Propositioning Privilege

As most know, I team teach a course on queer media on Wednesday nights. Last night’s class was particularly bittersweet not only because of the class’ response to the historic election the night before but also because of the way the film dovetailed with recent events concerning that election.


As we walked into class, Co-prof (CP) and I were greeted with clapping that rolled quickly into a standing ovation. CP and I looked at each other, assuming the cheers were for Obama’s win but not quite sure, as this is a red state and a conservative campus. Then, one of the students who had been campaigning for Obama all season said proudly “We did it!” and like the Catholic responsorial or Krik Krak present in Obama’s acceptance speech, the rest of the class said “Yes We Can.” CP beside me said, despite the memo warning us not to say anything political in our classes, “Yes We Did.” And there was a moment of joyous silence.

Since I was charged with introducing our film that night and leading the discussion that followed it, I let the moment of joy linger, in the same way I did on the blog, before dropping the bomb: prop 8 appears to have passed, and all of the other queer rights efforts have failed as well.

I never actually believed that prop 8 could succeed in California despite knowing that it is like all of the states on the West Coast in its odd mix of urban liberal centers and extremely conservative rural and suburban counter-centers and peripheries. The fact is that in much of the West the latter out number the former; they are simply less likely to vote. And California is also unique in that it has had a recent influx of extremely conservative christian immigrants from Eastern Europe who have repeatedly tried to reverse longstanding acceptance of the queer community in the state often clashing with multicultural liberal communities who either grew up in CA or migrated there precisely b/c of urban centers like San Fran. (image on left: flickr brenbot co. 2008)

The shock that comes from California’s potential loss has been felt across the nation.

Many gay right’s activists have argued that there are still millions of votes to be counted and subsequently denied the celebrations coming from the right on the measure. There is however a larger problem here concerning discrimination and privilege of which who won prop 8 is simply one aspect.

The fact is several discrimination based propositions passed this election cementing unearned privilege into the constitution of multiple states. Anti-gay marriage amendments passed in Florida and Arizona and if the million absentee and mail in votes from CA do not turn the tide, then yes, it will also pass in California. These propositions expressly define marriage as between “a man and a woman.” Though the definition presents an interesting case for challenge from the trans community, it ultimately denies a basic right to the queer community as a whole on the basis of membership in a federally protected group. Unequal treatment of people based on membership in one such group is the legal definition of discrimination in this country. (image right: inspired in DC)

None of the major presidential hopefuls supported gay marriage. Clinton, Obama, and McCain all said they did not support gay marriage. Clinton hedged her bets by claiming it was ” a state right’s issue” giving states the impetus to continue discriminating. Obama hedged his, with talk of the importance of civil unions, which he supported, and a lukewarm endorsement of the efforts to stop prop 8 in California that avoided weighing in on marriage rights themselves but rather applauded the civic exercise of fighting for what one believes in. And McCain continued to rest on his previous record while supposedly sending a letter of support to the efforts in Arizona. His running-mate, Gov. Palin, may have gone rogue or simply been the Dan Quayle-like fall guy when she told conservative radio that she would support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, forever putting the debate to rest on the side of discrimination. In fact, during the entire election season, with the exception of Kucinich none of the nominees asked supported Gay marriage and of those left near the end of the process, only Edwards showed growth in his positions on gay rights at all. The Green Party did not even have queer rights issues listed on their website despite an endorsement of McKinney by the Lavender Greens. (It should also be noted that Bill Richardson signed a bill for gay civil unions in NM shortly after bowing out, but that he had been among those who thwarted the effort twice before.)

Thus we entered a historic election season in which a black man, a black woman, and two female VPs, one white and one Afra-Latina, were in the running for the White House under a very public cloud of sanctioned inequality. Whether they were silent on issues of queerness or simply endorsed separate but supposedly equal policies, the message all of the candidate’s sent about a “state’s right” to discriminate against the queer community was clear enough. And while Michelle Obama did attend the GLBTQ forum at the DNC and Barack Obama made sure to mention the gay community in his acceptance speech, their words came far too late to reverse the overarching message that queer rights were unimportant. (image left: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Not only did the marriage amendments all pass, but so did a bill in Arkansas that prevents “unmarried couples” from adopting. It is universally considered to be a ban on gay adoption, a policy Barack Obama staunchily disagrees with, stating that gay families should have the same rights to raise their biological and adopted children without state interference that straight people have always enjoyed.

Unlike the marriage bills that spell out who is being discriminated against Arkansas’ proposition was carefully worded so as to avoid federally based discrimination complaints later. In so doing, Arkansas’ prop also shows how discrimination against one group ultimately transfers to the loss of everyone’s rights. In this case, successful unmarried heterosexual business men and women looking to provide homes for children in the foster system will be denied just as swiftly as their queer counterparts. Families who enter into the adoption process and then get divorced will be denied their right to children already grafted into their family structure on the basis of failed membership in an institution, marriage, that has a less than 50% success rate in this nation.

Even tragedies can translate to the enacting of this law against unintended targets.Imagine an adoptive family nearing completion of adoption when one of them is in a fatal accident, or has a fatal medical condition like a heart attack … While these tragedies would normally postpone adoptions anyway, in order to give families a chance to recover from the stages of grief, they would not translate into failed adoption the way they must under this new law. Family tragedies in which heterosexual families ask that their children be raised by loving queer couples in their immediate family or by unmarred heterosexual or gay family members would also be against the law, meaning that children with homes to go to might find themselves in the foster system instead while the wishes of their straight parents were completely dismantled in the name of protecting “family values.” (image right: unattributed)

Not only has the urge to discriminate against gay families led people to vote against their own rights, it has also most negatively impacted children. More children will remain in the foster system because less qualified families will now be able to take them in. Foster children grow up with less resources and stability, lower self-esteem, and less options upon adulthood. They are also more likely to be abused – either by natal families or by foster ones – and may face repeat abuse due to the overtaxing of the foster system which can only be more taxed by this measure. This bill reinforces the opportunities for this kind of inequality enacted on ALL children needing adoption and ultimately transfers that cost onto society. Tax payers will ultimately pay more for taxes that subsidize foster care, ready to work programs, scholarships and unemployment programs (as foster children are not given college tuition and therefore are left to either take low wage jobs, be met with chronic unemployment due to lack of skills, or must receive major financial aid to attend college), and prisons (since many foster kids end up abused and can subsequently involved in petty criminal activity). The cost to children, individual citizens, tax payers, and the state, is huge regardless of sexual orientation and all done in the name of preventing a loving queer couple from raising a non-biological child. (image left: unattributed)

