Rev Irene Monroe

When queer communities of color are not needed to win marriage rights

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | April 29, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: African-American, black, donald carieri, gay marriage, LGBT, marriage, marriage equality, New England, people of color, queer, rhode island

With Donald Carcieri.jpgIowa being the fourth state to approve marriage equality, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans' optimism is high, believing many more states will follow suit.

"We're hoping this momentum is contagious," Daniel Richards of Rhode Island told me. And should Rhode Island soon approve of same-sex marriage, it would be the fourth New England state to join Massachusetts, Connecticut, and now Vermont.

But with Rhode Island's Republican governor, Donald Carcieri, recently denouncing same-sex marriage, the battle for LGBTQ Rhode Islanders will be a hard one.

Rhode Island is the only state in New England that does not recognize same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. And with a governor who supports the National Organization for Marriage, a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it, I told Richards his state's fight for marriage equality might be similar to California's Proposition 8 battle.

There are currently two bills in the Rhode Island legislature that would legalize same-sex marriage but Carcieri opposes both bills, stating, "What I don't want to see happen with this issue is what's happening in courts deciding things or legislatures deciding things. This is such an important issue I think it should be put to the voters." And if the governor has his wish the right for LGBTQ Americans to marry will be a referendum on the 2010 ballot.

But Richards told me that while Rhode Island's battle for marriage equality will be an arduous one, the fight will not be as difficult for queer Rhode Islanders because the state's communities of color are small and its faith communities of black ministers even smaller.

"Why would you need people who are not voting with you but against you? In Rhode Island we don't have to talk about them and don't have to talk to them. They're a liability," Richards stated.

With the passing of Proposition 8 and blaming the African American community for its victory at the ballot box, the struggle for same-sex marriage showed us that it is a state-by-state battle, where the demographics of each state indeed comes into play.

Some strategists like Richards, in the Marriage Equality Movement, have felt all along that communities of color - both straight and queer- have slowed the process, progress and momentum in this nationwide culture war. These activists have openly stated and showed in their community strategies and organizing that they don't want or need queer communities of color, especially in predominately white states, to win the battle.

And their reason is the following:

With enough successive wins from less heterogeneous LGBTQ and straight communities, like Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, and, yes, even my state of Massachusetts, these judicial endorsements of same-sex marriages not only increase public acceptance of LGBTQ nuptials, but these endorsements can conceivably push more quickly the issue of marriage equality to the federal level for LGBTQ Americans all the way to the US Supreme Court, circumventing our internal wars of class, race, and homophobic faith communities entirely.

"There has been a shift of about 10 percentage points in the past five years in public support for same-sex marriage. On a deep moral issue like this, that's very rare," Nathaniel Persily, who teaches law and political science at Columbia University and has tracked public opinion about gay rights after several court decisions, stated to the Associated Press.

The truth of the matter concerning Proposition 8 is that the blaming of its passing ought not be placed on shoulders of African Americans, who comprise just 6.2 percent of the state's overall population. But this fact plays small in understanding that our government is the culprit here by legally framing a minority group's civil rights as a ballot question.

So where do go from here without killing each other?

First, our state-by-state battle for marriage equality cannot be framed as a single-issue agenda addressing the concerns and values of an elite few, regardless of the size of its LGBTQ communities of color.

Second, communities of color cannot be deployed in this battle in a used-when-needed basis, like for the movement's photo-op moments.

Third, inviting communities of color in the decision-making and planning-strategies makes for an inclusive movement.

But not all marriage equality activists from predominately white states feel the marriage equality battle can be successfully won without the input and inclusion of their communities of color.

"If people want equality it takes a lot of people to win. It takes everyone not just one community of people advocating the rights for a few versus advocating the rights for us all," stated my masseuse Dale Wingate of Maine.

If Marriage Equality pushed white states first as its game plan to avoid communities of color, as Richards suggests, it would not only be continuing to push forward a single-issue agenda, but it would also be ignoring vitals ways for coalition-building across diverse communities and honorable ways of connecting the struggle for marriage equality of LGBTQ citizens to the wider cause for justice.

