People may be wondering why so many black people, in particular African-American clergy, are suddenly so visible in the battle over Proposition 622, the amended Indianapolis-Marion County Human Rights Ordinance that among other things adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of groups protected from discrimination in employment and housing.
From a well-publicized rally outside the City-County building to a large turnout at a committee hearing, suddenly African-American clergy seem to be at the forefront of opposition to a bill that bars discrimination. What gives here?
This is not a mystery at all. It is political strategy by the right wing, lead by failed gubernatorial candidate and tax criminal Eric I. Miller.
To understand the far-right's strategy, I think it is important to explain the perception that some council members have had based on their interaction with members of the GLBT community, a perception that Miller and the far-right are quite aware of and obviously willing to exploit.
There are, of course, African-American members of the City-County Council, including its president, Steve Talley. Recently, a white city-county councilor pointed out to me that one of the problems the GLBT community faces when talking to black councilors about discrimination is they tend to see people like me.
I am unmistakably a privileged white American. I am a business owner, I live a comfortable life in the suburbs, and I have two wonderful kids who will attend the college of their choice and grow up to be privileged white Americans just like their dad. When black councilors are approached by people like me, they can't help thinking "what are these people talking about? What does a guy like this know about discrimination?"
While this is a completely understandable reaction, what I hope these councilors are beginning to realize is that those GLBT people who truly fear (or outright suffer) discrimination simply can't represent themselves without great personal risk. No matter how strongly an individual may feel about a social situation, the fact is we all have to eat and survive in society regardless of whether that society is treating us fairly. There are many (I would argue most) GLBT people in this city who simply cannot speak out without facing serious real-life consequences, in particular the loss of their job. If you didn't already know this, there is nothing in state or local law to prevent an employer from looking an exemplary employee in the eye and saying "I just found out you're gay, and no queers are allowed here. You're fired."
To point at me and say there is no problem here is tantamount to a white person like me pointing at Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell and saying the same thing about African-Americans in their continuing struggle for civil rights and social justice. It's simply not true.
For Miller and the far right, the black clergy who have suddenly become omnipresent in this battle are merely pawns in his political strategy to exploit the idea that blacks are the "real" civil rights struggle, all the while playing into fears that GLBT people represent an attack on families (as though we don't have families ourselves).
Never mind that Miller's right-wing organization, Advance America, receives huge sums of money(much of which goes into Miller's pocket) from rural white people who would happily turn back the clock on civil rights if given the opportunity. Miller's most ardent supporters, including his largest financial contributor Mahlon Miller, are power brokers in rural Indiana counties whose population are less than five percent African-American.
These clergy have been recruited by Miller (who, by the way, is not a Marion County resident) with the fearful specter of "Gay Marriage" ("that's what they REALLY want," a black clergy member sitting next to me blurted out at a recent council hearing), with apparent blinders to the damage that a guy like Miller can do to the much needed advancement of the African-American community at large.
As a privileged white American, I admittedly cannot empathize with African-Americans who, despite obvious progress, still experience discrimination and injustice in Indianapolis and Marion County. Likewise, I do not expect an African-American city councilor to empathize with me as a privileged white American who happens to be gay.
But I will always stand up for civil rights and social justice. Will you?