The Arkansas bill was specifically a “protect children” bill that ultimately impacted all people. Prop 8 was not; yet part of its outreach was so clearly targeted toward mothers and educators, the latter coming out staunchly against it at every turn that, two women of color produced a completely volunteer PSA against the misinformation:

Some may recall that WoC PhD was also targeted with messages about the corruption of the school system from pro-prop 8 Mormons earlier in the election cycle. The unintended impact on children and families of prop 8 is that some children will be sent the message that their families are abhorrent, children with gay parents may have increased bouts of depression, conflicts in school, and other psycho-social behavior problems associated with active discrimination publicly sanctioned by the state. Children with straight parents will be adversely affected as well as they are torn between existing relationships with children of gay parents and new messages that those families are morally bankrupt. Research on how children “become white” shows that children experience extreme loss and grief upon being sanctioned by white parents for friendships with children of color and that loss creates the necessary distancing from children of color needed to uphold racially unequal societies. It stands to reason that the same would hold true for the psycho-social and cognitive development of children confronted with homophobia in the face of their own desire to be inclusive. Finally, it further marginalizes youth who are same sex attracted by sending the message that their desires are not only unwanted in our society but that should they act on them they will be denied basic rights to family and home. Not only does this impact the learning environment and children’s development, it translates to cost for tax payers in counseling programs, diversion programs, as well as cost to all parents in lost educational time and conflict resolution meetings. The money that has to be spent cleaning up the mess this proposition could create is money that has to be diverted from educational programs and hiring/retaining excellent teachers, and argument that was made by several school districts and teacher’s unions during the election. (image right: flickr green melinda co. 2008)

Another key issue of the prop 8 relates to discrimination in general. As the no on H8 PSAs points out, once the constitution allows for discrimination against one group, it sets a precedent for allowing discrimination against any group:

This argument was an important anti-racist way of addressing the ways that oppressions are co-dependent. It acted as a counter narrative to the decidedly racialized oppression olympics in which gay rights were put forward as “still acceptable while racism is not” which some celebrities and community activists actively embraced during the anti-prop 8 campaign. In fact, by showing how oppression breeds oppression it reminded everyone that racism, social proscriptions against interracial dating/marriage, and immigrant families (both featured in different PSAs) are all still parts of our society that can be made more prominent once we legalize discrimination against anyone of these groups.

Affirmative action also lost out in this election, impacting not only the queer community but also women, people of color, and poor children. Nebraska’s ban on affirmative action clearly stated a decision to ban any equality programs based on race, gender, and/or sexual orientation, opening the door to ending services to queer communities as well as the historic gains white women have made as the documented primary recipients of affirmative action in this nation. Colorado’s proposition to end affirmative action also looks as though it will pass tho ballots have not been completely counted.

As I spoke last night to my class about these initiatives, I asked the question, “What does this mean for queer citizenship?” A question that dove tailed with our chosen film in which a Senator’s son comes out amidst rejection from his father and ambivalence from his mother only to find that the object of his affection is a member of the opposing political party and campaign member of his father’s rival. The question was formed before the election results and meant to highlight the ways that civic responsibility is often positioned in opposition to queer identity in national narratives and how that is countered by a certain liberal politic that sees queerness as a stronger impetus to civic duty than heterosexuality. And ultimately, how these dual representations create the push-pull of “good Americans in the heartland” vs. “over-educated liberals on the coasts” that has typified the late stages of the election and the rhetoric that continues to defeat gay equality measures.

I cannot tell you their answers, but what I can tell you is that this issue of civic responsibility, queerness, and civil rights elicited the kind of complex discussion that I had hoped to see on the national stage when LOGO held its GLBTQ Forum.

The Human Rights Campaign sent out a letter to the community this a.m. reminding of all the Senate and House victories that counter balance the grim reality of propositions cementing prejudicial privilege in this election:

Let us not forget that we saw many glimmers of hope for LGBT equality across the country last night. We increased the ranks of pro-equality lawmakers in both the House and the Senate. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), ringleader of the campaign to write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution, was soundly defeated. Jared Polis (D-CO) became the first openly gay man ever to be elected to Congress as a non-incumbent. Democrats took the New York State Senate, giving us our best chance ever to pass a same-sex marriage law in a legislature. We beat back a ballot question in Connecticut that could have threatened our recent victory there. In fact, marriages begin next week.

While I am grateful for these changes, I am sad to report that Inhoff – the Republican I wrote about running on a platform of queer baiting against his heterosexual opponent – won by a landslide in Oklahoma.

As if these losses were not bad enough, some have already started blaming people of color for the loss in CA as if there are no progressives of color nor queers of color and once again as if we are the most homophobic group in the nation. While national queer organizations have avoided such behavior, at least one newspaper (the NYT) has already tried to blame the passing of prop 8 on Latinos, pointing to the number of Latino churches in California with a Priest or Pastor who spoke in support of prop 8. Never mind the fact that the NACCS Joto Caucus had its second conference in LA and many of its attendees were strong advocates against prop 8, mobilizing their friends, families, and communities, and working with the larger movement. Nor the fact that many Latino/a blogs wrote vehemently against prop 8 during the election season, and still more obvious, not all Latinos go to church and not all church goers follow everything the guy in front says. They also made posters and PSAs like the adorable one to the left made during a previous anti-marriage bill in CA. While another paper, the Mercury News, blamed it on black people and Latinos together. And Comment makers on prominent blogs, including Tenured Radical, blamed it on black people with the vague “exit polling suggested that black voters overwhelmingly supported it” in response to calls to be more critical about how we discussed the bill. Never mind that exit polling was proven unreliable in this election and that queers of color and their supporters have more at stake in being interviewed on these issues given the dual oppressions of homophobia (from their communities and the larger society defined as white) and racism both within the queer community and the larger society. The UCLA Queer conference, happening at the same time as the Joto Conference, had an overwhelming number of attendees from both black and Asian communities who were actively working against prop 8 in a similar vein to the Latino/a students and faculty at the Caucus conference. All of the black blogs I read regularly mentioned the need to stop prop 8, including people with no ties to California at all. (image unattributed)