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beergoggles | April 29, 2009 9:32 PM

Heh, I said this after Prop 8. Blacks and Hispanics aren't a necessary investment to build the momentum to take equality forward from states to the federal level.

And yes they are a liability because the movement can't target their institutions of bigotry (read that as "churches") the same way we target the white evangelicals, mormons and catholics and marginalize their homophobia. As a matter of fact, I've seen more black and hispanic gays get insular and defend these hateful little enclaves than the white or asian gays who seem to have a much easier time writing off their churches.

It would be nice to build those bridges to hetero racial minorities, but it isn't necessary and the investment of both money and effort in engaging those communities is something that needs to be done on a state by state level and I think the strategist in your column has it right; get the states where that powder keg doesn't need to be handled first and see if it can propel the issue to the federal level.

Hard as it may be for you to believe it, but you're not the first queer person to marginalize minorities by saying "we don't need you anyway". Blaming the churches of the Black and Hispanic communities just seems silly when we keep putting out the unwelcome mat like this. As long as white queers continue to hold this attitude, we have nobody but ourselves to blame when we don't get the support that we need from these communities.

The idea that blacks and hispanics aren't needed to win elections or get legislation through is pretty much the same calculation that the GOP made over the last couple of decades. And look how they're doing.

Ok, as a foreigner, I give up.

What is so important about race in the US? Don't Black GLBTs and White GLBTs and Catholic GLBTs and Jewish GLBTs have at least as much in common with each other, being you know, GLBT, than in the areas where they're different?

I don't understand.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

Is it still 1963 where you are?

I'm Australian, and MLK's speech is well known even here. It's taught at our schools.

I see where you're coming from. People who haven't spent much time in the US (even a lot of White Americans who haven't lived in/visited areas with large populations of African Americans) aren't able to see that we're still very much a racially-segregated country.

My boyfriend (who's French) and I were in Chicago last November. We took the red line going south from the downtown area and looked around and saw that we were the only people who weren't black in the metro (and there were quite a few people there). We got off and visited Chinatown, and then got back in and went to the north side, where our hotel was. After we passed the loop, there was not a single black person on the train.

That story repeats itself all over the country. My high school had 4000 students and only around 17 were black. That's in a country that's 13.4% African American. High school student bodies are defined usually by geography in the US... my town was very, very white, with a noticeable Asian minority.

But then I went off to college, and a good friend of mine from one of the Hispanic parts of San Francisco showed me his yearbook, and almost all the students in it were of latino (mostly native and mixed) descent.

We still live in a very, very racially segregated country that lots of times doesn't look like it wants to make progress. It'll take more than a few inspirational words from Dr. King to change that, and I think that he understood that more than most contemporary Americans do.

Don't Black GLBTs and White GLBTs and Catholic GLBTs and Jewish GLBTs have at least as much in common with each other, being you know, GLBT, than in the areas where they're different?

In lots of important ways, no. But a lot of white LGBT people don't get it and assume that racial and ethnic lines don't exist (which is easier for white people to do than others). Which I think drives a lot of racial/ethnic defensiveness of LGBT people of color - many feel they have to defend themselves against society's homophobia as well as the racism and/or racial cluelessness of the white LGBT community.

And until our movement gets a clue about that and encourages LGBT people of color to take leadership roles in organizations, that isn't going to change.

First, our state-by-state battle for marriage equality cannot be framed as a single-issue agenda addressing the concerns and values of an elite few, regardless of the size of its LGBTQ communities of color.

Second, communities of color cannot be deployed in this battle in a used-when-needed basis, like for the movement's photo-op moments.

Third, inviting communities of color in the decision-making and planning-strategies makes for an inclusive movement.

Oh, you're so right here, Reverend. But I just don't see those things happening.

