Same-sex marriage. Any discrimination against gays in federal hiring. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no longer the law of the land. All of these issues are at the forefront today as the LGBT community lays out an aggressive equality agenda; but within the LGBT community there is a quiet, but steady, drumbeat that the same folks fighting for equality across America ignore equality with their Black, LGBT brothers and sisters.
Dr. Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Cleo Manago, CEO and founder of Black Men’s Xchange; and Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss the inequality within the LGBT movement.
MR. MARTIN: Welcome back.
Same-sex marriage. Any discrimination against gays in federal hiring. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no longer the law of the land. All of these issues are at the forefront today as the LGBT community lays out an aggressive equality agenda; but within the LGBT community there is a quiet, but steady, drumbeat that the same folks fighting for equality across America ignore equality with their black, LGBT brothers and sisters.
Here to discuss the inequality within the LGBT movement [are] Dr. Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Cleo Manago, CEO and founder of Black Men’s Xchange; and Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity.
Folks, welcome to the show.
MR. EARL FOWLKES: Thank you.
DR. DARLENE NIPPER: Thank you.
MR. MARTIN: This is a discussion that, over the years, I’ve talked with a number of brothers and sisters who are gay, who said, “Roland, these things are happening, and folks are afraid to talk about it publicly because, just like black women during the Civil Rights Movement, they say, ‘Things are happening. There’s progress. We don’t want to slow that down by having a conversation.’”
Do you have that same belief that it has been talked about, but nobody really wanted to talk about it publicly and put it out there to sort of stop the progress, if you will?
MR. CLEO MANAGO: It’s my perspective that the gay community – or, the white, gay community, as I call it – because I think the whole thing is pretty predominantly gay – a lot of black people do not want to be publicly associated with that community.
MR. MARTIN: Why?
MR. MANAGO: So, they don’t complain about the racism in it, because that means there would be a public association. So, this community, as a rule, from my perspective, is one of the most racist communities in terms of there being very little challenge to how they operate over time. It’s a particularly racist community.
MR. MARTIN: Earl, what do you think about that?
MR. FOWLKES: Well, you know, the truth of the matter is that most black, LGBT, same gender-loving people do not live in the white, gay community. We live in the black community, so our identity – the majority of the people I know all over the country – our identity is with black folks. We live in black neighborhoods. We do – we’re a part of black institutions.
The white, gay institutions are in the “gayborhood.” We’re not welcome there. And so that’s always been the situation. It has changed a little bit, but not a whole lot.
MR. MARTIN: I was talking to Jasmyne Cannick a couple of years ago. She wrote a column where she was highly critical of a white, gay, male comedian who uses this Shirley Q. Liquor character, where he plays this New Orleans mom [who] lives in public housing, [has] a whole bunch of kids. [He] wears blackface, talks Ebonics.
So, she writes this piece, and she got blasted on her own website. They called her the n-word, all kinds of names. And she said, “Roland, I’m raising an issue.” White gays didn’t want to talk about it, shut it down, and she said, “I got black-balled as a result,” and she said, “And here’s something that I’m offended by,” she said, “as a black lesbian, but white gays and lesbians said, ‘How dare you criticize somebody we think is funny!’”
And she said that was an example of, she said, this struggle where “I’m trying to raise an issue, and folks who say, ‘Look, you should just be quiet because the guy is funny. Just let it go.’”
DR. NIPPER: No, absolutely. I mean I think that, again, there are pervasive problems both within and outside of the LGBT community. And, you know, I love Cleo; and, you know, we’ve known each other for a long time.
MR. MARTIN: Yeah, he’s not – he hasn’t been shy about challenging the infrastructure.
DR. NIPPER: But I think that is our exact role. That is our role – to challenge the infrastructure – but what I say is that we all need to do this. And we all need to do it from the places and from the angles in which we actually can operate effectively.
So, I think that many times I’ve been inside of the very predominantly white mental health community. You know, my role in that community is both to do the work that I’m doing in the community to affect all of the people that I’m working for, and in particular, obviously to affect African-American people, because that’s a community of which I feel that I am a part.
I mean as Sharon Lettman likes to say, “I’m black, too.” The National Black Justice Coalition works to ensure that black LGBT people also get to sort of raise their issues within the context of the movement, and I think our work is to be at those intersections – because the reality is there are black people who are LGBT. There are LGBT people who are Black, and both of the communities need to address the issues effectively.
MR. MARTIN: Cleo, you haven’t been shy about it. You talked about many of these organizations have virtually all-white staffs, don’t have diversity among those staffs, and the black perspective is missing. … so, for instance, I was talking to a gentleman in Chicago, and he said many white gays don’t understand when they talk about, “Oh, no. We’re the same as the black civil rights movement.”
And black folks – he said, “I’m a black, gay guy going, ‘Hey, why don’t y’all ask us how that sounds to African-Americans?’” ’Cause … isn’t not having enough black folks at the table and listening to those perspectives part of the problem in terms of not understanding – to your point, Earl – “We’re black. We get it, and this is the community we live in”?
MR. MANAGO: Well, I have a different perspective. I mean I think that what you’re raising is important in terms of being at the table, but I’m not interested in spending a lot of time at that table because – I mean I think that the kind[s] of resources that come to that table should be trickled down into black communities, but our community has to learn how to love itself and embrace itself as black people who are same gender-loving. And we have a lot of –
MR. MARTIN: And you say you don’t use “LGBT.” You prefer “same gender-loving.”