NAACP Endorses Gay Marriage & Gay Rights

According to Vivir Latino none of the anti-prop 8 materials were published in Spanish or Vietnamese proving that the bigotry on the left helped make these groups more susceptible to recruitment and misinformation from the right. Misinformation that some bloggers would later blame voters of color for, calling them “uninformed” or “”unaware” voters as if their supposed ignorance of the bill was endemic to communities of color rather than partially the failure of culturally competent outreach and being outspent by Mormon and evangelic conservatives who actively targeted communities of color near the end of the campaign.

Despite this, the ACLU, Bienestar, the NAACP, the UFW, and API Equality all joined in the fight for gay marriage alongside the myriad of white organizations that fought for equality.

Christine Chavez, UFW Organizer Speaks at the Opening Press Conference Against Prop 8

As you can see, both major black and Latino/a civil rights organizations spoke out against prop 8 referencing the connections between struggles for racial equality and struggles for gay rights equality. They also drew attention, either specifically or indirectly to the GLBTQ activists within the poc rights movement and subsequently to the poc who are members of the queer community.

Under the leadership of Gloria Nieto, volunteers from communities of color translated all of the anti-pop 8 materials themselves to ensure the vulnerability that English speakers had left open was decidedly closed near the end of the campaign. Nieto spoke passionately about the lack of inclusivity in the mainstream prop 8 movement for communities of color while actively working to defeat the prop and include poc activists. She was joined by multiple multicultural organizations and activists wanting to address the issue across race.

Several organizations of color also produced PSAs specifically geared toward communities of color to help get the word out. Here is one by and for black voters in California:

And here is another by and for Latino/a voters in California:

These are only a few examples of an enormous list of PSAs and posters designed by and for communities of color in support of gay marriage in California. They represent work done by both gay and straight people of color to ensure that prop 8 failed.

The moms against prop 8 video earlier in the post, is another example, produced by two women of color, directed by a man of color, and edited by a white woman who along with the multicultural cast worked for free because they thought the issue was so important. This PSA and the no on H8 PSAs, like many groups of organizers during the fight to stop prop 8, were multicultural in nature. Time and again, people seemed clear that we needed to fight together in order to win.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, nearly 130,000 new supporters of gay rights and 49,500 new volunteers joined in a longstanding fight for gay rights in California this election season. Since, like the HRC, the Task Force is not invested in a divisive racial narrative, these numbers have not been broken down by race. But let’s be clear, there is no way that people of color were not among them given the groups and individuals I have already mentioned were actively working against prop 8.

All of this work and all of the coalitions we have built are being negated by those quick to blame black and Latin@ voters for bigotry and to single out Obama’s win as a loss for the queer community.

For instance, the San Jose Mercury is featuring an embedable video on its front page blaming blacks and Latinos for the failure of prop 8. The video itself features a speech by Gloria Nieto, former Exec Director of the National Latino/a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans Organization Llego, who clearly places the blame for prop 8 on evangelical churches who led the support. It also features images of African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, straight and queer, gathered together to support prop 8 and the election of Obama. This images of multicultural alliance and support from communities of color are interspliced with written text blaming blacks and Latinos for the loss while praising whites and Asians (see screen cap from video right). The racism involved in blaming communities of color is so strong that the Mercury does not see the irony in how the images and voice over undermine their very bigoted point. Nor do I think their decision to use Nieto’s speech was unintentional, since she was one of the loudest voices in calling for the queer community to confront its racism in organizing strategies during the prop 8 push.The Mercury seems to be intentionally stirring up racial conflict and targeting those who dared to bring up racism in our ranks. Nor does the fact this video was made by a Latina negate its offensiveness, anymore than the Wanda Sykes schtick on Ellen condemning black people for passing 8 and claiming homophobia is more oppressive than racism rather than oppressive in different ways than racism evidence that black people are more homophobic than any other group. In fact, both simultaneously show that people of color are part of the fight against prop 8, since both Sykes and the Mercury director are woc, and that internalized racism helps further a larger racist agenda. (If you see blogs with this video embedded, or the Sykes appearance, available on youtube, embedded please use the information in this post about how the prop was written, supported, and fought against to counter this narrative and put an end to the spread of hatred and oppression olympics that denies the realities of both racism and homophobia; please also consider writing Ellen and letting her know how her continued juxtaposition of black people’s rights with gay people’s rights in order to say racism is not as bad as homphobia is unacceptable and hurting the cause.)

The truth is that Prop 8 began in white evangelic churches and quickly became a major cause for the Mormon church (a church that barred black people from membership until recently and insinuated that they were children of the devil at previous points in their theology), it spread from there to a handful of Jewish synagogues, most coming out against discrimination, then to black and Latino churches, and finally some Muslim Mosques. While faith based communities were at the forefront, the bulk of the billion dollar campaign financing came from white donors, white owned companies, and white churches, many of whom could not vote in the election because they were out of state. In fact, 80% of all donations received came from exclusively or largely white conservative faith based organizations.

According to the NYT today, 52% of white voters voted against prop 8 while 70% of black voters and 50+% of Latino/a voters voted against it. These statistics are misleading as they measures # of supporters within a racial group. So, within their own group, black voters polled have the largest number of supporters. However, black voters represent less than 10% of the total voting population; they may even represent as little as 2%. That means they represent 7% or less of the total number of yes votes for prop 8. Since white voters represent almost 70% of the total number of voters voting in the California election, they represent the largest number of yes votes (slightly more than 36%) even though within their own racial group they have less support for the prop than black voters in their own group. The Times expressly avoids giving the percent of white votes that make up the total “yes” vote on prop 8, to keep you from debunking their race baiting thesis. They do however give the percent of Latino votes as 23%. That means that their 50+% vote actually represents a miniscule number of the overall yes votes (close to 12%), while the Times and the Mercury News still feel confident in blaming them. Worse, if you add the total represented number of black and Latin@ votes together (ie 33% of total votes) and divide it by the number of yes votes (less than 20% of the votes) that means, that if you eliminate white voters from the yes pool all together, there is NO WAY THAT PROP 8 COULD PASS WITHOUT WHITE VOTERS. It is clear that most people citing 70% of black voters as proof it is black people’s fault have been completely misled by news sources and have willingly left these numbers unquestioned in order to blame people of color.

