by David Shankbone
After Proposition 8 passed, many gay people were angered by the 70% African-American support rate for the anti-Gay California measure. The media outlets, particularly Fox News, were keen to take the focus away from the conservative Mormon church’s involvement in Prop. 8′s passage, which spurred large nationwide protests.
Fox News et al. created the appearance of a “war” between the reliably-Democratic voting blocks of Blacks and gays. Stephen Colbert ridiculed this in several segments [on Colbert Nation].Nevertheless, there was a modicum of truth to it as the gay and Black communities have had a long, complicated relationship. Although civil rights icons like Coretta Scott King, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jacksonhave endorsed social justice and marriage for gay people, their followers remain unconvinced.
Homophobia is rampant in the African-American community. Andrew Sullivan writes that, “The Black church is one of the most powerful forces fomenting homophobia in America, and has fostered attitudes that have literally killed countless gay Black men.” Dan Savage, who after seeing the Proposition 8 support broken-down by race, expressed his outrage:
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.
Porn king Michael Lucas has cited homophobia as the reason he can’t find more Black models for his films. Responding to a letter he received on his blog, Lucas wrote:
I would love to use more, but unfortunately, Black models are not that open to appearing in adult gay films. It of course has a lot to do with the rampant homophobia in the African-American community, and models are just scared of being in productions.
African-Americans ignore the homophobia in their community, but gays tend to ignore the racism in their own. I have seen many gay men reveling in guilty giggles after they’ve shared a racist joke.
This racism has an impact. According to a recent study by H. Fisher Raymond and Willi McFarland, from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the social barriers Black men face may be responsible for the raging AIDS epidemic in their community. Other races find Black men undesirable, limiting their diversity of sexual partners.
The perception is that Black men are most likely to transmit HIV. African Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for 57 percent of new AIDS infections. According to the study:
Black gay men are the least preferred of sexual partners by other races, according to the interview data. Black men also are perceived to be riskier to have sex with, which can lead to men of other races avoiding Black men as sexual partners. They are also perceived as less welcome in the common social venues of gay men in San Francisco. As a result, Black men are three times more likely to have sexual partners that are also Black, than would be expected by chance alone.
In the study authors’ view, the combination of attitudes on the part of non-Black gay men, friendships and social networks that are less likely to include Blacks, and the environments found in gay venues serve to separate Black gay men from other groups. Consequently, the sexual networks of Blacks are pushed to be more highly interconnected than other groups, with the potential for a more rapid spread of HIV and a higher sustained prevalence of infection among Black gay men.
Homophobia and racism between Blacks and gays are problems that have hit a brick wall, as neither community trusts nor desires to engage the other. As the passage of Proposition 8 and the Black AIDS epidemic show, both communities suffer for their mutual bigotry.