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Gay Marriage: The Black View

1sfTyW.WiPh2.91This weekend’s Pride celebration in Harlem (and everywhere!) will be extra joyful. Yesterday the Supreme Court “put a ring on it,” giving its blessing to LGBT marriage equality in two separate rulings.

This watershed moment also highlights a radical shift in African American attitudes toward LGBT issues. According to a March NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the majority of black voters (51 percent) support gay marriage.

Things looked very different in 2008. That year, a survey by the same pollsters found that most African Americans (53 percent) opposed gay marriage. And 70 percent of African Americans in California voted in favor of legislation banning gay marriage, unleashing a rabid debate on black “homophobia.”

Why the turnaround?

It started with the President Obama. Last year  he told ABC’s Robin Roberts, “I’ve just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”


His support is much stronger now. About yesterday’s ruling, his comment on Twitter speaks for itself.

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Energized by the support, the National Black Justice Coalition vigorously and aggressively pushed black LGBT issues and visibility front and center into the national conversation. The Washington-based advocacy group made alliances with the NAACP and civil rights icons like Julian Bond to speak out in support of gay rights.

(Click here to watch Julian Bond discuss LGBT equality.)

Larger, monied LGBT organizations took pains to correct past mistakes and include images of black gays and lesbians in their advocacy campaigns. And groups like Queers for Economic Justice and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice put marriage equality in the context of human rights. In fact, in a Facebook statement earlier today, Astraea executive director J. Bob Alotta, both applauded the Supreme Court for its gay rights descision, and scolded the justices for their retrograde stance on voting rights. She reminded her followers to “remain ever vigilant.”

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Black gay and lesbian media images have flourished over the past several years. The award-winning 2011 movie Pariah, a black lesbian coming of age story set in Brooklyn, sparked conversation and even received a shout-out from Meryl Streep at the Golden Globe awards.  Paula Patton played sympathetic lesbian in 2009’s Precious, and this year, the JLo-produced TV series The Fosters featuring a black lesbian mother, became part of ABC’s Monday night TV lineup.

And finally, growing numbers of African American celebrities—comedian Wanda Sykes, Frank Ocean and CNN’s Don Lemon– have spoken about their sexualty with ground-breaking frankness. Most recently, Jason Collins became the first NBA player to acknowledge his sexuality in a Sports Illustrated cover story, followed by basketball superstar Brittney Griner, the biggest name in the WNBA.


Still, African-American attitudes about LGBT issues remain far from lockstep. The flip side of 51 percent acceptance is the nearly 40 percent of black respondents who say they are against same sex marriage. And minutes after the Supreme Court decisions, a group of black pastors spoke out against marriage equality.

So where does that leave African American attitudes LGBT equality: it’s complicated.

the_new_blackTo learn more about the continuing debate, watch the brand-new documentary The New Black by Yoruba Richen, which highlights the fight for marriage equality among African Americans. And for a schedule of Harlem Pride events, click here.

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