At the African American Town Hall I got to speak at length to Latrice Johnson of the group United Lesbians of African Heritage, or ULOAH, a non-profit that’s been around for nearly two decades promoting the health and safety of Black lesbians, During her panel she revealed how her organization first interacted with the larger marriage equality campaign.
Johnson said her group was approached by marriage equality activists after the California Supreme Court decision in May permitted same-sex civil marriage and were asked for stories and images showing happy nuptials. ULOAH put some examples together, but soon heard back that what they really wanted were the stories and pictures of multiracial couples.
I caught up with Johnson afterwards, and asked her more about what transpired, including her contention that the larger No on 8 campaign did not want to listen to campaign strategies that would be the most effective in the African-American community. That’s if there was interest in engaging Blacks at all.
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.
When did you have that conversation?
It was a month prior to the elections. It was a concern after, I believe, the L.A. Times or the New York Times came out implying that black people will be coming out in grater numbers and it was going to affect Prop 8 because of the black vote and the fear of that. From there, I was like, “Okay, how can I get involved?” It was dismissive. It was kind of like it didn’t matter.
Who was that person?
I’m going to decline to say the names. I will say it was a representative from the organization itself. Once we addressed how we wanted to address our own community, it wasn’t good enough. They wanted to use the word marriage, and we, as an organization and as many of the local organizations, such as In the Meantime…we didn’t want to approach our communities necessarily with the same agenda. And because of that, that was one of the reasons I believe—and it’s just an opinion—that we weren’t called to the table.
They wanted to use the word marriage, and you suggested marriage wasn’t a word to use with the African-American community?
Correct. For me, personally, for ULOAH, I wanted us to showcase who was funding Prop 8, and really focus on that because we know how the black community responds to marriage. If we knew the Mormon Church was one of the top supporters of Prop 8 possibly (the African-American community) would have backed off, we would have said, “hmm, let’s here a little but more about this Prop 8 and who is actually behind the scenes.”
That was our strategy, was just to give light to who was in full support of Prop 8, who was funding it. And that approach, it didn’t phase them, it was like, “No, that’s not a direction we want to go in. We want to talk about marriage equal for all, we want to talk about civil rights, we want to we want to talk about what Blacks have gone through in the 50’s and 60’s and equate that to the experience we are currently in right now,” and that is not the route we wanted to take. So I would say there may have been some issues with the approach and the agenda…and we perhaps couldn’t come to a meeting of the minds on that.
Where do you see this going forward?
We have to work on public opinion and we have to, as African Americans, go into the communities (and create leadership). But it really is the law. As far as going back, interracial marriage, civil rights was taking place in the legal system. I think we really need to be patient—not patient in the sense of back off—but patient in the sense of letting the courts handle this. The courts know what’s in the best interests of the community, of people in general. But in the interim we need to be working in our own communities, creating dialogue and sharing stories. We become less gay and more human when we do that.