If we focus on the positive version of these stats we can also develop a clear picture of statistical manipulation for racial ends. 30% of black voters and almost half of Latin@ ones voted against prop 8 while less than 1/2 of white voters did. How does that make Latinos more responsible than white voters for the failure? The measure’s current final totals are 52% yes and 48% no meaning that a loss of 2% of yes votes from any of the racial groups represented would have meant a tie or failure of prop 8. Meaning the prop passed not by the overwhelming majority that the oft quoted 70% black vote implies but that it came close to failing; a recount may find it did fail. Even more important to the analysis of the positive side of these statistics is that NO SINGLE RACIAL GROUP CONTRIBUTED ENOUGH VOTES TO PASS PROP 8 ON THEIR OWN, this includes poc and white. (image above: AP/Tony Avelar)

Finally, and this is the most important part of why you must always question statistics even when they seem to prove your point: these numbers are based on questionable exit polling. I’ve already mentioned how exit polling cannot account for issues of perception or fears of outing and/or recrimination amongst voters. These are social issues that were not mediated by the type of questions asked but could have been had culturally competent, rather than culturally neutral, questions been asked. These social issues aside, as Daily Kos shows in a post written after I wrote this one, the average number of black citizens in any given county in California is between 1-2%. This means that even if black people voted for prop 8 at 100% they could not have been responsible for ANY county ultimately voting yes on prop 8. It is numerically IMPOSSIBLE. Worse, the exit polls upon which most of the people blaming black and Latin@ voters are referring to (either directly or be quoting a source that originally got their stats from there) is a CNN poll that the CNN admits was not accurate and does not reflect actual numbers from any given county but rather a random repeatedly rounded sample that resulted in a 10% count. The numbers are fuzzy even by the pollster’s own standards. So we have socio-cultural problems with the polling numbers, demographic problems with the numbers, AND mathematical problems with the numbers. And yet people still keep referring to them as legitimate so they can target black people and Latinos as somehow more homophobic and ultimately blame Barrack Obama, not because of his wishy-washy stance on gay marriage, which would be justified, but because he is black.

Why are we focused on locating a two percent difference between yes and no votes within communities of color instead of praising the massive mobilization of communities of color against the proposition? (Even a simple flickr search elicits page after page of photos containing black and Latino voters against prop 8, but apparently, like all the other documentation of our efforts, they do not matter.) Why are certain segments of the queer community willingly repeating fuzzy and race baiting numbers instead of focusing on the numbers circulate by the HRC today that show that Californians as a whole are moving closer to supporting gay rights rather than farther away from them? (An early prop to ban gay marriage won by 68% this one won by 52%) Both of these issues are the success stories we need to embrace and analyze in order to mount a better campaign in the future rather than focusing on the negative, and untrue, issues that will continue to divide our movements. (image to rt: tagged by TowelRoad Blog but copyright belongs to Obama for America ad campaign)

Ultimately, there would have been no prop 8 and no passing of prop 8 without the largely white evangelic and Mormon efforts to write the bill, put it on the ballot, and then fund its success. AND YET there is no similar blame levied against white people for homophobia or white people for losing the right to gay marriage in California. At first, it seems white people have been exempted from such blame because they gave huge sums of money to help fight prop 8, companies like google and the NYT came out against prop 8 publicly, white actors straight and gay made PSAs and public pleas, and white community organizers worked alongside community organizers of color to turn the tide. Yet, as I’ve written above, so did communities of color. The reality is that white people are not being blamed as a racial group for the loss because of the sense that queer=white and there is no racial investment that would benefit from an argument that pathologized whiteness as inherently homophobic in the way that white privilege benefits from pathologizing blackness this way. Latter Days co CJ Fox

It is this same investment in white innocence as a function of white privilege that allows white queers to question how poc don’t understand homophobia is wrong in the face of racism even as they are able mobilize racism in the face of homophobia.

In fact, Dan Savage, who was instrumental in igniting the “Blame Black Folks” fire, went so far as to state openly that homophobes were worse than racists and to imply, as seen in the quote below, that the racists are in the minority anyway:

I do know this, though: I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color. (Dan Savage)

He then went on to allow people to spew an endless amount of racism in the comment section of his post blaming black people for the loss (again ignoring both the facts of who wrote, funded, and ultimately outnumbers black voters) until one of his readers asked him to moderate the discussion and condemn the racism present in it. His condemnation consisted of an excuse that he “couldn’t keep up” with all the racist comments (you know from “the handful of racist gay white men”) and then to refocus on his point of black homophobia, choosing this time to speak for black LGBTQ people as if his painting of our entire community as homophobic and discounting racism was somehow in defense of us.

Like other big name gay blogs/bloggers, Savage and the bulk of his readers proved that racism in the queer community is always an available and go-to tactic when people of color are perceived to be, or are actually, in the way of mainstream gay rights and that both he and they are not in fact in the minority vis-a-vis these uncounted “huge numbers of homophobic African-Americans”.

Sadly, we all live in the same oppressive culture and some members of marginalized groups have shown time and again that marginalization is not enough to make one ism or phobia free. (image on left: Charles Knipp in his hit black face character costume and a group of lesbian fans/image unattributed)

More importantly, none of these numbers reflect the only trend that seems indisputable – how many Christians, Mormons, and other faith groups voted for it versus secular voters. How much money was raised by white Christians vs. Christians of color or secular groups? Instead of doing statistical analysis of the important trend here, the NYT and others have resorted to old racial arguments that prevent us from getting at key statistics to help in efforts to change minds in the future. The good news is that National Queer organizations are looking staunchly at what will help and we have to follow their lead or we will lose again.

