Jeffrey King, a gay man prominent in the African-American community, says the campaign ignored advice from black gay and lesbian activists about counteracting cultural opposition to gay marriage.
“We told them what should be done,” says King, executive director of In The Meantime Men’s Group, a South Los Angeles outreach organization for gay black men, “we told them what they shouldn’t do—and they did what they wanted to do.”
“This clearly is not the time to call black folks out and say we were to blame,” King says. “There was not enough outreach. Period.”
And at least one gay black leader—Latrice Johnson of United Lesbians of African Heritage—who reached out to the "No on 8" campaign was rebuffed:
How did the No on 8 bring your organization into the larger campaign? Were you approached?
We weren’t approached, however I did make attempts, as did many of our staff and volunteers made attempts to reach out and let them know we were certainly willing to come to the table and help out. Unfortunately we were not approached. It was almost a dismissive response.
Did you go to the Gay and Lesbian Center, did you go to California Equality…
All of the above. And Let Freedom Ring. We were approached basically to kind of showcase some of the couples especially when the courts permitted same-sex marriage. We were immediately approached, “do you have any couples who are going to get married?” However, they were looking for mixed couples, they weren’t looking for African-American couples, from the message that was provided to me. So it wasn’t a real attempt to get us involved in the marketing process, or also kind of going into our communities and canvassing and trying to educate our community on the issues of Prop 8.
Did anyone come and say, “Hey, we need to do outreach in the African-American community together?”
Absolutely not, in fact the message I got from a key person in the No on 8 campaign was that the black vote was really going to be insignificant. It’s not enough, that it wasn’t going to be an issue because we are not a majority of the vote, even though they knew that a large number was going to come out to vote for Obama. It wasn’t a fear because they didn’t feel like the numbers were going to affect (Prop 8 ) either way.
The black vote, as it happens, was far from insignificant—it made up 10% of the vote in California.
In fact, according to exit polls, 70% of blacks voted for Prop 8, 51% of whites voted against, 53% of Latinos voted for, and 51% of Asians voted against. 10% of voters were black. Had the black pro-Prop-8 vote been closer to 50% - or 20% less than it was - that would have meant a 2% overall change in the vote (20% of 10% is 2%). How much did we lose by? A little over 2% (there was a 4 point spread, so that means if we gain 2%, the bad guys lose 2%).
Which brings us back to the analysis of Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, which we posted here on Slog on November 9:
“They didn’t do enough work in the communities of color. On the other hand, communities of color demonstrated an awfully bigoted vote.”
The more we learn about the "No on Prop 8" campaign the clearer the picture gets: The people running "No on 8" were almost criminally negligent—utterly clueless, thoroughly useless, and a full purge is in order. We need to hold them responsible for what they did and did not do; at the very least none of these people should never work in positions of authority in queer politics ever again—they're barely fit to work phone banks.
We'll never know if the outcome would have been different if campaign had bothered to do real outreach to the African American community—to both gay and straight African Americans—but this vote was ours to lose going in, according to polls, and we lost it in part because, as Harris-Lacewell called it just days after the vote, the "No on 8" campaign "didn’t do enough work in the communities of color." But as Harris-Lacewell also said, communities of color—and other communities—demonstrated an awfully bigoted vote. Yes, the "No on 8" campaign blew goats. But voters who stripped same-sex couples of their right to wed were motivated by bigotry, plain and simple, and there has to be some responsibility there too. African American voters were ignored by the leadership of the "No on 8" campaign; gays and lesbians of all colors were failed by a criminally inept "No on 8" campaign. But it has to be said that it's gays and lesbians who were victimized in California—by the voters, not by the "No on 8" campaign.
When a minority group is targeted for discrimination, when their rights are under assault at the ballot box, the ineptness of the political campaign waged to defend that minority does not excuse the actions of voters who back discrimination. White people ultimately have a responsibility not to be racist; men have a responsibility not to be sexist; Gentiles have a responsibility not to be anti-Semitic.
And straight people—of whatever race, or whatever religion—have a responsibility not to be homophobic.