David Kaufman's Misguided, Race-Based Rant on LGBT Rights -- and 'Homo-Toms'

"The signing of this bill marks a watershed moment for human rights in the District of Columbia," said Rev. Hardies. "No longer will gay and lesbian couples be denied the fundamental right to marriage in our nation's capital. I and the nearly 200 DC clergy who supported this bill look forward to celebrating the marriages of loving lesbian and gay couples in sanctuaries like this one all over our city. I applaud Mayor Fenty and the DC Council for standing on the side of love and ending discrimination against gay and lesbian Washingtonians."
-- Reverend Robert Hardies, co-chair of DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality, Senior Pastor of All Souls Church, Unitarian in Columbia Heights

Last week Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, ushering in marriage rights for same-sex couples.* It was be a significant day.

As we celebrate this victory, it is disturbing, hilarious and sad to see the commentary by David Kaufman of Transracial.net here on HuffPost, "Co-Opted: Marriage Equality's Civil Rights Rip-Off." It's yet another attempt to try to further divide the black and LGBT communities with incendiary language directed toward the one group that he accurately describes as invisible -- those who are black and gay.

Kaufman, who is black, makes several tired, overheated arguments that unfortunately overshadow extremely valid and genuine concerns about how race is affecting many facets of LGBT equality issues. For those who are black and not heterosexual, it's common to face negative comments from the religious black community, but in the LGBT community we are often considered suspect members of the "family." Alternately, we may be seen as:

1) too often focused on social justice issues affecting minorities even though there may be points of intersection;

2) giving blacks in the closet a pass because of the difficulty of coming out;

3) simply tokens of diversity within the visible LGBT movement and not qualifying participants in its overall monochromatic leadership.

But having to take blame for carrying water for elements of the LGBT community perceived as insensitive about race from yet another overwrought black voice is getting stale.

Who's the Homo-Tom?

It's pretty difficult to read something like the following and not say "the hell with this fool" but this deserves a response:

Most crucially, this entire sham renders Black LGBTs unnecessarily disheartened, conflicted and increasingly invisible. As for those who are seen, they're rarely heard unless puppeting the mantras of larger LGBT Inc. like some white-washed army of assimilationist Homo-Toms. Black Gay leaders who merely suggest a more nuanced narrative -- one where HIV treatment, social justice and economic equality are as important as marriage rights -- are immediately pounced upon by the cyber-Homostocracy and denounced as radicals and racists.

Who, exactly, is Kaufman referring to -- Julian Bond, or perhaps Congressman John Lewis -- two legends who put their lives on the line for black civil rights and are outspoken advocates for LGBT equality today? That's balls.

Perhaps he wasn't shooting that high, since Kaufman wasn't naming any names in his piece. Maybe Maybe I've earned another "endorsement" - my first blue ribbon one from the black side of the fence to join Peter LaBarbera's, Mike Hein's and James Hartline's. After all, there are only so many visible black LGBT activists out there; I'd actually appreciate it if he cited me by name so I can officially add it to my endorsement area of the blog.

*Barring Congressional interference (it must respond within 30 days whether it will vote on it or let marriage equality in DC remain in place).

With that it mind, it was disconcerting to see additional poorly-thought-out views, particularly reviving the meme that the gay civil rights struggle is co-opting the black civil rights movement and that blacks are seen THE problem standing between LGBTs and equality.

[S]ince the defeat of Proposition 8 last year, the Marriage Equality movement has been in a problematic pas de deux with Black America. On one hand, LGBT Inc. demands the right to appropriate the Civil Rights struggle wherever and whenever possible. Yet at the same time, it constantly blames Black folks for every same-sex marriage set back. From the Black church to Black singers to our Black president, somehow a mere 13.5 percent of the population is responsible for 100 percent of the problems.

The math alone should render this philosophy farcical. Yet reinforced by the mainstream LGBT media -- and regurgitated by their parasitical blogger proxies -- the blame-the-black-guy rhetoric is reaching an increasingly-heated fever-pitch.

Gee, the bloggers are parasites of the LGBT media -- is that another "endorsement"? How Kaufman can choose to overlook the fact that Dr. King shaped his movement based on the non-violent teachings of Gandhi is staggering -- was that a rip-off? Yes, but so what?

Certainly it's no poor reflection upon any movement that bases its principles on tried and true activism used by other oppressed groups. That has nothing to do with cultural comparisons, race, or religion. That there are offended members of the black community ignoring the obvious is not a reason to justify the ignorance of appropriating a whole movement and calling it a proprietary entity. That calls for dialogue, not caving in.

