the black church, and campaigns of deception and fear to foster their own agenda in manipulative and devious ways. President-elect Obama's opposition to same-sex marriage is grounded in his view of marriage as a religious institution. We must be steadfast in not allowing public officials to use religion to determine their positions on matters of justice. We know as a community all too well that this reasoning can be harmful to blacks as well as LGBT people.

It is incumbent on every one of us to dedicate resources to educate our brothers and sisters on same-gender loving marriages and LGBT issues. As a community, blacks have always looked to the church as our beacon of hope and a source of political leadership. Black churches must recognize that they are going against their own teachings of tolerance and acceptance by preaching from the pulpit against same-sex marriage. These are cultural impediments that will only be overcome by real conversations about the status of LGBT people. We also recognize that we have affirming ministers and religious institutions, and we need to empower them and have their words highlighted and recognized in the mainstream and LGBT media.

NBJC has undertaken a major program with the mission of influencing the black church. We all need to redouble our efforts in this area and ask our white LGBT brothers and sisters to recognize that progress on issues of fairness and equality for our entire community is paramount to our common future success.

NBJC exists at the crossroads of race and sexual orientation. We see lesbians, gay men, and transgender people calling up their legislative representatives and looking for tickets to Barack Obama's inauguration while reserving the tuxedos and gowns. At the same time, some folks are choosing a T-shirt and checking out Facebook to find the closest march and area of protest to express their disdain for the passage of antigay propositions.

We hear and read the dangerous expressions of anger toward the black community. NBJC works at this intersection, and at the same time NBJC is expected to address issues like youth suicide and homelessness, high rates of HIV/AIDS, discrimination in employment, and racial and social justice in the black community. To ensure that the LGBT community's common agenda moves forward on all fronts, we need all our allies to come together and share in providing the resources essential to making the case that same-sex marriage is indeed a civil right, and that it does in fact equate to justice for all.

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