Rev. Irene, I always smile when I see your name on an article, because I know its going to be good. Little did I suspect that I would encounter the isolationist attitude of Daniel Richards (or is it Richard Daniels?) so early in the piece. I couldn't believe he actually said that - or that his attitude has been defended in this comments section.

This country needs fixing, and it isn't going to happen if fragmented groups keep to themselves. Change comes from people uniting and working together to make things better... for everyone, even those with whom you have differences.

Altruism is fundamental. If same-sex marriage stays legal in Iowa (which I think it will) it will happen because non-gays stick up for civil rights. The same is true in other states, particularly in areas such as the South and Southwest where black and Hispanic support is vital. If we win, it will be because others help us. We can't afford to dismiss any group. No one has so many friends that they don't need any more - and we certainly don't.

Daniels (or is it Richards?) retreat into isolationism may seem comfortingly easy because it involves less challenges. But this route brings long-term difficulties which can be avoided if we do basic bridge-building.... the sooner, the better.

It's Daniel Richards. Sorry, that's my fault - the reverend emailed me and I forgot to edit that yesterday when I put her column up.

Projector Sue Hyde was having problems leaving this comment and asked me to put it up for her:

I don't know Daniel Richards from Rhode Island. But his cavalier and arrogant write-off of Little Rhodey's communities of color and churches of color is a decision that will bite him and us in the arse, sooner or later. Living in Massachusetts, I can see that his extremely short-sighted assessment of the necessary organizing in RI to win marriage would be tempting and apparently rational, but so wrong-headed. Not only does the LGBT movement need to seriously address its own institutional racism, but we also need to adopt and practice across-the-board organizing strategies and tactics that build durable and useful alliances with people of color: both LGBT and straight allies. Political organizing is an additive, multiplicative process, irrespective of the issue and the demographics in a jurisdiction. LGBT organizers pursue Richards' strategy at our peril. Really, folks, it's past time to let go of the most short-term legislative/campaign strategies of working only with "persuadeables" and take up the broader movement-building goals of increasing and growing our own movement (which must needs be more fully representative of all of us who are LGBT) while we also increase and grow the strength of our straight allies, whatever their race, socioeconomic status, and faith traditions.

I posted the bit below (edited now that I have the correct name of the person in question) over on Pam's House Blend. I feel that the clarifications I have to offer about the situation in Rhode Island are important enough to repeat here. My apologies if that is bad etiquette.

I realize that the specifics of the battle in Rhode Island are not the main focus of this piece, but as an LGBT activist from Rhode Island, I feel I need to clarify some things. I have never heard of the person Monroe quotes about the situation in RI, and I do know most if not all of the main LGBT activists and leaders in the state. So please don't judge our state's LGBT community and/or organizations by his statements.

Moreover, the possibility of marriage equality going to a referendum in RI is pretty much zero. The governor is making noise about it, but he has no power over the legislature. The number of Republicans in the General Assembly is now under 10%. There are a number of conservative Democrats who do support a referendum, but they do not have enough power to make that happen. The House majority leader is an openly gay man and would never let a referendum on marriage equality get through the legislature. The House speaker is against marriage equality and thus does not let marriage equality bills get out of committee, but I don't think he really cares that much about the issue. He is just trying to maintain his own power. There are legislators who don't want to have to vote on the issue (thus going on record one way or the other), and there is no chance of marriage equality becoming law with this governor anyway (he is term-limited out in 2010); so the House speaker is protecting them from having to take a vote (and thus maintaining their support of his leadership team.) We do not have voter initiative in RI and will never have it due to the powerful unions not wanting it, so we don't have to worry about that either.

