Saturday, November 8, 2008

Prop 8, the racial vote, and the anger

It's an angry community this morning, and alas, the anger is justified. For a few days, I've been calling Prop 8 a windsock, but I hadn't realized how knowing which way the wind is blowing would bring about not just hurt and anger, but the worst kind of it.

One hardly knows what to say ... and it's almost impossible to say anything without upsetting someone, somewhere. So I'll be very cautious in what I say today, beg your patience, and start out with a caveat!

I've campaigned for gay rights for years; the name of Mel Keegan has been known internationally for just on two decades, and I've always been known as the most broad-minded, eclectic liberal, to whom human rights are the Big Issue: gay and racial and pagan. In other words the right to equality in your sexuality, your race and your faith. These are the Big Three rights. Everything else is down to your intelligence, your drive to get educated and be employed, the good or bad health Nature endowed you with ... and sheer luck, which plays a large part in your physical appearance and abilities, as well as your fortunes at the track.

Why pagan? Because paganism is an emerging religious form which has every constitutional right to coexist with the True Faith religions. Sheer, blind faith aside, no religion is founded on a shred of "proof" or 'evidence," and therefore, every religion has a right to be. The Constitution of the United States is very clear on this point: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

Yet there are American religious groups -- and Sarah Palin belongs to one of them -- who identify and characterise themselves as witch hunters. The woman who was a paltry few voting percentages away from the White House is connected to a nutso religious group (who belong in a madhouse), who claim responsibility for the death of Mother Thresea. Yep. These Christian lunatics honestly believe they prayed her to death. They're after Catholics, as well as pagans. Now, many Americans would actually care if Catholic priests and nuns were "run out of town on a rail." Or one would hope US'ns would care! But comparatively few Americans care about the rights of pagans -- though pagans are constitutionally entitled to their faith. (And some Americans honestly believe that people of the Muslim faith "don't belong in this planet," but this is another story.)

Intrigued, horrified? Go here:

Now, the Holy Roman Empire and Islam are big enough to go out and fight their own battles. They can pour a billion dollars into the TV and Internet campaign to literally buy the mindset shift in the American people which would be necessary to win the religious equivalent of Prop 8, which states, "It is unlawful to persecute a person for his or her Catholic or Muslim faith." The Vatican and the oil sheiks wouldn't even notice that the billion had been advanced out of company funds.

And the mindset of the American people can most certainly be bought. The Prop 8 result on 11/4 proved this beyond any shadow of doubt.

So, for me, the pagan rights issue is by far the most important religious sticking point today, because pagans are a tiny minority who can be steamrollered out of existence by the same juggernaut of the "popular vote" which was used to strip civil rights from gays. ANY minority community needs the support of all, until the injustice and prejudice of the greater tide of humanity has been turned, by peaceful means, into tolerance and acceptance. And you can quote me on that.

Why gay rights? Same reason, as well as a certain personal preference, which ought to be fairly obvious to anyone who's read any book I ever published. Over the years, I've written so many hundreds of thousands of words on the subject of gay rights, I sometimes think I'm written out, I have no more so say, can't think of a syllable ... and then something else comes along -- like the incredible backlash after Prop 8 -- and I suddenly realize, we've hardly even scratched the surface.

Why racial rights? Same reason. Because gay rights and racial rights are HUMAN rights, they're two sides to the same coin. I've always believed that if you fight for one, you have to fight for the other. Right now, I'm down to praying that this belief is correct -- for the moment, I'll stand by it, and let nature take her course.

(For the record, I'm what they call "Euro-mongrel." I'm part Irish, part Scots, part Anglo, part Norwegian, part Romanian. I have Celtic coloring stuck on an eastern European kind of face, and I'm the first one to admit, it looks ... unusual. My family are nominally from the UK; one half fled the IRA "troubles" in Ireland about 90 years ago and went to England for work. The other half went to America. The folks who went to the UK hived off yet again ... some of them went to the US too ... some of us came to Australia. And here we are.)

