African-American Lesbian and Gay Couples Speak Out on the Issue of Marriage
On Monday at 5:01 p.m., California became only the second state to issue same-sex marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples. This after the California Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to get married.
Of the couples that were chosen first, to get married were Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin of San Francisco, both women in their 80s who have been together for 55 years. They were married at 5:01 p.m. by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
At the same time in Los Angeles, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, plaintiffs in a 2004 lawsuit that was consolidated with the San Francisco lawsuit that led to the state Supreme Court ruling, were married in front of the Beverly Hills courthouse. The couple, who has been together for 15 years and are longtime gay activists were issued their license early ahead of any other couple.
Both lesbian couples are White.
As of Sentinel press time, there were no Black same-sex couples available for comments that were planning on getting married Tuesday.
Since same-sex marriages have become legal in California, mainstream media reports have largely focused in on two cities, San Francisco and West Hollywood.
While Los Angeles is home to a plethora of lesbian and gay couples of African descent, very few have taken the opportunity to go to city hall and get married.
“Black homosexual people historically have not been visible around their sexual orientation,” commented Jeffrey King, executive director of In the Meantime Men’s Group, a local non-profit organization in the Crenshaw district, that’s focused on the health and well being of Black gay men. “So it’s not surprising that they are not visible or publicly vocal on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“However, it doesn’t mean that Black homosexual people won’t be getting married, it just speaks to issues of safety, security, socioeconomics, fear of losing job, and fear of being targeted in your own community,” King added, “We do not desire to be alienated from our own community. I also believe it has lot to do with shame based on what we have been taught to believe about ourselves. There’s a lot of confliction in our community.”
LaTanya and Karen, a Black lesbian couple previously featured in the Sentinel, are now living together in West Los Angeles but have no plans to get married anytime soon.
“We’re going to take our time,” LaTanya explains. “A wedding is a special occasion and we don’t want to be rushed in the planning of it. Right now we’re thinking June of 2009, if it’s still legal.”
LaTanya alluded to the upcoming California ballot measure that would permanently ban same-sex marriage that’s scheduled for a vote this November 5th.
“It’s a personal issue for us as African-Americans,” commented Francine Ramsey, executive director of the Zuna Institute, a national organization focused on Black lesbian women. “Marriage isn’t something that we do on the spur of the moment, we tend to plan it out. While the media tends to show a lot of images of white gays, the reality is that there are Black lesbians and gays that are getting married we just don’t always see them.”
Francine’s organization hosts the bi-annual National Black Conference, which brings together Black lesbian and bisexual women from all over the country. This year’s conference is taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 10-13.
“The issue of marriage and the California decision is going to be a hot topic at this year’s conference,” she noted.
This week also marks the one-year anniversary for Xavier Leonard, 40 and Daryl Brookins, 39, who had a commitment ceremony at the Los Angeles Friendship Center on June 16, 2007.
Now that the couple can legally marry, they have already discussed going online to fill out the forms to apply for a license.
“We had such a wonderful wedding last year with our family and friends there, so we are not trying to duplicate it,” says Xavier, who works as a school psychologist. “But it is important to us to take the additional step now that’s it is legal to make sure that we can protect ourselves. If anything were to happen to Daryl, or myself I want to make sure that we can make decisions for each other and visit each other in the hospital. Plus, we own a home together in the Fairfax District.”
Daryl, who is a health administrator and Xavier have plans to have a less formal ceremony on August 28th, the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” and the day Barack Obama is expected to receive the official Democratic nomination.
At the couples’ wedding last June, Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson came and presented a proclamation to the couple and told the audience that he was a supporter of gay marriage.
Wesson believes that everyone should have the opportunity to have a mother-in-law.
Until voters head to the polls in November to decide the fate of same-sex marriage, it will remain legal in California. It should be noted, that while it is legal, no churches are forced to marry same-sex couples.