Breaking Down Racial Barriers to Advance Gay Rights

In November 2008, when the U.S. elected Barack Obama, the country also made many important decisions regarding gay rights. Voters passed several ballot initiatives preventing LGBT equality, including Proposition 8, a same-sex marriage ban in California. While 52 percent of Californians voted in support of the gay marriage ban, a whopping 70 percent of African American Californians supported Proposition 8 (Edit: While CNN exit poll data suggested 70% support for Proposition 8 among African Americans, further analysis shows about 58% support). The lack of support for gay marriage from the African American community is certainly a cause for concern.

LGBT people are left wondering why a racial minority isn’t supporting a sexual minority in fighting for equality. But it’s a two-way street. If the LGBT community did more outreach to African Americans, I think we’d find much more support than we realize. Maybe the bigger problem is racism within the LGBT community, not homophobia within the African American community?

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous is a supporter of gay rights and discusses the many overlapping issues between racial minorities and the LGBT community. He points out that African Americans have worked alongside LGBT people for issues such as police brutality, employment discrimination, and hate crimes, which affect both groups. While there is no strong consensus among African Americans on the issue of gay marriage, the two groups share common ground on many other issues. The LGBT community could build connections by focusing on shared concerns between gay and black Americans.

Let’s not forget, though, that there are many racial minorities who are themselves LGBT. In fact, LGBT rights are personal for Jealous because his own brother is gay. Not only does the LGBT community fail to put effort into gaining support from the African American community, but we don’t sufficiently address concerns from African Americans within the LGBT community.

The LGBT community has been accused of racism on several occasions. One study showed that the San Francisco gay community has a negative attitude toward gay African American men. Another study, by the Human Rights Campaign, reported that LGBT people of color feel that there is as much racism within the LGBT community as there is outside it.

The gay community is built on celebrating diversity and accepting people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Why, then, are people within the community pushing away possible supporters, just because they have a different skin color?

In order for a minority to win its rights, it has to have support from others. It’s time for us to join hands with racial minorities and fight together for equality. And it’s time for us to step up and work at building an ally, instead of throwing out accusations and attitude when we don’t get the support we want.

Photo credit: albany_tim