MR. MANAGO: — yeah, to me, the LGBT construct is what it is. It’s this white construct that we’re talking about right now, that tends to be predominantly white, that tends to benefit mostly white people and tends to include and invite white people and discourage black people [from] talk[ing] about issues that are relevant to them as black people. I’m not interested in trying to adapt to a community that encourage[s] us not to deal with our own issues and that dismisses our own issues – perpetually.
So, the work that I do is inside the confines of the black community and trying to get black people to learn to normalize, address and engage the fact that same gender-loving people exist and to make up for that long gap in affirmation and support that we’ve had that’s led to lots of casualties. I mean the inability to resolve HIV/AIDS going 30 years in, which is a resolvable issue in theory, is still off the chain because we keep on going through a white door to get to black people –
DR. NIPPER: But what do you –
MR. MANAGO: — instead of going right to –
DR. NIPPER: — say to the African-American –
MR. MANAGO: — the black community.
DR. NIPPER: — but what do you say to the African-American leaders in the African-American community about those issues? I agree with your point, and I think that you should choose to do what works for you. But my question becomes, “Where’s the responsibility of the African-American community and the African-American leaders to whom you” – which I agree. I agree that both communities need to take leadership on these issues.
So, I understand holding the LGBT community accountable and not wanting to be a part of it. That’s great. My question is, “How do we hold everyone to task?” – because –
MR. MANAGO: Well, your fir- —
DR. NIPPER: — all of us need to be able to –
MR. MANAGO: — well, your first question was, “How do we hold the African-American leaders accountable?” That was –
DR. NIPPER: Sure.
MR. MANAGO: — the first question.
DR. NIPPER: Yeah.
MR. MANAGO: And I think you should know that my work, because it’s been contextualized in a black community context, has attracted the likes of Louis Farrakhan, who invited me to speak in 2005 at the Million Man March commemoration. It has involved people like Al Sharpton. It has involved people like Molefi Asante. It’s been – because the work is culturally resonant with black people, all kinds of black people have come to be engaged in the conversation.
The white, gay context has not [been] attracted to our community because of its racism and its perpetual white face. We don’t —
DR. NIPPER: Well, it has not –
MR. MANAGO: — feel – we don’t feel any resonance with it –
DR. NIPPER: — and I think – [crosstalk] –
MR. MANAGO: — the leadership or the community.
DR. NIPPER: — this is another problem where we – and I do it, too – you know, where we make these communities as though they are monolithic communities.
In fact, obviously, there’s a lot of diversity within the African-American community, and there’s an extraordinary amount of diversity within the LGBT community –
MR. FOWLKES: But you know what – [crosstalk] –
DR. NIPPER: — regardless of the reality –
MR. FOWLKES: — but you know what Darlene?
DR. NIPPER: — of what the issues –
MR. FOWLKES: This –
DR. NIPPER: — are.
MR. FOWLKES: — this is how I view it. You know, Rosa Parks – she decided to sit down in the front of the bus because she didn’t want to stand in the back of the bus. So, the roadmap has been set for me. I’m not going to stand in the back of the LGBT bus.
DR. NIPPER: I think that’s great!
MR. FOWLKES: However, I’m not going to stand in the back of the black bus because I’m a gay man.
DR. NIPPER: That’s exactly –
MR. FOWLKES: And so there’s –
DR. NIPPER: — my point.
MR. FOWLKES: — a balance. You know, we have to deal with homophobia within the black community and sexism within the black community, but we still have to deal with racism in the white community. And the fact is oftentimes the white LGBT community wants us to carry the water on homophobia in the black community without addressing the racism in the white, gay community.
MR. MARTIN: Here’s something interesting I saw happen with Trayvon Martin, and that is I see many LGBT groups – you call them essentially white organizations – virtually silent on Trayvon Martin. Call themselves civil rights organizations. Silent. No press releases, no statements.
DR. NIPPER: Um-hum.
OFF CAMERA: It took them a minute.
MR. MARTIN: Yet, there are demands on black organizations, “When are you going to speak out on the issues?”
And I remember “the New York Times” did a story when there was a gathering in New York about the stop-and-frisk, and the story dealt with largely white gays, who said, “Hey, we need to come out in support of this effort,” because African-Americans – the NAACP had just affirmed same-sex marriage, had passed a resolution. And they said, “We need to come out on this issue.”
And I’ve heard from many blacks within civil rights organizations who said, “Man! They’re wanting us to endorse issues, but are silent on issue that we care about.”
And that also, I think, Cleo, has led to some of that friction as well, by saying, “Wait a minute. You keep asking black folks, ‘Stand with us. Be behind us,’ but then when black folks say, ‘Where are you?’ then you’re silent.”
DR. NIPPER: Absolutely. I mean I think that’s a very critical issue. And for me, at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, what I love about the work that we do and the way that we do our work is that we actually are focused on the intersections. And so we were the leaders not because stop-and-frisk, you know – because someone was asking us we need to step up, but because we had built a long history of being involved and engaged with those organizations over a period of time, where we have dealt with those issues for a very, very long time. And that’s what’s critically important –
MR. MARTIN: I want to –
DR. NIPPER: — to [crosstalk].
MR. MARTIN: — take a break. I want to pick up on that, though, when we come back; because, again, it’s a huge issue among African-Americans. And I hear it all the time by saying –
DR. NIPPER: Sure.
MR. MARTIN: — “Wait a minute. You want us to be there, but you’re not there for us. It can’t just be one-sided.”