Nor do any of these statistics reflect the fact that the proposition itself was authored by a white person not a person of color. And if no one wrote it, no one could vote on it either.

While racial statistics do give us the opportunity to discuss how the queer community needs to go about community organizing in the future, they are misleading and clearly being used by some to mask anti-black sentiment and/or oppression olympics in which they feel at ease blaming black people for issues that permeate our society. As an example, one other comment on TR even goes so far as to say that if black people had not turned out in such record numbers for Obama that prop 8 would have failed!!!!

So did black people move to Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma in overwhelming numbers to impact the elections there? B/c let’s get real for a minute, not only is the assertion offensive in the specific case of California, but immeasurably so when we think about all of the propositions impacted by homophobia this election season, and even more so if we think about all of the props from the past several elections. While some people might actually believe black people are to blame for all of these failures, anyone with a decolonized mind or access to basic population information (which shows black people are a minority in most of these states representing less than 5% of the total population in most cases) and legislative information (ie who authored the bills and funded them) knows better. In that context we have to ask a simple question: What underlines the impetus to blame black people for the loss of queer rights on the days following the win of a black president? (image right: Logo Forum unattributed)

The resentment and quick decision to blame black people for homophobia that exists throughout N. American culture has already hurt us enough. It prevented the LOGO Forum from asking the man who is now going to be our president relevant questions about his queer policies, instead asking repeatedly about “homophobia in the black community.” As a result, we lost the opportunity to hear what he thinks about queer rights and specific ways he plans to support his queer rights initiatives outlined on his website. The perception of his blackness as a hindrance to queer rights led to a racialized discourse about his candidacy during the primaries, and early after defeating H. Clinton, that may have made it easier for black people to turn away from queer rights organizing as racist. And it will ultimately prevent necessary coalition in the future precisely because of the ways comments like those made at TR speak to underlining racism on the left. Race baiting reinforces the opinion of some black people that the white queer community has little to no understanding of racism or investment in racial equality and therefore they can fend for themselves when it comes to their rights. This not only prevents coalition in favor of gay rights, it ultimately denies the work white queer progressives have done to support black civil rights by lumping white people into the same racist boat the way some white people would like to lump all black people into the homophobic one. (image left: Ellen Show co CBS)

As we fight each other, our rights become that much more vulnerable to denial by those in power as our energy is wasted in conflicts that are simply not true. Worse our ability to work together, which is the only way to win, is forfeited in a series of recriminations that not only cement division but erase those places where we overlap and the people who sit firmly in the intersections.

While certain white liberals (gay and straight) blame black people as a whole for their defeat, black queers are once again alienated from “the community” they fought alongside and from within. I am one of them. I used this blog to write about gay marriage; I invited people who were actively working on the gay marriage issue to write guest posts here; and I have publicly defended gay marriage even tho I resent the investment the community has made in gay marriage over that of other issues rather than in addition to them. Nor do I believe that consistently trying to appear acceptable, rather than critiquing acceptability and the institutions that uphold it , ala Rubin’s Thinking Sex critique, will lead to the end of homophobia, gay bashing, or economic oppression, it won’t even extend health care benefits universally as promised since you must first be employed and then be employed by someone who provides benefits both an increasing rarity in this nation. Despite these complexities, I would fight again, just as vehemently, against inequality in marriage rights for the queer community despite the failure of some white queers to show anti-racism not just because I want the right to be married should I ever decide to marry my partner of 20 years but also because I know that anyone not having equality diminishes everyone. As one slogan put it this election season: Separate is NEVER equal.Castro Protest Fri – after post written – unattributed

Having read the initial comment on TR’s post yesterday, followed by the NYT article blaming Latinos, that I cannot find now, I sat in my office dreading my evening class and what I assumed would be more of the same oppression olympics and race baiting. I was angrier in those moments than I was on Tuesday when a white woman, seeing my “I voted” sticker, intentionally knocked me to the ground at the Coffee Shop counter, where I was getting my change, and stepped on my bag while grinning outward to the watching patrons and saying “Oh I didn’t see you there!” The callousness with which she dismissed my very existence was not nearly as callous nor offensive as an academic blaming an entire race of people for homophobia in California followed this morning by another blaming us and “our black president.”

I found myself sitting in that office getting my own set of statistics together. They were meant to both defend against the idea that poc owned homophobia and to highlight the constructedness of statistics used to make ideological points about race. They showed that:

  • most of the queer bashings in this country are committed by white people
  • the measures against gay marriage are almost always authored and funded by white people
  • the number of hate crimes in this country against the GLBTQ community is not only on the rise but that the number of crimes committed against queers of color are disproportionately higher than those against white ones (you need to factor in the # of out poc who are attacked vs # of out white ppl attacked to see this # vs simply race of attacked)
  • the number of people prosecuted and/or successfully reported by queers of color is disproportionately lower particularly in the case of trans women of color

And as I collected these numbers, I got angrier. Angry because on the first morning after the unspoken prohibition against black leadership of this nation came to an end, I was busy documenting bigotry against queers of color by white straight and queer people and bigotry against the queer community as a whole by white straight people in order to fight the same old fight about who is homophobic and who is not. I recognized that even as I did the necessary intersectional math to get the numbers to reflect the right questions, that students looking up numbers on hate crimes would find a different picture because people seldom factor for intersections when generating basic stats. Their numbers, though accurately reflecting race of victims, are just as misleading as the 70% number being used to condemn black voters in California because just as black voters are underrepresented in the overall number of voters in the state, white people are overrepresented in the overall number of out gay people reporting crimes; ie, white people are the majority in this nation, they are also the majority in many conservative communities where many of the gay bashings occur, AND for cis white members of the queer community they are less likely to fear police retaliation (tho their fear is much higher than straight people), therefore it stands to reason that there would be more examples of reported white anti-gay hate crimes than other groups. Even more important than more statistical fuzziness, the fact is every group has homophobic people in it and every group has committed crimes against queer people. For every example of white homophobia, I can give you an example of white straight allies to queer equality much the same as I can for communities of color. Despite recent prop 8 rhetoric, homophobia is not invented and perpetuated by a single race. Historically speaking most non-Western cultures had wider opportunities for both expressions of gender and sexuality than Western cultures and these were largely repressed through violence and genocide during colonialism. In the modern period, homophobia is embedded in the inequalities of our multicultural nation’s fabric alongside all of the other oppressions we have yet to confront and is present in every culture represented.

