Black, Gay Group Bridging Divide

Regardless of race, gay marriage activists want the same thing: a white wedding.
While there were certainly black and gay activists who had no problem understanding the NBJC’s mission, others weren’t so in-tune. Many of the group’s presumed allies scoffed at their inclusive objective. Not surprisingly, some black organizations wondered why race couldn’t be the sole activist focus, while gays failed to grasp NBJC’s issue advocacy and racialized centrality. These conflicts are most evident, says Robinson, in the NBJC’s fights against hate crimes, which come in myriad shapes and colors:

When we have focused on issues that take a particularly racial angle, for example, our work on hate crimes and biased crimes – they can hate crimes about race, or issues around the criminal justice system – we have been pushed from activists in the gay community, saying “Well, you’re supposed to be a gay organization, these aren’t black, gay issues,” insisting that we are sister or ally groups. Many of these issues to them are not “gay.”

Jasper Hendricks, who heads NBJC’s political arm, echoed Robinson’s remarks, specifically citing the shooting death of Sean Bell, a black man shot down by New York City police the night before his wedding. NBJC joined other black rights groups in pushing for prosecution. The cops were eventually acquitted.

Robinson also lamented an apparent preference among gay rights coverage, specifically with regard to the deaths of Lawrence King and Simmie Williams, Jr. The former was shot in school, while Williams, black and dressed in drag, died on the street. Both were shot, yet the lighter-skinned King’s slaying took the national spotlight. Those stories, however gruesome, are only a drop in the bucket – and most go unnoticed, says Robinson. When asked whether he felt racism influenced gay groups and media’s energies, Robinson replies, “Racism exists,” but later offers further explanation:

There certainly were instances where we felt that there was a lack of recognition for the need of the organization or the differences we had on policies – no, on priorities and cultural messaging. I think more so than outright racism, there were racial disparities, whether you’re talking about issues around funding or efforts to help us on issues pertaining gay and lesbian people of color. All of that makes being able to grow a sustainable effort in the community a challenge.

Despite the various challenges, NBJC grew at an exceptional rate, forming alliances with groups on both sides of the perceived racial divide, such as HRC, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, queer inclusive Metropolitan Community Church, the Black Justice Forum, and the NAACP. Meanwhile, in terms of religious outreach, Rhue has built sustainable bridged between MCC, Unity Forum and other religious organizations, including polytheistic groups, like Buddhist and Hindu organizations.

As mentioned above, the group has also formed a political arm, the NBJC Action Fund. Realizing their limitations – they’ve only got about 15,000 members and an annual budget of about $400,000, a little less than half the NBJC’s – the Fund works largely at the local level distributing legislative alerts, insuring voters have proper identification on election day and, also, have set up an online voter registration. They’ve also endorsed Keisha Waites, who’s running for a Congressional seat in Georgia.