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In the aftermath of the controversial, November 4th decision of the California voters to vote No on Prop. 8, the measure that would have allowed an amendment to the California Constitution and rendered same sex marriages unlawful, the Los Angeles Sentinel recently sponsored a Town Hall Meeting at Los Angeles Trade Tech College in downtown Los Angeles so that OUR community could have an open, honest dialogue about this highly charged and morally significant issue.
The lively Town Hall Meeting, which according to many participants, allowed for the open discussion of topics that are not usually among those prominently displayed in Black public dialogue, including gays, homosexuals, brothers on the down low, teen pregnancy, and others, was hosted and moderated by Danny J. Bakewell, Jr., Sentinel President and Executive Publisher and Jasmyne Cannick, Journalist, Political Activist and Gay Rights proponent.
Following the moderator's opening remarks and messages of appreciation to Assembly Member Mike Davis, Trade Tech officials, Mothers In Action, and others, an opening prayer was provided by Rev. Eric Lee, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Greater Los Angeles. It was followed by the singing of The Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," led by recording artist, Laurnea.
Bakewell then established the Ground Rules for what was sure to be a lively discussion before introducing Reginald Sawyer-Jones, Secretary of the California Democratic Party who addressed the Myths and Facts about Prop 8.
"We are not here today to establish a strategy for us to overturn the decision of the voters nor is it our intention to advance one viewpoint or another." Bakewell explained. "As the number one Black Newspaper in the nation, with the moniker, Voices of our Community Speaking for Ourselves, it is our responsibility to provide a forum for us to discuss a broad range of issues that affect us and in the future we will host other town hall meetings to address other important issues."
An impressive and diverse cross-section of panelists were invited to present both sides of the argument and their comments, observations, and factual presentations stimulated dozens of questions from the nearly 300 town hall participants present to express their views.
Elected officials included in the Agenda included California Speaker of the Assembly, Karen Bass, Asssemblymember Curren Price, and Los Angeles City Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernard Parks, and those who were able to attend the event were allowed to address the audience as they arrived in order to accommodate their busy schedules.
The "Can I Get a Witness?" panel featured a discussion of the position of The Black Church and Prop. 8 with representatives from Zoe Christian Fellowship of Whittier, the SCLC, the Living Light Ministries and the Levitical Network.
A spirited debate on the part of the panelists and in response to questions from the moderators and the audience allowed the clerics to express their views with specific references to their interpretations of the old and new testaments of the Bible.
The "It's Not Just a White Thing" panel featured voices from the Lesbian Gay Bi-Sexual and Transsexual (LGLBT) Community on Prop. 8, and others. It included a professor of Sociological and African American Studies from UCLA, a representative from In the Meantime Men's Group, United Lesbians of African Heritage, and the Village Health Foundation, as well as journalists, community activists and a representative from Congresswoman Diane Watson's office.
Panel Three: "Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired," addressed the question of whether Blacks are to blame for the passage of Prop. 8 and are we more Homophocbic. It featured community activists, journalists, and a representative from the Pan African Film and Festival, the California Democratic Party, the Black AIDS Institute, and the author of "Black Women Need Love Too."
After the panelists had completed their presentations and responded to a number of direct questions that were unambiguous and straight-forward in their appeal, the audience was given an opportunity to respond to a People Poll where, they were given an opportunity to respond to the question..."If Prop. 8 were up for a vote today, how would you vote."
It is significant to note that a majority of California voters on November 4, 2008, (6.4 million or 52% compared to 5.9 million, or 48%, upheld traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
While it has been broadly asserted that Black voters contributed significantly to this outcome, the reality is that Blacks represent only 10% of the electorate and, according to a CNN exit poll, the majority of all voting categories, including republicans (29% of the electorate), married people (62%, Latinos (18%), white protestants (29%), all protestants (43%), and all of the other categories, registered greater than 51% and voted yes on Prop. 8.
"The make-up of the Black community in Los Angeles is not unlike the rest of the nation in that it represents a broad cross-section of individuals with varying attitudes, styles, economic conditions, sexual preferences and orientation, religious diversity and other differences." Bakewell concluded.
"The aim of the Sentinel is to bring you the information so that you may formulate your individual point of view and wherever possible, provide an opportunity for your voice to be heard. Thank you for participating in this Town Hall Meeting."