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Four weeks after President Obama came out for same-sex marriage, today will see one of the most significant signs of a new alliance between traditional race-based civil rights groups and the current wave of LGBT oriented civil rights groups yet. At 4:00 PM, a cadre of gay organizations (including Lambda Legal, HRC, GLAAD, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, ESPA and GMHC) will be present at the Stonewall Inn, joined by Al Sharpton and the NAACP (marking the first time we’ve ever gotten a press release from the venerable civil rights organization telling us to meet them at a gay bar). Together, the groups will announce a new unified front in fighting “stop and frisk,” the NYPD’s practice of stopping, almost exclusively, black and Latino young men.
But, wait a second…what happened to Obama’s support of same-sex marriage? The National Organization for Marriage, Touré and Rev. Ruben Diaz promised it would drive a wedge between the gays and the blacks and Hispanics.
Today’s event shows, as Pam Spaulding and we have tried to point out again and again and again over the past few weeks, that black homophobia is overblown hokum. It also shows that the organizations that make up “Gay Inc” are not as white-washed as their critics sometimes claim.
When the President came out for same-sex marriage, we didn’t think there would be any political fallout, as such a position was an extremely common one for black politicians across the nation. Many other “black elites” from Hollywood and the music industry followed suit, which anti-gay marriage forces could claim didn’t speak for the people. But it was really the support of the NAACP, the century old civil rights organization, along with polls showing that black people might actually support gay marriage more than white people that finally started to shut down the “black = homophobic meme.”
“Don’t equate your sin with my skin!” is a classic line that comes up when an elderly black civil rights worker doesn’t want their struggles compared to those of gay people. Another one is, “Don’t compare Stonewall to Selma!” But that latter comparison will be made quite strongly, by no smaller symbols of the organized fight for racial civil rights than Al Sharpton and the NAACP, today at the actual Stonewall Inn.
Furthermore, the gay organizations are reaching back with an extreme measure of goodwill by taking on stop and frisk, an issue of great importance to black and Latino citizens here in New York City. Stop and frisk fuels marijuana arrests to the point in which they are the primary reason for arrests in the city. Because of this, stop and frisk is symptomatic of the larger problems of the War On Drugs nationally, which disproportionately harms black and Latino men and their families.
This move is good politics and ethical policy for the Gay Inc groups for a number of reasons. First, as we discussed with Brian Lehrer and Mike Signorile and Yetta Kurland over the past few weeks on the radio, there is a misperception in the media, unfair and untrue but undeniably present, that being gay in America is all about being a rich, white guy living a kind of Will & Grace Manhattan fantasy. (Joe Biden even cited Will & Grace when he inadvertently pushed President Obama to embrace marriage equality.) Of course, gay America includes black America, and Hispanic America, and poor America, and their children. These are overlapping, not disparate, groups. Gay young men in New York City — and those living on our streets are disproportionately LGBT, black and Latino — are affected by stop and frisk. The ballroom kids of the Bronx, the Westside piers and the kids we see vogueing near the Voice offices outside of the Hettrick Martin Institute are exactly the demographic most likely to be hurt by stop and frisk’s discriminatory practices. This is smart politics for Gay Inc, as stop and frisk is such a pressing civil rights issue for traditional civil rights groups; but it’s also ethical policy, because it shows that gay concerns are the same concerns as those of blacks and Latinos, and vice versa. There is no black and brown versus gay divide, because black and brown people are gay people, and gay people are brown and black.
Second, it shows a conscious decision by Gay Inc to think beyond promoting gay marriage and ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. For years, gay organizations have been criticized by some of the most impassioned activists in the gay rights movement for being too concerned with being “middle class” (promoting marriage) and militaristically rightwing (ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” without taking on the larger issues of war). A caller when we were on the Brian Lehrer Show also pointed out how she felt like gay organizations didn’t care about some of her major concerns as a black, urban, lesbian woman: poverty and jobs. Indeed, it’s much easier to have a gala for a happy cause like marriage than it is to address the complicated and depressing topics of homelessness, poverty, joblessness, drug use and sex work that can be more pressing challenges for the city’s young black and Latino LGBT youth than the right to marry. That HRC sees stop and frisk as a human rights issue goes a long way towards broadening its mission beyond its oft perceived focus upon rich, white, connected political operatives.
Third, it shows a real ability for coalition building. Harvey Milk was insistent upon needing a broad coalition of gay people and their straight allies, which needed to draw upon labor, political leaders and all sorts of professions. Today’s event is including not just black and LGBT civil rights groups, but also the presence of SEUI and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Gay Inc has no problem wielding influence on Wall Street or in the world of high finance; HRC honored Goldman Sachs, of all organizations, right near the peak of Occupy Wall Street’s activities, earning the wrath of the OWS Queer Caucus. (What they are able to accomplish with that influence, in terms of helping poor, black and Latino LGBT citizens, is another story, and not a successful one. Despite recently taking on LGBT youth homelessness, ESPA has utterly failed to win any additional state funds from Governor Cuomo to address this epidemic, even though they gave him their Leadership Award.)
So to see them on the bill with a couple of unions will broaden the scope of their mission, if not fully quel the ire from the queer left.
More than anything, our analysis is that today’s event at the Stonewall marks a new era in fighting for civil rights. There is obviously now a true ebb and flow between the big race and LGBT civil groups acting in each others interests, while also putting their time and their money down in admitting that often their interests are, in fact, one and the same. There are ways in which the fight for LGBT civil rights is different from the fight for racial civil rights; the nuances are complicated, and we’ll leave that for another post. But there are overarching parallels, and it’s a heartening thing to see these groups taking a united stand against Mayor Bloomberg’s discriminatory stop and frisk policy, which molests hundreds of thousands of (gay and straight) young men of color every year and hurts their civil rights.
Mayor Bloomberg recently also hacked $7 million dollars from the city’s budget for homeless youth, something which should enrage LGBT and racial civil rights groups alike. And, given that HRC gave Mayor Bloomberg their National Ally For Equality award for helping bring gay marriage to New York, we know that they have his ear. He did help bring equality to same-sex New Yorkers who wanted to get married.
Now maybe HRC can persuade Bloomberg to bring equality to young brown and black men, too — both those who are homeless, and those harassed near their homes.