One note -- I don't have too many allies on that front, though, other than fellow LGBTs of color who feel the same way, because many non-minority LGBTs who would otherwise be supportive are loathe to say or do anything to counter the claimed "ownership" of "civil rights" or the comparison to the black civil rights movement for fear of being called racist. And they would be in some quarters. So it allows essayists like Kaufman to keep beating this dead horse and getting away with it. It's time to decloset and confront this, but again, there's not a lot of political courage out there to do so from my experience.

Anyway, Kaufman contributes to another myth -- that it's 24/7 marriage priority for our movement, as if that's the only issue we find commonality with (pointing specifically to Loving v. Virginia) regarding the black civil rights movement:

[T]hose were my parents back in hippie-dippie San Francisco. And while I am clearly pleased they were allowed their union, mixed-race coupledom was a benefit of the Civil Rights movement -- not its goal (See: voter rights, an end to lynching, desegregation, economic empowerment, etc). Stating otherwise not only reflects a fundamental confusion about Civil Rights successes -- but disses the very people who made them happen.

Particularly African-Americans.

No it doesn't. Has Kaufman forgotten the existence of Bayard Rustin, who made the March on Washington happen? Again black and gay - and yet Kaufman renders him invisible, something he charges others with. Perhaps the words of Rustin may stimulate a more positive viewpoint by Kaufman.

"Indeed, if you want to know whether today people believe in democracy, if you want to know whether they are true democrats, if you want to know whether they are human rights activists, the question to ask is, 'What about gay people?' Because that is now the litmus paper by which this democracy is to be judged."

"There are four burdens, which gays, along with every other despised group, whether it is blacks following slavery and reconstruction, or Jews fearful of Germany, must address.

The first is to recognize that one must overcome fear. The second is overcoming self-hate. The third is overcoming self-denial.

The fourth burden is more political. It is to recognize that the job of the gay community is not to deal with extremist who would castrate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us.

The fact of the matter is that there is a small percentage of people in America who understand the true nature of the homosexual community. There is another small percentage who will never understand us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That's our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment."

You see, the whole "Prop 8 passed because of blacks" fable was blown away many months ago, but to be honest, there are still gay people out there with racial biases and hold that inaccuracy close to heart. I really do understand where Kaufman is coming from, but he's missing a crucial, factual detail. The commonality in the discussions about homophobia (in the black community and generally) is that the most relevant factors in these anti-gay votes are whether someone is a frequent church-goer and what their level of education is, not race. If there are more church-going blacks in a given population, it stands to reason that many, but not all would not support marriage equality. But that's not a reason to assume all are, or for feeling that religion must be a third rail topic. LGBTs do need to respect and address religion, not sweep under the rug as irrelevant to the discussion.

The tragedy of Kaufman's essay is that there are essential, difficult truths hidden behind anger and mischanneled resentment like this:

The endless defeats plaguing the Marriage Equality movement should serve as a wake-up call to its impotent leadership and encourage a period of post-mortem introspection. Moreover, it confirms the ineffectiveness and disingenuousness of their divide-and-conquer tactics.

I agree -- it's time for a wake up call for the LGBT movement in terms of ballot initiatives and defeats. We do need the reality check that winning in this (unconstitutional) manner is going to happen in very few states, ignoring gains that could be made at the state and federal level to help LGBTs in more places faster. But the assumption that the defeats are due to divide-and-conquer tactics is ludicrous. What is true is that mistakes were made in the LGBT community's own assumptions about race and outreach to communities of color and getting out that vote. Bypassing entire communities because one is afraid to confront hostility and defensiveness at one front door, does NOT mean you will not find support at the next house.

For those of us used to confronting hostility and bias because of our race in the dominant culture (voting while black, hailing a cab while black, shopping and driving while black), this is par for the course. And not because our skin is necessarily thicker -- see how the studies on the effects of racism on blood pressure/stress in blacks bear out the impact it can have on us. Those whites concerned about exposing one's self temporarily to that particular kind of racial stress for the greater good of equality should see this as a self-teachable moment that expands your world view about where we really stand in terms of gay and minority tensions, rather than making assumptions. But David Kaufman, like most of us, assumes way too much without acknowledging all of the picture. That's something we can be proactive about addressing, rather than unproductively ranting about. After all...

Felix Unger: [to woman on witness stand] Ah... you *assumed*. My dear, you should never *assume*. You see, when you *assume* [writes the word "assume" on a blackboard] Felix Unger: , you make an *ass*... out of *you*... and *me*.
-- Felix in the episode "My Strife in Court" (66)