Queer Town talked with Jeffrey King the other day, and he was not happy. A prominent figure in the gay community and founder of In The Meantime Men's Group, a South Los Angeles outreach organization for gay black men, King was frustrated with power gays — black and white — the gay mainstream as a whole, and black leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“We've narrowed our focus so much,” said King, referring to the fight to once again legalize same sex marriage in California, “we're missing some of the larger battles.”
King was one of the first gay leaders to speak up publicly about the failures of the “No on 8” campaign, which he said did not effectively reach out to black voters — who overwhelmingly voted for the passage of Proposition 8.
King's frustration grew out of a recent survey he conducted with various movers and shakers in the gay, black community. In the survey, he asked how such things as gay marriage, “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” racism, and unemployment ranked in levels of importance. The results, King says, were “very different” from what the gay, mostly white, mainstream sees as pressing issues.
“It's interesting what's going on in the family,” says King. “We're not agreeing.”
While black gays and lesbians thought gay marriage was important, according to King's findings, they also believed cuts in state HIV/AIDS funding and ending “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” need special attention, too.
“There are a lot of black, gay men in the military,” King says, “but people are missing the battle for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'”
As an example, King points to the murder of gay sailor August Provost in San Diego, which continues to “outrage” black gays. Provost, who could not serve as an openly gay man due to “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” was reportedly harassed for his sexual orientation and he feared physical harm. Except for some immediate calls for a thorough investigation by such groups as Equality California, King hasn't seen the same kind of prolonged outrage about the murder by the larger gay community. The gay rights activist also says black politicians and leaders have not been heard from much.
“Where's Jesse Jackson?” King asks. “And where's Al Sharpton? Where are they?”
King's also not pleased with how black-power gays have handled the Provost murder, among other things.
“We have black, gay judges,” he says, “we have black, gay lawyers, but we never hear from these people. We need to call them out without naming names. They know who they are.”
The result, King says, has been a gay, black community that deals with a multitude of challenges such as racism, homophobia within the larger black community, and high unemployment due to the bad economy, but hasn't been given much support by leaders in the black and gay communities to overcome them.
“We're facing a lot of different issues,” King says.
As power struggles within the gay rights movement play out in California over when to push forward a new, pro-gay marriage ballot measure, King sees the needs of the gay, black community getting lost in the shuffle.
“This speaks to the lack of real power and influence of black LGBT people,” King says.
Somehow, the gay rights activist wants to change that around.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.