by Ron Buckmire, Bayard Rustin Project
As one of the 18,000 couples who were married while the practice was legal last summer and one of the leaders of the only Black LGBT political advocacy organization in Los Angeles County, I have a unique perspective on how issues of race and sexual orientation are portrayed and debated in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8 and will use this piece to discuss why I think Gay is NOT the new Black. Last year’s campaign to amend the California constitution to say that “Only a marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized” was the nation’s most expensive ballot measure fight on a social issue in history: a combined 83 million dollars was spent on both sides. Proposition 8 passed by 600,000 votes out of 13.4 million cast, 52.3% to 47.7%, on November 4th 2008, the very same day that Barack Obama was elected the very first Black President of the United States. Early exit polls indicated that 70% of Black voters had voted Yes on Proposition 8. Later analysis revised this number down to 58% of Black voters supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but a racially tinged firestorm in the LGBT community had already been ignited. On November 15th hundreds of thousands of Americans marched in parades protesting the passage of Proposition 8 in dozens of cities. Many of these protesters correctly (and incorrectly) made analogies between their actions and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, carrying signs with slogans like “Gay is the new Black.” When (predominantly white) gay people say that "Gay is the new Black" they are invoking a common saying from the fashion world to send the message that discrimination against gay people is the same as discrimination against Black people. This is such a thoughtless exaggeration that it enrages Blacks and increases the divide between the two groups, causing people like myself who are both Black and gay to become even more invisible. It is natural for LGBT activists to want to associate themselves with the successful Black civil rights movement and it is true there clearly are parallels between some of the legal discriminations that Blacks faced in the past (federal ban on serving in the military, state bans against marrying interracially, no laws banning employment or housing discrimination, et cetera). However gay people were never enslaved or murdered openly without legal recourse in great numbers and it is simply frivolous to attempt to equate the two experiences of being Black in America to being gay in America. The multiple reasons why electing a non-white American President resonated with so much of the country (and the world) was that such an important break from the past reveals how far the country has come from its shameful mistreatment of people of color. Barack Obama’s success eloquently illustrates that race is still a central dividing line in American life while Proposition 8’s passage is simply another example that the rights of minorities should never be subject to the whims of a tyrannical majority.