Ultimately, I put the stats away, preferring to do two other things instead:

  1. Have faith in my students to understand and embrace intersectionality better than the people who teach them
  2. Commit to a conversation that moves us forward by addressing different manifestations of homophobia and heterosexism, their historic and present roots, and what we can do to dismantle them from a position of coalition building that requires not only confronting homophobia in communities of color but also the racism in queer ones

Not surprisingly, these have been goals in my teaching and in this team taught class from the beginning. As some may recall, I was asked to team teach precisely because my colleague wanted to increase the commitment to queers of color and to LBT women. While we can question the essentialism involved in asking me to teach with him, at least he was trying. (And in his defense, he was trying long before I got there by teaching diverse materials and educating himself, and part of why he asked me to team teach was to send the message to our colleagues that faculty of color are just as qualified to teach queer courses as the white ones.)

My students, largely Latinos (white, brown, and black) and African American, understood this when we spoke last night before and after the movie. No white students, who tho the minority in class are visibly the majority because of the number of white appearing Latinos in the class, blamed people of color for the loss. In discussing the numbers of votes from various groups, they were able to discuss issues of bigotry in society and in specific communities without erroneously vilifying any one group over another and particularly not in the case in which the overwhelming economic and political support came from rich white evangelic Christians and Mormons. They did have a harder time not pathologizing faith based communities, but that too was mediated by members of faith groups in the room pointing to their own diversity of opinion and identities. (For info on how even the Christians did it argument is a misnomer, since several faith communities spoke out against prop 8 read here.) Ultimately, the class showed the same hope and complexity in their discussion as their age group showed in voting this past election. I am proud that they will be in charge some day, just as I am saddened by those among us, calling themselves liberals, who still buy in to the same old oppression olympics that inevitably keeps the gold where it has always been.

I urge you not to engage in race baiting when discussing these defeats. Make a commitment to work within all of our diverse communities (queer communities) to be more effective in coalition building, education, and cross-identity social justice work. And make a commitment to hold your peers accountable when their critiques appear or actually are guilty of racist analysis. While we cannot take on the blame for any group that chooses to hate or to support oppression, we can confront the problems in our own communities that may support the other side and we can walk through this world with hope that we can change things. Hope changed a nation on Nov. 4th Hope let me walk into my waiting class with joy rather than anger in my heart. And hope makes it possible for me to write this post despite how bogged down it has gotten in the same old racial issues.

To end on hope, lets turn back to the HRC, who has made the following commitment in the years to come:

  • Continue our efforts to win incremental victories for relationship recognition, so that legally married lesbian and gay couples in Massachusetts and Connecticut have full standing under federal law; the same holds true for civil unions and domestic partnerships in places like New Hampshire, Vermont and Oregon.
  • Use amendments and other legislative vehicles in Congress to establish growing equality for LGBT Americans under federal tax, Social Security, pension, insurance and other laws – piecing together as many of the rights of marriage as we can until the full victory is achieved in years to come.
  • Work with our allies in New York to make good on the extraordinary opportunity presented by the election of a new fair-minded majority in the State Senate, which paves the way for the nation’s first-ever legislatively achieved marriage equality victory. We are also simultaneously working on marriage equality in New Jersey.
  • To that I will simply add that we have to hold Obama responsible for the long list of gay rights he promised to be committed to in his policy statements as well as urge him in the right direction for the rights to which he has not committed. If you are wondering what those measures are, I have made several lists of the gay rights he supports on this blog and he has sections on gay rights on his website. Some of the major ones are partner insurance, asylum and immigrant rights, anti-discrimination in treatment, education, and employment, HIV funding, the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell, and many other rights that go beyond the marriage issue. see my post here.

    Obama’s policies are not “draconian,” as one blogger wrote before changing it without apology after seeing that I quoted her here, several of them are extremely progressive and represent key issues that those of us fighting across intersections in the queer community have been trying to get for some time. He will need us to help him make those policies a reality and we cannot do that if some of us look on his blackness with distrust and others of us react to that distrust by refusing to work in coalition.

    What all of these discussions have proved is that we still have miles to go before anyone can sleep. (image autographed Obama sticker)

    14 thoughts on “Propositioning Privilege

    1. Hello there. Thanks for writing this. I’m writing to ask for permission to excerpt and/or simply cite this post in a flyer I’m trying to put together for tonight’s No on Prop 8 demonstration in Silver Lake, CA. As time is limited, I’m aiming to put together a brief text that calls for an intersectional, social-justice-minded, antiracist queer politic in the face of racist responses to the Prop 8 vote. With your permission, I’d like to include quotes from your blog, as well as a suggested reading list, in which I’d like to include the URL for this post. If you happen to see this comment this afternoon, please let me know if either or both of these things is OK with you. I will not include any excerpts or URLs from your blog without your permission. (I am also reaching out to several other bloggers about this.)Best,Jessica

    2. Jess, I was on the phone when I answered this and now it is way too late no doubt, but if its for a poster, of course you can just say " – prof black woman" after the quote and not a full citation, especially since you say you will have the url somewhere else on the poster. Sorry about that.I’d love to see it but I will settle for hearing how the meeting went. Come and let us know b/c I know tensions are high and my nerves are extremely thin; hearing some good news about people addressing the issues, even if they still have a ways to go when it is all done, would be very nice.

