Is Benjamin Jealous Trying to Push the NAACP to Support Gay Marriage? Or Just Letting the Chips Fall?

Julian Bond, the awesome NAACP chairman who is stepping down to make room for Roslyn Brock, is not the final say for the organization. He’s a liaison. So the real strategizing falls to president Benjamin Todd Jealous, who continues to gloss over any commitment to gay black Americans’ right to marry the people they love.

In a new Big Think interview, Jealous makes some good points about the NAACP’s involvement on gay issues. Uganda, ENDA, the Matthew Shepard Act. Great stuff.

But he continues pointing to the unavoidable but unfortunate reality that his group’s base is very religious, which is why he refuses to push the NAACP to officially support same-sex marriage. Worth noting: Jealous himself supports it. His brother is gay, and HIV positive, and he says he’s a big supporter of his.

“So, we had been involved, you know, gay people have been involved in the NAACP for a long time,” says Jealous. “The NAACP has been supportive of a broad civil human rights agenda in this country, including rights for gay and lesbian people, for a long time and many of our most outspoken leaders are very outspoken on the issue of marriage equality and many are outspoken against it. And like any other democratic organization, trade union, what have you, it’s being worked through. And the way that one side wins or the other is that they decide that they want the membership of the NAACP to be supportive of this one particular part of the agenda more than the other side does. And right now it seems to be a bit of a toss-up.”

This follows what Jealous has said previously: “If gay rights groups want to change the opinion polls in the black community, they have to invest in it. It’s a long-term conversation. The battle to oppose Prop 8 could have been much better run. They came to the black community late, with the expectation that they were going to get certain results.”

Fair enough. But like any democratic organization, there is leadership. Mr. Jealous is the NAACP’s leader. And he should be working to show how the NAACP’s base, no matter how religious, that they should — and must — support marriage equality not just because it is the right thing to do for the gay community, but because it’s the right thing to do for the black community. As if it’s possible to separate the two.

For the same reason gay activist leaders, like the Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese, should not “wait” for the black community to come to him to support its agenda. We’re all in this together, kids.

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  • reason

    Fairly good assessment from Queerty, I will deviate a little from your leadership part in saying that it is a little far-fetched to forcefully relay to the religious base that it is good for the religious community or any other at that. If the leader wants to stay in power long enough to effect change, I would advise a different approach; one of the fundamental components of leadership is coalition building, the NAACP and the GLBT Inc. have failed miserably at it. A minority group will never be able to move forward if they don’t have an advocate in the majority, to get that it takes sincere investment. I will avoid restating a piece I wrote on the blogs before, but if the gay community makes significant efforts to work on some of the issues plaguing the African American community they will find friends, even religious ones, and that goes for any community. The communities can continue to play chicken and harp on who should reach out first or if only one section of the GLBT community is responsible for reaching out, but that will lead to nothing more then the status quo which I reckon very few people on this site are satiated with. Bond has shown up at HRC and given interviews, maybe it would be wise for Solmonese or some one more substantial to show up at the NAACP or give their thoughts on how to move forward.

  • Chitown Kev

    I actually like Queerty’s take on this.

    But the comments…oh, the comments. Those will be interesting.

  • AndrewW

    Members of the NAACP surely remembers that religion used to endorse slavery. Today, religion still trumps equality.

    Jealous should learn to frame the issue of LGBT Equality for the NAACP – it is simply a “yes” or “no” question.

    Currently, the NAACP does NOT support equality for everyone. THEY should change that, not us – as Jealous has suggested. Equality is not a popularity contest, it is a basic human principle. They can get off their religious asses and take a stand. Others did that for them.

  • Jasun

    I still don’t understand why the NAACP is being forced to address gay issues, or take a stance about a community that they aren’t set up to serve or adhere to. I don’t expect GLAAD to have a platform for issues involving people of color either. Each group is set up to help advance the social progress of their respective interest/network/community. They aren’t sisters or cousins…and shouldn’t be forced to do “extra credit” work for each other.

    So long as they don’t promote hatred of gays and lesbians, I’d be fine with the NAACP not speaking of gays at all. Gays aren’t their agenda.


    @Jasun: And truth be told, I don’t see as much pressure being put on GLAAD to be “Black”-inclusive. The gay community, on a semi-regular basis, glares at the NAACP to see where they stand on their issues, and turns their noses up at them when they don’t see a definitive gay-inclusive stance or could be doing more. On the other hand, I rarely– if ever–see the black community holding GLAAD’s feet to the flame about anything.

  • tricky

    The NAACP should represent all people of color or no one at all. There are many black gays that discriminated against by others, to include other black people. That is why the NAACP should have a LGBT agenda. I don’t know how they will be relevant without Mr. Bond.

  • AndrewW

    Plus they need something to keep them relevant.

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