I believe the comments from Richards are quite misguided about race relations in RI and specifically the LGBT community's relationships with communities of color. The aforementioned openly gay House majority leader, Gordon Fox, happens to be a black gay man (actually biracial), something that certainly factors into the mix. Some of the strongest supporters of marriage equality in the legislature are African-American. One of our historically strongest opponents is also African-American, but he is seen as the exception rather than the rule, and I believe he may be retiring soon. The mayor of Providence, David Cicilline, is openly gay and was elected with the strong support of the Latino community as well as support from the African-American community. There are very interesting political dynamics in RI among different communities of color. Currently Latinos outnumber African Americans in the state and I believe specifically in Providence. Sometimes there are power struggles between those two groups, particularly when gerrymandering in the last redistricting pitted political leaders in each community against each other. (The districts were later redrawn to settle a lawsuit.) But there is a lot of overlap and many connections as well, particularly among people of Dominican ancestry, some of whom identify as both black and Latino. (Our two Dominican legislators both support marriage equality, by the way.) Many of the black people in RI have Cape Verdean heritage (including Gordon Fox), which also gives them connections to the Portuguese community.

While I'm not directly involved with the main LGBT political organization, Marriage Equality RI, I do know that they have made efforts to be inclusive of racial minorities in their work and at their events. While I'm sure they could do a better job at it (which is true of most organizations), the attitude of that Richards person certainly does not reflect anything I have seen or heard from them. I am sure that they would be appalled at his statements. MERI is part of a coalition of progressive groups, Ocean State Action, which includes groups serving people of color. The previous LGBT political group in RI was also part of the Civil Rights Roundtable, another coalition of several groups working on civil rights issues. (I don't know whether MERI is part of it or not. I believe the LGBT youth group is part of it, however.) A lot of people have been working on making connections for a long time. I find Richards' comments utterly offensive.

No, Zoe, in the U.S. gays and lesbians usually aren't shallow enough to have more in common with others who prefer the same sex instead of those who share their other traits. That's why it's often Protestants with Protestants, Catholics with Catholics, Jews with Jews, blacks with blacks, whites with whites, Latinos with Latinos, rich with rich, poor with poor, Communists with Communists, Capitalists with Capitalists, artists with artists, Philistines with Philistines.....on and on. As it should be. We've been varied throughout history, so we're just as varied now.

beergoggles | April 30, 2009 8:09 PM

First: I'm not a "white queer".
Second: I blame the churches with good reason and I think you calling my blame silly is in itself silly.
Third: If non-white gays want to be involved, they can be. I doubt they're waiting on the man to tell them when they can or can't jump on the bandwagon or start their own. The lack of action on most of their parts is something they need to shoulder the blame for.

Point taken. However, given the strategy (using state level equality to propel the case to the federal level), it is a gambit that doesn't rely on direct minority participation; merely on the fact that those minorities vote Democratic. Basically, having to recruit minority populations is dependent on just 2 factors:
1. Is equality based on a referendum?
2. Is the black/hispanic population in that state significant?

Unless the answer to both those questions is YES, it isn't a necessity to engage them.

If Marriage Equality pushed white states first as its game plan to avoid communities of color, as Richards suggests, it would not only be continuing to push forward a single-issue agenda, but it would also be ignoring vitals ways for coalition-building across diverse communities and honorable ways of connecting the struggle for marriage equality of LGBTQ citizens to the wider cause for justice.

Not to mention marginalizing queers of color-- who, by and large, live in the states Marriage Equality wants to ignore for now -- and making sure they're once again last to get the rights we're fighting for.
And sending a clear message to communities of color that we only care about them when we need their votes.
It's no wonder people accuse the marriage equality folks of having no concept of intersectionality and putting the needs of the most privileged parts of the queer community above everyone else's.

Chitown Kev | April 30, 2009 10:21 PM


First of all, I am am a gay black man whose sense of outrage at the religious African American community has recently boiled over.

In large part it boiled over with one of the most ignorant and offensive homobigoted screeches that I have ever read.

The link to what the woman wrote is within the diary.

When I read what that woman wrote...I never thought I would say this...I finally understood and felt the racist outbursts at the African American community following the passage of Proposition 8 in California. I had a similar type of outburst going on in my own head; fortunately, most (but not all) of it did not spill on the page.

