Dividing and Conquering Blacks and Gays in North Carolina

An event unlikely to be repeated in North Carolina.

The foes of same-sex marriage may be acting out of reactionary bigotry, but that doesn’t make them stupid.   They learned well the lessons of the Proposition 8 playbook written in California and are employing the same tactics in North Carolina.  Divide the Black and the LGBT communities and use one against the other.

Some background on how the National Organization for Marriage is working their hustle.  First comes theory:

When a light is shined into the dark corners of American politics, it’s never pleasant to see what scurries away. Last week, a federal judge in Maine unsealed memos from the National Organization for Marriage, one of the most prominent groups fighting against same-sex marriage.

They relate to a case filed over whether the group must disclose the donors that helped underwrite a 2009 ballot initiative that overturned the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage. The group uses its designation as a social welfare organization to avoid federal disclosure, but the memos dispel any notion that the claim has any legitimacy. National Organization for Marriage is a political group, through and through.

 The documents brag about its “crucial” role in passage of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage that was overturned by a federal appeals court. They describe the group’s use of “robo-calls” to scare residents in different states away from supporting marriage equality. They talk of a plan to “expose Obama as a social radical,” but the most appalling portions deal with the group’s racially and ethnically divisive strategies.

 “The strategic goal of the project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies,” the memo says, describing an initiative called the “Not a Civil Right Project.”

 The project’s goal, according to the memo, was to recruit blacks who opposed same-sex marriage to represent the group, and then “provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.”

 Another stated aim is to manipulate Hispanic voters by making the exclusion of gay people from marriage “a key badge of Latino identity.”

Next comes practice:

As North Carolinians head to the polls next week to vote on the fate of a state constitutional amendment to bar gay marriage and civil unions, the controversial measure can already claim at least one clear winner: The National Organization for Marriage. Exposed in March as seeking to drive a wedge between African-Americans and gay rights groups, the conservative group has found North Carolina — which is 21 percent black — a fertile playing field for its divide and conquer tactics.

Armed with both NOM money and strategic know-how, state level groups such as Vote FOR Marriage NC have deftly deployed the race debate to court black clergy and voters in their attempt to ensure that North Carolina is no longer the only Southern state whose constitution does not bar same-sex marriage. Passed by the legislature in September 2011 as “An Act to Amend the Constitution to Provide That Marriage Between One Man and One Woman is the Only Domestic Legal Union That Shall Be Valid or Recognized in This State,” the measure goes before voters for ratification on May 8 as Amendment 1.

 “Our efforts have certainly involved a broad coalition of individuals and organizations, including African-American pastors,” said Rachel Lee, a spokesperson for Vote FOR Marriage NC. Although pro-equality forces have mounted an aggressive fight against the amendment, NOM’s cynical blend of rhetoric and religion has successfully placed ethnicity — as much as equality — at the heart of the pro-Amendment 1 campaign.

 “NOM has injected race into this conversation as an explicit strategy to drive a wedge between blacks and gays,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, the nation’s leading marriage equality advocacy group. “Anti-gay forces have deliberately funneled money into North Carolina [African-American] churches to enlist their leaders as messengers of their agenda.”

 Anchoring the push are pro-Amendment 1 black clerics from North Carolina and around the nation with strong ties to NOM, such as Maryland’s Bishop Harry R. Jackson, who’s also leading the effort to overturn his own state’s recent law granting gays the right to marry, and Philadelphia-based Rev. Herbert Lusk, who appears in one of NOM’s latest video campaigns, “Is Gay Marriage a Civil Right? African-American and Latino Leaders Speak Out.” In April, Rev. George D. McKinney of San Diego helped launched an initiative for NOM with the Coalition of African American Pastors to collect 100,000 signatures around the country on behalf of keeping marriage something restricted to opposite-sex couples in North Carolina.

Anybody want to take bets on how this money and manipulation plays out at the polls in conservative North Carolina?

The groups fighting the Right in N.C. are trying not to repeat the post-Proposition 8 blame game where gays slammed Black support for the ballot measure which only hardened divisions between the two communities.

Conservative groups have caught the most fire for fueling race-based animosity toward gay marriage, but progressive leaders have also played a role in stoking discord between the leaders of black and gay activist groups. The race question regarding same-sex marriage first cropped up in 2008, when California blacks — a mere 6 percent of state voters — were blamed by some gay leaders for the passage of Proposition 8 in the wake of reports in The Washington Post and CNN that exit polls showed seven in 10 black voters backing the measure barring marriage equality.

 Although subsequent analysis found black support for Proposition 8 was only 6 percent higher than on average — instead of nearly 20 percent — the specter of black homophobia has loomed over the marriage equality movement ever since. “I certainly think the black community got a bum rap following the Prop. 8 vote,” observed veteran activist Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality North Carolina, the state’s leading pro-LGBT non-profit. “And we had no one to blame but ourselves for not more effectively conveying our message to communities across the state.”

What is also distressing is the clumsy response by some pro-gay marriage groups where they have artlessly appropriated the iconic imagery of the civil rights era in an ham-fisted attempt to equate the two struggles.

Nonetheless, an anti-Amendment1 ad campaign by the group Every1Against1 confrontationally compares the battle for gay rights to the one by African Americans for civil rights in the segregated South. With its stark images of a water fountain, a lunch counter, and the back of a bus, the campaign brazenly re-imagines central scenes in 1960s Civil Rights fight. Insensitive — if not downright offensive — messaging such as this, said Moodie-Mills, “shows just how disconnected some LGBT groups still are on the ground.” Last week’s television campaign from pro-equality group The Coalition to ALL Protect NC Families featuring solely white faces didn’t help much either to bridge the divide. Coalition Campaign Manager Jeremy Kennedy acknowledged the omission, but attributed it to “limited economic resources” rather than an intentional attempt to put a white face on gay rights.

Is this the right way to win Black support for gay marriage?

What same-sex marriage advocates have seemingly been slow to realize is their opponents have put together a superior sales job by doling out dollars to greedy Black ministers to carry their anti-gay message to their congregations whom are not the most naturally receptive audience for gay rights anyway.   The suspicion by Black churches that these are liberal White gays and lesbians pushing their social agenda on them is confirmed by ad campaigns that are as clueless as they are earnest.

Outreach is a one-on-one, face-to-face job and it can’t be dictated and directed from afar.  I can’t think of anyone less interested in advancing the rights of the LGBT community than a middle-aged Black Baptist in the South.  They already believe the same-sex activists are jock-riding the civil rights battles waged by Blacks and when they see the iconic images of segregation re-purposed on behalf of gay marriage, they aren’t going to be too thrilled by it.

These are people whom you have to look dead in the eye and show them, not tell them, why your fight is right and should be their fight as well.