prop 8 town hall: “it was almost a dismissive response”

latriceAt 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. 

Read below…

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.  


12 Responses to “prop 8 town hall: “it was almost a dismissive response””

  1. November 25, 2008 at 6:25 am

    She didn’t wwant to use the word marriage when reaching out to the black community. Why? Marriage is so sacred in the black community that the majority of blakc children aren’t born out of wed lock?

  2. November 25, 2008 at 10:32 am

    I don’t doubt that these organizations were out of touch with racial minority communities within the state. Having a couple of press conferences with “Asian community leaders” and “African-American community leaders” isn’t going to sway anyone. I doubt No on 8 was handing our fliers in Watts, and Compton, and Inglewood because they, like many others in this election, discounted the votes of those who were previously disenfranchised or disillusioned with voting in the past. How dare those people of color vote, right?

  3. 3 sandy
    November 25, 2008 at 11:09 am

    As an African American, Latrice Johnson’s approach is exactly correct. Out reach to the African community is needed. And stressing the bigotry and hatefulness of prop 8 would have been much more productive. Black people know about and respond to injustice.

  4. 4 Hazel
    November 25, 2008 at 11:29 am

    I guess ousslander was on the committee. The issue was to defeat the measure, and you reach out to people differently. If this is an indication of what those who were responsible for defeating the measure thought of other opinions, it isn’t so shocking that they were unsuccessful.

  5. November 25, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I think this difference in ideology around how to approach the black community speaks directly to the difficulties in reaching the African-American community. By focusing on marriage as a civil rights issue through intentionally invoking the Civil Rights Movement, it’s as if the gay community is using the Civil Rights Movement to give credence to marriage equality, hijacking the imagery of the Civil Rights Movement to further an unrelated agenda. The thing I continue to not understand is how marriage equality folks could think that would be an effective way of promoting gay-rights to the African-American community. This isn’t to say that marriage isn’t a civil right or that this isn’t a civil rights issue but every issue involving a discriminated group, from woman’s lib to Chicano rights. In that sense, it’s not even worth mentioning. By making an association with the African-American rights movement as an argument for the gay-rights movement, one is essentially saying you (African-Americans) got what you wanted so we (the gay) deserve to get what we want. This isn’t an argument as much as it is a demand, one that doesn’t speak to the validity of either movement.

    The much better way of fostering solidarity between groups was the course of action that was firmly rejected, focus on where the Yes on 8 money is coming from. The enemy (to use overly simple terminology) of my enemy is my friend. You make the racist history of the Mormon Church know amongst the African-American community and support for it’s initiatives will dry out and crumble like autumn leaves. It would also open up the opportunity to remind straight African-Americans that we are your brothers and sisters too and don’t deserve to be hurt this way.

  6. 6 tcs
    November 26, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Thank you for posting this eye-opening interview. I knew there were sins of omission in the campaign, but I didn’t want to believe that our glbt organizations were so disrespectful and simply dense.

    At least I hope this will be yet another learning experience that should inform our future campaigns.

  7. 7 Shum Preston
    November 28, 2008 at 7:05 am

    Thank you for this. How offensive and short=sighted. It is my hope that the lgbt political movement can use this campaign as a learning experience, and we can work together in the future to build better, stronger, more inclusive coalitions for power.

    I think it showed great kindness and restraint on your part not to call out the specific staffers who ha bumbled this. Many in the community are responsible to different degress.

  8. November 30, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Well spoken!

    Although, I think it stinks that there is a battle against equal rights for all American citizens in the first place.

  9. 9 PG
    December 4, 2008 at 10:47 am

    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 hear a little bit more about this Prop 8 and who is actually behind the scenes.”

    I am glad to hear about where the No on 8 folks went wrong in their failures to reach out to African American (and Latino) communities, but I’m very disturbed by this “enemy of my enemy” vein of thought. The Mormon Church should be faulted for its current hetero/sexist stances on the demerits of those stances, instead of demonizing the church as a whole for racism in its past.

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