Now if this means me have "internalized racism" or "self hatred" or whatever you PC types call it nowadays, then...oh,well.

Sadly, this is the typical rhetoric that comes from much of the African American religious community regardless of whether anyone works with them or not. Mind you, I grew up in a conservative African American church (several actually). I have friends in the religious African American community that go to conservative churches to this day. I have family members in the conservative African American church that treat me with utter disrespect based on homobigotry yet they expect me to eat dinner at their house and take it based solely on the fact that I am a family member.

I am not going to even go into the number of outrageous shit that has been said to me.

These are grown folks. Either they can be worked with or they cannot. Either African American LGBTs leave churches that treat them with utter disrespect and ridicule from the pulpit or they don't. Either some African Americans want to help the gay community or they don't. Either they want to be homobigots ot they don't.

And now that it is being claimed that "black people" (meaning all black people presumably) are against gay marriage and other civil rights (as if it's all anti-black)...

I paid a price for standing up for myself when I was 18 years old and leaving home (homobigotry was part of it but not all of it, admittedly) It has cost me alienation from my family and, in large part, from "the African American community" including friendships that I valued.

The disconnect I feel is real and it hurts.

And if it means going through the racism in the gay community (or the straight community for that matter) then so be it (oh, the stories!)

the one suggestion that I have offered up is that some sort of space in gay culture (but not the gay civil rights movement) for gay affirming churches so that those LGBTs who are religious have a safe space to come if they feel there is no way out.

Again, my anger gets the best of me on this subject. But I am so, so tired of this "we need to work and do outreach to communities of color" shit. Many of them, if not most of them, don't want to hear it.

Or...maybe it was that they couldn't listen to me. The fault may be mine too.

Brad Bailey | April 30, 2009 11:11 PM

I disagree that religion is all bad, and should be completely eradicated. Several 20th century regimes have already tried this with disastrous consequences. Having no religion at all can be just as detrimental to a nation as having too much of it.

So many white gays justifiably blame organized Christianity for our second-class citizenship. But I believe that religion generally plays an indispensable role in the moral health of a nation. Black culture would not have endured in this country for over two hundred years were it not for the hope and solace provided by their faith. And it was the religious who started the abolitionist movement and promoted the black civil rights movement.

So a lot of blacks, as well as Hispanics, are justifiably turned off when they hear white gays throwing out the baby with the bathwater by dissing religion altogether. It's a slap in the face to their faith.

I'm not a religious person, but I don't believe that "gay" and "Christian" are mutually exclusive terms.

Chitown Kev | May 1, 2009 9:33 AM

Brad, but it's equally a slap in my face when when many (if not most) presumably straight religious African Americans promote and preach homobigotry from the pulpit and it's carried into the home. That is far more hurtful than any racism from the gay community that I have ever encountered.

And I am not even supposed to talk about that in "mixed company."

Otherwise, I agree with your post.

Brad Bailey | May 2, 2009 4:47 PM

I appreciate your comments, Kev. And I respect your experience and insights. I sincerely wish you happiness and peace of mind in the times ahead. Respectfully, Brad

Well it is about time. I think the media is making a terrible mistake not propping up LGBTQ people of color like they do white gay men on television to discuss same sex marriage. Let the oppostion be forced to face racism and homophobia at the same time. We would achieve our goals even quicker. Daniel Richards is mistaken about what would initiate momentum. I would love to see Maggie Gallagher up against you. Of course we would have to gag her so you could even get a word in edgewise but the word DEFLATE comes to my mind immediately.

Freshencounter | May 5, 2009 1:45 PM

Thank you Rev. for this posting. It's 6 months since prop8 and there are still folks blaming the less than 10% of Californians who are African American, 30% of which can't vote for one reason or another, under age being one. It's just plain out right racism! They want to call it a civil rights movement and leave out all the folks that started it, made it possible and continue the struggle today. I'm grateful for this message you have put out and all the social networking tools that allow many of us to know, think and act.