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November 01, 2011

Civil rights legend Julian Bond supports Marriage Equality – do you?

Posted in: LGBT,Race

A campaign to open up a dialogue about marriage equality launches with videos featuring prominent black allies. Will it reach some black voters that are on the fence about the issue?


The Human Rights Campaign’s Americans for Marriage Equality campaign has showcased videos of LGBT advocates to help spark a national conversation about ending same-sex couples’ exclusion from marriage. What is notable is that the campaign tapped prominent black allies first, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Mo’Nique, and one of my heroes, civil rights leader and NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond. Here is his video:

The NYT’s Frank Bruni did a story on the HRC campaign and its particular focus to breaking down the resistance in the socially conservative, religious segments of the black community that have opposed marriage equality.

In its infancy the H.R.C. effort, called Americans for Marriage Equality, has showcased three prominent black Americans in a row. That’s no accident.

In some perfect world where human nature is less messy and history less fraught, any and all people who had ever suffered discrimination would find common cause, gathering together under one big anti-bigotry banner.

In our world there are divisions and even tensions among minority groups, and the quest to legalize same-sex marriage — now permitted in six states and Washington, D.C. — has met particular resistance from African-Americans.

This isn’t a topic that advocates for gay rights or their many black supporters relish discussing, because it focuses on a wedge where they wish there was a tighter bond.

Much of the friction is the perceived appropriation of the term “civil rights” by the LGBT community without deference or consideration that the black experience, where human beings were enslaved, legislated as less than a man, and without the right to vote or marry (even a man and woman to each other) is not equivalent to the LGBT rights struggle.

And while we can intellectually agree that there isn’t a minority misery index that must be reached in order to be able to use the term civil rights (after all, some of us are black and gay/lesbian/bi/trans), the LGBT community has to realize that in practical terms, there are some in the black community who continue to use the bible and the history of slavery to justify their biases.

“This is a community composed of many Biblical literalists,” Bond said in a recent phone interview, adding that they put a “wrong and wrong-headed” emphasis on certain Biblical references to homosexuality. ..Bond doesn’t utter the phrase “civil rights” in his ad. He discusses “what’s right and just,” along with “commitment and stable families.”

It pains him, he told me, to think that “black people of all people” might be an obstacle to ending any discrimination, including marriage discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Will these videos and the HRC campaign make inroads into the black community to move some of the poll numbers in the right direction? Perhaps. I think the series should also include black clergy — after all, it was the very visible presence of supportive clergy of color that made the difference in DC marriage passing. There should also be more representation of Southern allies of color, a region where many minds need to be engaged.

For instance, there are other ways to reach minority communities that might be fruitful in an education campaign. How about reaching minority populations on their phones? Some facts:

  • 44% of black and Latino adults are Smartphone (iPhone, Droid, Blackberry) owners compared with 30% of whites
  • Highest Smartphone adoption is in urban and suburban areas.
  • Historically minorities have been earlier adopters of text messaging and relied upon cell phones (and now Smartphones) for general phone communications and internet access.

HRC could also take a look at group texting education campaigns to enhance this effort — people could opt-in to learn more and receive links to the latest video in the Americans for Marriage Equality series and spread it virally from there. You have to go where your intended audience is. The black community is not a monolith in terms of faith, politics and even regional culture (for crying out loud), and in many cases there’s bias in the LGBT community that causes activists to fail to see these nuances — and that affects how the messages are received. There’s a lot of work to do and this campaign is a good start.


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