So, if I had three feet (thank gods, I don't) I'd have one of them in each of three camps. American politics mean as much to me as Australian and British politics, and I sometimes feel as if I'm ripped in three directions. (Stop the planet, I want to get off.)

This is what I'm feeling right now, as a surge of racism boils up around the GLBTI community in the States. The Prop 8 windsock showed some rather unpleasant wind directions. We never knew that 70% of African Americans consider gays to be second class citizens. We know now ... and it hurts. In fact, it hurts a lot.

The tide of anger which is boiling right now is frightening, and saddening. You're starting to read things being said that haven't been said in decades, and it's chilling. My fear is that in their religious zeal to ban gay marriage, the Christan Right might have generated a tide of racial unrest which will have dreadful, and far-reaching consequences in the US.

There's so much anger in the media, and in the blogs, it's difficult to find a dispassionate overview of the situation. I would cautiously suggest this one:

The bald facts are stated there, without rhetoric or bias.

Now, the issue of "black v. gay" is incredibly complex, with at least two faces. The first is about the painful knowledge we now possess ... that 70% of African Americans are homophobic. In other words, if you're talking to a stranger of color, you're far more likely to be despised and insulted when s/he finds out you're gay, than if you were talking to a European American.

It hurts ... it's not pleasant to know it's true, but it's very true, and one has to deal with it. Hence, the anger. I've been reading not only posts and articles, but also the reams of comments that have gushed forth after them. Some bloggers and journalists have had to close commenting, because it got real ugly, real fast. Which, in itself, is sad.

I'm not going to quote any of these comments here, nor link to them: throwing gasoline on a fire is not a smart thing to do!

The arguments run along the lines of, "the colored community was happy to take gay dollars to elect Mr. Obama, then they stab us in the back." And, "I'm extremely upset to know that black Americans are homophobic, and I resent their community for taking away my constitutional rights, which are no less justified than their own." And, "Something has to be done about out-of-state churches, such as the LDS for one, pumping money into California to market their point of view and skewing the public perspective."

On the other side of the fence, you have, "The people of California have spoken, your rights have been curtailed, it's over, live with it or go away." And, "If you don't want to live here anymore, go to Massachusetts." And, "Gods judgment has been brought down on you." And, "We have achieved a major victory against Satan." And finally, "The rights of chickens are more important than the rights of gays -- who cares if gays live in a cage?"

(If you need to wade in the torrent of anger, just Google "anger Prop 8 racial vote" ... and take a deep breath. It's ugly. It's frightening.)

Those seem to be the major fundamental arguments underlying the fury and outrage which is pumping through the Internet at this time. Beyond these pared-down statements, the whole thiing swiftly gets incredibly personal, subjective, furious and potentially violent.

Now, I had a comment posted this morning, on "Looking for an ups-side to the Prop 8 Fiasco:"

This is well worth a read, and to save you exiting this page, here's the best part:
I set up a spreadsheet with the exit polling data. There's probably rounding error, since the categories "White," "Latino," "Black," and "Asian" sum to 98%. Assuming that there's a demographic category for the remaining 2%, and the exit poll data is accurate, then the unnamed "other" had to have voted 100% in favor of yes. That would still leave results that were off 1 percentage point (PP). If "other" had results similar to Hispanics, then the exit poll results were off by 2PP.Still, that's pretty close to ordinary polling accuracy. Maybe "other" is not statistically relevant.If the non-White results are accurate, then the White vote would only need to be 53.8 no to 46.2 yes to completely offset the Black and Hispanic vote. So my point is that the Black vote only carries so much blame for this. Usually the Black vote is about 9%, and if that's what it were Tuesday, then the effect would be tiny. White people would have to have rejected the measure by less than 0.01 PP either direction.

Stats can lie, but they can also tell the truth. Share this news around -- please! Link to this! Turns out, the Black Vote didn't make Prop 8 pass after all ... but this won't affect the racial backlash.

