A new documentary looks at the black-gay civil rights divide by centering on Massachusetts Rep. Byron Rushing (D) during the commonwealth's push to legalize same-sex marriage. The African American legislator eloquently weaves the two movements together in the 15-minute film. Following a screening of the movie last month, I moderated a panel discussion at Aaron Davis Hall in New York City that looked at the marriage equality push in New York state from a black perspective. The panel was filled with luminaries, including media and fashion mogul Russell Simmons. But the star of the event was a soft-spoken man named David Wilson.
In the film, Wilson tells the heartbreaking story about the death of his then-partner. The trauma of finding him lying in the driveway. The terror of being arrested by the police on suspicion of breaking and entering or assault and battery before neighbors convinced police otherwise. The indignity of being denied information by the hospital because he was a legal stranger to his partner. Only after his partner's 75-year-old mother told the hospital who Wilson was did they inform him that his partner of 13 years was dead on arrival.
Wilson swore he'd never go through that again. And he would find love again. In 2003, he and Rob Compton became one of the seven same-sex couples to sue for and win the right to marry in the 2003 landmarkGoodridge vs. the Department of Health case.
It wasn't until the panel discussion that the power of Davis's example was fully displayed. As he said in his moving opening statement, which I run in full below, this gracious, soft-spoken man wanted "to put a black face on the Marriage Equality movement."
Anti-gay marriage amendments and ballot initiatives like Proposition 8 only harm Black gay and lesbian families, many of whom are already economically disadvantaged. Cannick may think marriage equality is "secondary" to other issues, or can wait until others are addressed. But that also means that thousands of our families will continue to suffer injustice, economic and otherwise, indefinitely and without remedy.
For them, inequality is a daily burden added to the rest: making ends meet, putting food on the table, keeping a roof over their heads, and simply providing for their families.
For many of our families, equality is not a "luxury," as Cannick calls it. It is justice.
Marriage isn't the only solution to these problems, by any means, and it for many it may not be the right solution. It shouldn't be our only focus or strategy, but neither should marriage be rejected out of hand for everyone.
There are many paths to justice. We each chose ours for different, often deeply personal reasons. Sometimes they weave together in places where we need help and can help one another to keep going. They part, but inevitably cross again. We will meet each other many times on our winding paths to justice. We will need each other again. Let's not put roadblocks in front of one another.p>
I won't ask Cannick to change her priorities. I wish she wouldn't decide for my family, and other Black gay families, what our priorities are or should be.