    3. Hi there. Just got home. We ended up handing out small strips of paper, each of which contained a short quote from a blogger offering an antiracist, intersectional take on the election results and visions for queer organizing. Several of those strips contained excerpts from this post, with the complete citation. There were also several strips with excerpts from other bloggers. A friend was there carrying a sign that read, ‘stop racism AND homophobia’ on one side and ‘thereare queers in every family’ on the other.It was a conflicted moment — wanting to be present and visible in this space resisting heteronormativity/homophobia while not being a fan of marriage or the mainstream gay movement’s prioritization of it, and attempting to be part of offering a liberationist, antiracist intervention of sorts in light of horrible recent discussions … and so the experience was mixed and confusing. I felt simultaneously baffled that the big public face of "queer" struggle is so (almost exclusively in this space, in this moment) focused on a narrow and, to me, rather conservative goal; very dismayed to see a few signs reading "Gay, It’s the New Black"; and heartened at how many people responded positively to our handouts ("great, great — thank you," etc.). Thanks so much for your work and your words. It was an honor to help put some of them out there tonight.Best,Jess

    4. Great article. I found you through and I just wanted to say a couple things. Presidential candidate Mike Gravel, like Dennis Kucinich, also supported gay marriage. Also, it’s interesting to me that you think John Edwards showed growth on gay rights. I never thought he seemed more sympathetic than Clinton or Obama (I often thought he seemed worse). Could you elaborate, please? Do you mean gay marriage rights or gay rights in general? I’ll admit that I kind of tuned him out at the beginning of the primaries, when his only refrain was "I’m just not there yet" with regards to gay marriage. I also found it disingenuous how he would constantly say "My wife is in favor of gay marriage, My daughters are in favor of gay marriage." It’s hard to articulate why those statements bothered me. But, it’s like he wanted voters to trust that he would come around on the issue, because his family was progressive (without ever demonstrating any growth himself). I’d love to hear your more detailed thoughts on him. Thanks again for the thought-provoking article.

    5. wow Jess that sounds really proactive and provocative. I’m glad I could be there in spirit if not in person; thanks for giving me that opportunity! I also here you about the complex issues at play and b/c I am rushing will have to answer that piece of your insightful narrative later. For now – thanks for letting me and readers know that people are working together, continuing a narrative of both racial and sexual inclusion, and countering the race baiting out there without losing sight of the cause; and for re-affirming that some of us get that even if it isn’t our most pressing issue, any inequality needs to be fought against.Ashley – welcome to the blog! thanks for bringing up those quotes. For me the most disheartening thing Edwards said was when he did not fully deny the "he was flirting with me, ewww" story that circulated early in the primaries. However my point was about growth over the election cycle with regards to gay rights, not just marriage rights but many of the issues we face. I’ll elaborate when I get back, but again rushing . . . I’m glad to see everybody talking!

    6. I think one narrative that is important to highlight (and that you did briefly here) is the fact that none of the organizations that opposed Prop 8 are falling for the ‘blame game’ that the mainstream media is trying to foist on us. I could be wrong, and please tell me if this isn’t your experience, but I have seen several statements from the HRC, from the NGLTF, from the No on Prop 8 campaign, and from People for the American Way, that purposefully eschew or explicitly condemn efforts to blame African Americans for Prop 8’s passage. Also, I haven’t seen many examples of queer progressive bloggers jumping on this bandwagon either — actually, to the blogosphere’s credit, I’ve seen far more discussion centered on how it is inappropriate and counterproductive to divide communities the way other media sources have done. Again, please correct me if I’m wrong — it could be just the blogs that I read. It’s beyond frustrating to have to be discussing this when we should try to regroup and move forward — gay-marriages amendments aren’t 0 for 30 because of black people, they’re 0 for 30 because of homophobia. The more we can center heterosexism as the culprit, while learning lessons about appropriate and productive outreach, the more quickly we can move on. (Btw, first time commenter here, but regular reader. Love the blog.)

    7. murphy – welcome to the blog. I agree, national leaders are definitely setting a positive tone. I made a point of highlighting the HRC and NGLTF precisely because they sent out so many letters on the 4th-6th trying to stop the tide with positive information, new efforts, etc. I also saw a pundit who has been very vocal about anti prop 8 info say clearly that she thought race baiting was wrongheaded and she would not answer questions that blamed any racial group on MSNBC effectively shutting down their discussions of it. Where I disagree is in who is saying race baiting is wrong. It seems the entire thing started when a nationally syndicated white liberal gay columnist wrote a piece blaming black people. In the 24 hours or so that followed, many of the white liberal queer blogs lit up with race baiting based on fuzzy numbers, including academic ones, queer news blogs, and discussion boards. It wasn’t until bloggers of color started to react publicly and people started spreading links to their pieces across the queer internet that the discussion started to shift. Sadly that shift did not stop queer journalists from writing incendiary pieces on the issue that were then repeated by mostly white bloggers well into the weekend. Worse, the comment sections of many of these blogs could be broken into 2 groups: 1. everybody knows black people are the most homophobic and 2. I’m sure they are just too ignorant to get it but geez. Both of these are offensive and both fail to address the actual voting numbers which show the largest yes votes came from white voters. Worse, many blog owners did nothing to curb misinformation in posting or in the comment section or both; so it was once again up to a handful of bloggers of color and their allies to correct misnformation, and many of them were attacked and mocked for it, or received lukewarm support from blog owners. The misinformation and race baiting was so bad that on Sunday alone I saw 4 new blog posts on white blogs blaming us, using the most incomprehensible math logic I have ever seen, and 1 multi-culti authored blog that’s sole purpose is to analyze race, repeat the same disproven stats. And all of this was bolstered by shows like Ellen where Wanda Sykes, using insider language that understands that when she says "black people" she does not mean all black people everywhere, confirmed that homophobia is worse than racism while a crying Ellen oscillated between laughing and crying and quiet whispers of "that’s true" – a clip that was viewed over 14,000 times in its first 48 hours on youtube – and The View that had Whoopie Goldberg repeat those misleading numbers (which she retracted this am by clarifying the numbers). It took less than 24 hours for people to jump on the misinformation bandwagon across the white liberal queer blogosphere, 6 days for usually credible sources on queer and race information to repeat the misleading numbers and write pieces with blame at their center and only 4 for white activists to make signs like "gay is the new black" and to yell the n word at black queer activists coming out to mourn the win of prop 8 and help with the regroup; just this morning a white gay blog held up the "gay is the new black" sign as one of their favorites from the protest. It took 2-3 days for white blogs to start carrying links to woc blogger critiques and/or weigh in on the side of anti-racism and real numbers over fuzzy ones; I still have not had this post added to many queer blog agregators who add or highlight my posts regularly (some daily).Sadly, bloggers and media are not following the national level lead. The saturation point of misinformation is so high that I worry that all of these efforts to counter them, that picked up momentum on Thurs/Fri, will ever be enough. This week will be the test. If we see major blogs and aggregators start to shift their rhetoric away from blame (either as blacks = bigots or blacks = stupid) to nuanced analysis that recognizes both the need for alternative outreach and strategies that include anti-racism and acknowledgment of the reality that the vote is no racial groups responsibility and white people were the majority (numbers) in voting for the bill, then I think we can say the counter efforts are working in the blogosphere. Time will tell.One last thing, I love this quote from your comment:"It’s beyond frustrating to have to be discussing this when we should try to regroup and move forward — gay-marriages amendments aren’t 0 for 30 because of black people, they’re 0 for 30 because of homophobia."I think that says it all. And I think comment makers here, regardless of race, are responding to that idea positively and proactively and that is a very good thing. 😀

