By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
WASHINGTON – GOP leaders from Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman to GOP contender for U.S. Senator Keith Butler may be telling African-Americans that the conservative wing of the party welcomes them, but the voting record of conservative GOP Congresspersons tells another tale.
That’s the conclusion of “False Promises: How the Right Deploys Homophobia to Win Support from African-Americans,” a report released on April 4 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
“False Promises” compares the voting records of key Republican policymakers in Congress to polling of African-Americans’ top voting priorities and finds that Republican lawmakers have abysmal voting records on these issues. In addition, the report, authored by Task Force Policy Analyst Nicolas Ray, shows that legislators with low ratings on LGBT equality also receive low ratings from organizations that promote the rights of people of color, including the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. These same legislators are given low ratings by progressive groups working for LGBT rights like Human Rights Campaign and Americans for Democratic Action.
“I’m not surprised,” said Johnny Jenkins, co-founder and director of the Detroit Black Pride Society. “I don’t think that most African-Americans who do support those conservative initiatives are aware of the alliances that these political figures have.”
According to NGLTF, “The report outlines the incongruity between historic Republican strategies, including Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” Reagan’s “welfare queens” and George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ads, all with disturbing racist undertones, and the Republican Party’s current push for African-American voters to “come home” to the party of Abraham Lincoln. The study suggests that the current moral values rhetoric espoused by many in the GOP is designed in part to “generate support by stoking homophobia in the African-American community.”
Vanessa Marr, civic engagement coordinator for Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, called the GOP’s tactics in recruiting the African-American community “a shame.”
“It’s such a shame that there are certain groups that would do such a thing – that would portray themselves as welcoming or trying to embrace a community that has been struggling with oppression for centuries, and that they would try to use certain tactics to demonize the LGBT community to win support,” she said.
Included in the report are Congressional voting records of members who get top ratings from conservative groups like the American Conservative Union and the Family Research Council.
According to the report, “All but one of these 125 representatives and 34 senators (a group which includes Sens. Trent Lott and Rick Santorum, and Rep. Tom DeLay) are Republican…. These legislators have consistently opposed affirmative action, raising the minimum wage, full funding for education initiatives, including No Child Left Behind, and funding for Medicaid initiatives that disproportionately affect African-Americans.”
Michelle Brown, a member of the board of governors of the Human Rights Campaign, said of this voting pattern, “I think that they are voting to support a system that inherently excludes people of color, gays or anyone who aren’t straight, European-American men.”
And, despite attempts to paint black America as being in lockstep with the GOP, Focus on the Family and the American Family Association regarding discrimination against gays and lesbians, the report cites a poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showing that a full 47 percent of African-Americans support some sort of legal protections for same-sex couples.
Brown wasn’t surprised to hear of the poll’s findings.
“As a people we understand oppression, and discrimination – we have gone through having a family and a marriage not being recognized,” she said. “Under slavery one of the best ways to break people down was to break our families. In our core, in our gut, we understand that. Whether or not an African-American understands or knows anyone gay, that attack on families – we understand. When you break it down, it comes down to denying people basic human rights, family rights, because of whom they are. It is wrong.”
Jenkins saw reason for hope in the figures.
“I think [black voters in Michigan] supported Proposal 2 because it came up so quickly and they didn’t have time to research it,” he said. “The more we can get that information out there and expose those alliances, the more that 47 percent will shift over 50 percent – if we do our jobs right becoming more visible and getting the word out.”
Marr agreed. “As long as there are fair-minded African-Americans out there, who are more concerned about issues that are going to benefit them in terms of the economy and equality, this tactic is not going to prevail,” she said.
African-Americans at the grassroots level aren’t the only ones who support marriage equality, either, despite the attempts of right-wing leaders like James Dobson, the Rev. Lou Sheldon and Bishop Henry Jackson to make that claim. The NGLTF report directly quotes mainstream black leaders from Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP to U.S. Representative John Lewis to the late Coretta Scott King, civil rights leader and wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, citing their support of full marriage equality for gays and lesbians.
Brown summed up the push by the GOP to recruit African-American voters.
“Being used is being used,” she said, “and now the reality is that it’s worthwhile to court us – and I feel it’s more like trying to pull the wool over our eyes and claim that they’re looking out for the best for us to get our vote, but the reality is, look how they’re voting.”