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I separated myself from the marriage movement some years ago. Not because I am about as close to getting married as Hillary is to being President. It’s not because wearing white has a way of adding 20 pounds to my already voluptuous frame. No, I left the marriage movement after the realization that even though Blacks can at times be persuaded into willing participants in this country’s homophobia hysteria. Even though Blacks and Latinos have at times found themselves being played against each other by the Right, both the Black agenda for civil rights and fight for immigrant rights speak more to what’s important to me, as a lesbian, than fighting for gay marriage.
I agree with the basic principle that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry each other. The way I see it, as long as we’re being taxed like everyone else in this country, we should be extended the same benefits, rights, and privileges as everyone else. That has never changed for me. What did change for me, was my willingness to actively engage myself in a struggle that from the beginning and continues to be elitist. Plainly put, the gay marriage struggle is the perfect example of White gay America’s “superiority complex” in action.
Coming into the movement, a bit naïve, I bought into the gay rights movement without giving it a second thought. That marriage was the end all and above all other struggles. But it didn’t take too long for me to figure out what was going on and how.
Now, I must have missed the vote on what issues should gay America take up as its number one issue. Because had I been in on that conversation, I would not have supported making gay marriage the end all issue. Nor would I have supported the adoption of a strategy to achieve marriage that did not include any meaningful input from minority lesbians and gays. From the onset, this movement has been about obtaining marriage for the White gay men and lesbian women who were also willing to fund it. Bottom line. Everyone else has just been along for the ride. With every civil rights movement since the 1960s Black Civil Rights Movement, the leaders of the marriage movement boldly adopted its language while reciting quotes from Black civil rights leaders on national television and in newspaper articles. Figuring if it worked for them surely it will work for us.
Not thinking about how Blacks would take that message, they forged ahead on the backs of the Black Civil Rights Movement without ever instituting any if its core principles. So when Black ministers popped up on those same national television shows, and in those same articles condemning the gay rights movement, Blacks were immediately labeled homophobic.
Sometime ago, I wrote an article where I stated that even the Black community can at times be homophobic, that I’d take my chances with homophobic Blacks than racist gays anytime, and today that’s even more true. Almost everyone I know is concerned with the economy, the price of gasoline, unemployment, whether or nor they can pay their mortgage, rent, car note, and universal healthcare. Plainly put, regardless of sexual orientation or citizenship, most people are more concerned with those domestic bread and butter issues, which have taken center stage everywhere, that is except for within the gay civil rights movement where it has been full speed ahead on marriage.
And even though Blacks and Latinos are often successfully played against each other, when you get down to it, they are both fighting for the same thing, a way to provide for their families. Which is not to say that gays aren’t using marriage to do the same, but these days I’m more interested in fighting for healthcare for all people regardless of marital status. Coalition building has never been gay America’s strong part, at least not where Black America is concerned, and that includes within Black gay America. Basically, there’s been a lot of talk but very little walk.
A perfect example of this is the fact that West Hollywood is all aglow with brides and grooms spending insane amounts of money in preparation to walk down aisle of holy matrimony, after the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. However, directly due south, there are gays and lesbians trying to figure out how to rob Peter to pay Paul, squeeze blood out of a turnip, and make money grow from trees. Marriage, while they may be interested in it, doesn’t come before the basics-rent, food, bills, etc. But those aren’t the gays that are on the evening news celebrating. And those aren’t the images of gays that most Blacks see. What they see are images of wealthy White men and women to which they connect to a group of White people who used the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement as a blueprint to spearhead their own, and in California successfully.
In the coming months leading up the general election where an initiative has qualified for the California ballot that would ban gay marriage, Blacks and gays will undoubtedly be pitted against each other by conservatives. They are going to try and use the Old Testament and fear to call for a short-term partnership to ban gay marriage in California, frenemies.
To the extent that any of this matters to me enough to say anything, it will be to point out to my brothers and sisters that historically, neither White gays or White conservatives have ever been known to have the best interest of Blacks at heart. I will gladly remind Blacks that at the end of the day, what I do in my bedroom isn’t going to impact their lives but the conservative policies that are often pushed by the same people asking them support the marriage ban will. I will be more than happy to explain that while I am a lesbian, I oftentimes have more in common with my heterosexual sista than I do with my White counterparts and that we shouldn’t be in the business of discriminating against our own because there are Black same-gender loving folks that are going to be affected by the ban as well.
The days of me pushing the agenda of folks who have not been able to demonstrate the capability of thinking outside of the ring are over. I have decided that I’d much rather focus my time and energies on movements and with people who want to build meaningful coalitions to effect change for all and not just a select few. That’s the movement I’m married to.
Jasmyne Cannick n is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. A regular contributor to NPR’s ‘News and Notes,’ she was chosen as one Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.