Posted on July 2, 2004

Can You Spell Community Without Unity?

Jasmyne Cannick,, June 24, 2004

In the rush to organize and strategize to defeat President Bush’s run for a second term in office, and to obtain over 1,000 federal rights benefits and protections that are afforded to heterosexual couples through marriage, gays and lesbians have overlooked a very crucial part of the marriage campaign: diversity.

A few weeks ago I participated in a town hall forum in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles, which is primarily a black community. The forum, organized by the National Black Justice Coalition — an ad hoc group of black gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activists fighting discrimination in black communities, and a group for which I am media director — focused on the issue of same-sex marriage and the black community.As one of the panelists for this forum, I remember my adversary urging me to “go back to West Hollywood with the rest of my people.”

I found that comment to be very troubling and went on to explain to a crowd of mainly African-Americans, both same-sex-loving and heterosexual, that black gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons, for the most part, live where the majority of black folks live and to imply that just because we are gay we live in West Hollywood was incorrect. In fact, I pointed out that I knew only one black person who is gay and lives in West Hollywood.

Recently while I flipped through an edition of L.A. Weekly, I noticed an ad for a same-sex marriage forum taking place in West Hollywood. I was really surprised because I hadn’t heard anything about it, and I consider myself to be pretty active in the community on gay and lesbian issues.

I asked a few black community leaders about the forum, and no one seemed to know anything about it. I sent an e-mail to the head of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center inquiring about why the planning committee neglected to reach out to black communities for participation. Needless to say, I received a call from an employee of the city of West Hollywood, who quickly apologized and explained she had no idea that black gay and lesbians had organized around this issue. The employee didn’t know how to reach black gay and lesbian organizations in Los Angeles to involve them in the planning.

Yet when the black gay community held a historic press conference and rally in Leimert Park calling for Los Angeles’s mayor to oppose the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, the organizers reached out to all of the pro-gay organizations in Los Angeles to participate, including the gay and lesbian center. Yet somehow — maybe because of other city matters — the city of West Hollywood could not find any contact information on the many black gay organizations in Los Angeles.

When I attended the forum in West Hollywood, there were seven black people in the audience, including myself. The ic was “Same-Sex Marriage: the Human Element, the Legal Issues and Strategies for the Future,” and although I had so many questions to ask, I settled on one: “What kind of messages do forums like these send to gay and lesbian communities of color when we are not at the planning table, represented in the audience, or in the discussion?” I was told after writing my question that the content of my question was inappropriate for the Legal Issues panel and that there probably wouldn’t be time to answer it. By the end of the night my question was never asked; the ic was never broached.

As a community I know we can do better than this. We can’t expect America to take our movement seriously when we don’t stand united. The issue of marriage equality is not reserved only for the white gay community, and until we all come to the table — black, white, Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, etc. — we will not move forward on any issue. We have to stand at the edge of each other’s battles and come out of our comfort zones. Otherwise we’re guilty of the very thing we are accusing the right wing of doing: forming an elite society — except on this side it consists of white gays only. This division also plays into the perception that gays and lesbians of color do not exist.

If we plan to win the fight for marriage equality, we can start in our own community and make sure everyone is represented. As a black lesbian, I don’t need the black community shunning me because of my sexual orientation, and I certainly don’t need those in the “mainstream” gay community ignoring my issues because I don’t look like them. What I do need, and what our whole community needs, is to work for the advancement of gays and lesbians of all races everywhere.


Comments from Readers

From: Miles W.

Good for the forum organizers who didn’t entertain the author’s pointless question. I wonder what purpose the “representation” she seeks for black gays and lesbians would serve, except to provide a soapbox from which blacks can issue more demands for representation, inclusion, diversity? Does she think that the equal marriage rights sought by white gay activists would not apply to black gays?

Would she require that some white activist step down so that she can diversify the movement by taking his or her place? It seems to me that white gay people are doing just fine in pushing for equal rights without help from the likes of her.

As a racially aware white homosexual I think it is high time gay whites wake up and start thinking in racial terms. We have more in common with heterosexual whites than we do with homosexual blacks or Mexicans. Hatred of homosexuals is much more virulent in non-white ‘communities’. The last thing we need to encourage is the de-whitening of our community groups and the larger society of which we are a part. The only kind of society in which we stand a chance of fair treatment is a white society.

From: r Sapiens

What does it matter if you can’t discriminate against a Gay White male if you CAN discriminate against a White male?

From: Sigurd

Gays and Jews are not tolerated in non-white societies. Something for both these groups to think about. Despite the rhetoric that would have us believe the opposite (only whites are capable of such evil): only among whites have they been tolerated.