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Campaign 2012 Series: The LGBT vote

By Julius Rea for JETmag.com

As the 2012 campaign enters its final stretch, candidates are trying to win the hearts and minds
of several demographic groups that could swing the elusive undecided vote in their favor. And
those potentially game-changing voting blocs are working to make sure the candidates speak to
their agendas.
In a series of articles counting down to Election Day, well examine several groups of
constituents that candidates are trying to woo and look at how they relate to Black Americans.
Its been asserted and disputed that gay is the new Black, however theres no disputing
that in this election cycle the LGBT community has become one of the most-discussed groups.
As the nation watches this group grow stronger, one question emerges: Is the LGBT community
becoming a political force like the Black community has been?
According to a 2011 report released by the Williams Institute, a national think tank at the
University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, there are approximately 9 million
Americans 3.5 percent of the adult population that identify as LGBT. (In 2010, the same
group released a demographic break down of sexual orientations 23.2 percent of all bisexuals
were African-American; 18.8 percent of all people who identity as gay or lesbian were AfricanAmerican.)
The LGBT political involvement, mixed with the increasing support for LGBT rights, makes the
group a potentially strong political force in the 2012 Presidential election.
Earlier this year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples board of
directors announced its support of marriage equality. Shortly after the announcement, board
member Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr. resigned.
In a National Public Radio report, Ratliff said that the NAACP has been an organization closely
tied to faith; he was quoted saying, Gay community: Stop hijacking the civil rights movement.
We spoke with civil rights movement pioneer Julian Bond, who also is on NAACP board, about
this sentiment. You never hear this about the Hispanic rights movement that theyre stealing
from the Black civil rights movement. You dont hear people say this about women. You only
hear people say this about gays and lesbians, he notes.
According to Bond, Ratliff who led anti-gay rallies in Iowa was not present when the vote
was taken. Bond said that the NAACP didnt tell religious organizations, churches or people of
faith how to behave and that the decision was based on public policy and equality.

This announcement appears to mirror the attitudes of a growing number of Americans, including
President Obama, who made history when he came out publicly in support of same-sex marriage
a couple weeks prior to the NAACP statement. A July 2012 Pew Research Center report said that
48 percent of the public support same-sex marriage, while 44 percent oppose it. That
compares to 39 percent in support and 51 percent in opposition in 2008.
Many national organizations advocate for and lead the LGBT community in civic action one
of which is the Human Rights Campaign, the nations largest LGBT civil rights organization.
The group has over 1 million members and supporters nationally, according to HRC Director of
Communications Michael Cole-Schwartz.
The HRC lobbies congressional leaders and politicians to support LGBT equality laws. Currently
the HRC is working to generate support in Maryland for Question 6 a ballot referendum on
the states new same-sex marriage law that grants civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples,
but gives religious institutions the right to opt out of performing ceremonies they feel dont
conform to their beliefs.
Cole-Schwartz says that the LGBT movement can draw strengths and examples from the civil
rights fights that have come before us. He says, While theyre distinct in many ways theres
no comparison between a history of [African-American] oppression [the two] communities
come from the same place of wanting to be respected and treated with equality and dignity.
The Black civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s organized marches, boycotts, sit-ins while
pressing for legislative changes to advance its case for equality. In their fight for marriage
equality the HRC uses volunteerism, grassroots campaigns and lobbying of politicians.
Cole-Schwartz notes that local organizing and federal law reform are strategies employed during
the Black civil rights era and in the LGBT rights movement.
In Maryland, for example, on the marriage campaign its important to get the support of
organized labor in the state, the state chapter of the NAACP and other folks who are interested in
this issue and then start to build a campaign surrounding them, he said.
Cole-Schwartz said the HRC, in order to answer religious opposition, has worked with religious
leaders who believe in marriage equality. On Sept. 21, the group held a conference where Rev.
Delman Coates, Rev. Al Sharpton and others urged Maryland residents to vote for the bill in
Dr. Tanis Starck, Director of the Office of Intercultural Relations at San Diego State University,
who also is Black, says that she works with the LGBT community and understands its struggles.
To have [African-American] struggles be looked at as a model, in a positive light, for fighting
for rights [is good]. Even though the circumstances are different, I dont find it [a negative] that
the LGBT civil rights movement mirrors the Black civil rights movement, she said.

People dont know the stories that may have happened when the LGBT community began to
start walking for their rights, Starck said. The Black community and the [LGBT] community
should be embracing one another, sharing similar struggles and offering support for one another.
Bond wrote previously in an Ebony magazine essay that we ought to be flattered that our
movement has provided so much inspiration for others, that it has been so widely imitated, and
that our tactics, methods, heroines and heroes, even our songs, have been appropriated by or
served as models for others.
I dont know if sharing a sexual orientation is sufficient to bind people into common political
orientation, Bond said. I hope it is, but Im not sure it is.
Looking towards the Presidential election, Americans and politicians will have to watch and see.