    8. Ashley – back to John Edwards. Early in the primaries, Edwards was facing scandal for having publicly grossed out at the supposed advances of a gay staffer during a democratic event earlier in his career. He was quoted as having said something along the lines of the stereotypically homophobic "gays are fine as long as they don’t touch me." Edwards denied the quote but not the sentiment of the rumor. Then he said the things you quote in your comment. But then he started to actually meet with GLBTQ organizations (youth shelters, hospice services, local groups) and his comments on homosexuality took a decided shift, culminating in his rather naive but heartfelt statement about how horrified he was to find out that many queer youth are shunned by their parents and friends and end up homeless or suicidal and how he thought that was "horrible and had to be stopped." It was near the end of his run for president, and he showed signs of wanting to write and engage in policy that would support gay rights. Other candidates either started out further ahead in the support of gay rights than he and ended up denying and/or reversing previous stances or stayed the same in their support.I hope that brings more clarity.

    9. Yes, I see what you’re saying about bloggers in the 24 hours after the election. It wasn’t on my radar until recently. I may have been blindsided by the whole thing because of my chosen queer and anti-racist news sources, which by and large have tried to productively engage the entire picture. I think the narrative is changing, however, like you mention … except for right-wing anti-gay sites, which are positively gleeful about the 70% statistic. This really boils my blood. And I despair of changing traditional media. I’m surprised no one is bringing up the parallel of the 2004 election. I remember very clearly that Bush’s win was blamed on gays — the anti-marriage amendments in key swing states were supposed to have upped conservative turnout among "values voters."

    10. Thanks for the clarification on John Edwards, Prof BW. Do you know if anyone has made headway with Ellen? I’m not a fan of hers, but I still find her – and Wanda Sykes – comments and actions disappointing. Moreover, couldn’t she find one Black GLBTQ person to talk about homophobia, racism, and how they intersect? I’m pretty sure Sykes is heterosexual. And although Sykes is funny and smart, I don’t think she’s qualified to make sociological statements about "the Black community." It really bothers me when people of color buy into the meme that we just aren’t as enlightened or tolerant as White people. It also bothers me when certain White people use these statements by people of color to bolster fundamentally racist arguments. I have a hunch that Ellen never had in-depth discussions about homophobia in the African-American community before she got Sykes on her show last week.

    11. murphy – both astute points. I think the conservatives are "positively gleeful" precisely b/c they know this will divide us and thus make it easier to conquer. Good news – there have been impromptu marches around the country protesting sponsors of the bill and that is a good sign.Ashley – Ellen has been guilty of using these kinds of comparisons for a while; I think the first time on national television was when she and her cast wore over the top Afros and recreated queered versions of popular African American shows. She’s had Sykes on twice to make the same point at different points in the campaign. And she has made other more general faux pas with regards to black women (mostly hair stuff and some class stuff in discussing her past). I don’t think anyone has held her accountable & that she would probably trot out her black friends (the way Sherry Shepherd tried to do today on the View with her gay friends while denying gay marriage) to prove otherwise if someone did. Personally, I was a major fan of Ellen’s from the first Tonight Show appearance, and I even forgave several of those oppression olympics moments but it just got to be too many too often. As for Sykes, her comedy is largely for a black audience who understands that her shtick about blackness is not about all black people nor a real reflection of blackness but rather an exaggerated mix of sterotype, various members of the community, and insider humor. The problem is that like many other black comedians who engage in race based humor who have gone mainstream, she has not modified her jokes for her new audience. I’m not a big fan of her kind of humor to begin with but I think that like Chapelle, she is going to wake up one day and realize what her audience is really taking away from her shows and be ashamed. (And no, I don’t like Chapelle’s jokes either but he is a very brilliant young man.)Jenn – I keep trying to come back to your point about the intersections of ambivalence, activism, and social justice beyond the single issue but every time I do I write a novel’s worth of comment. I think a lot of people are finally weighing in on these issues, see gay prof for one astute piece, and that is a good thing. Maybe if we use this opportunity to be vocal again about what rights we do not have and how to try and reach equality for the most people then the possibilities for concentrated activism cannot help but expand. The one really great thing I see in all of this is the galvanizing force it has been throughout the queer and allied communities and how it has forced discussions of race, class, and marriage as an institution to the foreground. Again, I really appreciate the work you and yours did on Saturday to help open more space for that and be a part of the change we need.

    12. Thanks again, Prof BW. I understand your points about both Sykes and Chapelle. I’ve actually seen Sykes talking about gay marriage opposition in her standup. As far as I know, she didn’t try to make the point that Blacks were more homophobic than Whites (admittedly, I only watched a short clip of it). I guess things like this really underscore how brilliant someone like, say, Chris Rock is. He talks about race in front of mixed crowds, but I doubt that his audience comes away having their stereotypes about Black people confirmed.I didn’t realize that Ellen had done things like this before. I can’t believe someone from New Orleans – who devoted a few shows to Hurricane Katrina – would be so flippant about the role of racism in our country.

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