Unfortunately, the windsock still brought out the truth, and here's the irony: the fury on the Internet today is tending toward racism, because the facts came out on the wash ... the African American community is homophobic. You can't argue with the numbers. At the same time, the Black Vote didn't swing the referendum. Prop 8 was going to pass anyway, according to the numbers. Go figure.

A couple of posts ago, I remarked that some years of "working the crowd" would get us the numbers to have Prop 8 tossed in the bin where it belongs. I also said, we'd find those numbers in the ethnic communities. Well ... perhaps not, after all. It could be that a lot of the numbers we need are hiding in the aged community -- which could be damned hard to influence.

The other very interesting section in the above comment was this:
Moreover, the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law; it recognizes the integrity of contracts. Marriage has been a civil institution for over two centuries; it's no longer a matter over which any church can legitimately hold forth.

Oh ... boy. I long to believe. In answer to this comment, I wrote this:
Per the Constitution -- I'm sure you're fundamentally right! However, if the Constitution absolutely, clearly and unambiguously (!) guaranteed equal protection, it's safe to say that the Prop 8 "Fiasco" wouldn't be happening. It wouldn't be permissible, much less necessary! The lamentable fact is that in the minds of a majority of people, there remains the misconception that marriage rights have a religious connotation. We just saw the proof of this. I'm no kind of lawyer, but I do understand what I'm seeing when people vote with their Bibles, as their pastors have instructed them to. Also, the hard, clear fact that Prop 8 was mooted at all means that the issue is far from clear even at the legal level -- otherwise, it would not have found its way onto the ballot sheets. It would have been recognized at every level as being illegal ... and it wasn't. I would dearly love to agree wholeheartedly with you on the Constitutional point you make, but alas -- the reality of the last week has shown that many gray areas still persist, and a great deal more work must be done to make the Constitution unambiguous, clear and fair, in the minds of all people, not merely the lawyers!

In terms of gay rights: we have a long way to go. In legal terms (both state and federal) there is a long way to go to prove what the constitution actually means -- what it seems to mean, what it can be made to say. Many people are sure the Constitution protects gays; but if you put the vote to the people, a majority say "no, it doesn't, and we want to rewrite the Constitution to make damned sure it doesn't."

Can the people rewrite the Constitution to take civil liberties away from a specific group? This can't be lawful. If it were, African Americans need to start getting twitchy ... and pagans need to run for cover, fast.

The next weeks and months, as this question is fought out in the courts, and at the most fundamental constitutional levels, will be fascinating and chilling. We're about to find out how secure our civil rights really are. One would hope justice and reason will prevail, once and for all.

However, at street level, it's not so easy. People are justifiably wounded, and the true feelings of the majority of the ethnic community have been exposed. However ... people have a right to their true feelings. It isn't politically correct or morally acceptable to hate gays, but an individual has the right to hold this sentiment -- just as s/he has the right to belong to True Faith religion and believe that everyone else in the world, outside his/her own church, is a miserable sinner who's going to burn in hell.

The challenge, at the constitutional level, will to rationalize the rights of all, level the playing field, and make peace between all people, without discriminating against gays ... Christians ... Americans of color ... aged Americans ... and even the homophobes, who have a fundamental right to feel what they feel, even if we don't like it.

Voltaire nailed it, many, many years ago: "I might not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

[Sound of Keegan heaving enormous sigh]

To me, the bottom line in human terms is deeply troubling. Christians, and pariculartly priests, are supposed to love all mankind. Yet in their religious zeal to promote Biblical law, -- denying gays their rights to love and wed -- they've uncovered a nest of gender-based hate that has, as a natural rebound, blown up into racial anger which many of us had believed (or was it just hoped?) to be a thing of the past in Ameria.

Is anyone scared silly yet?

Happier subjects tomorrow,


Adam Lowe said...

This is such a great blog. You have a new fan ;)

As a black (or mixed race) gay man, I believe inequality and discrimination is, unfortunately, promoted in our society. We're constantly pushed to judge one thing as better than another, and we're told the 'us vs them' philosophy is the only real, capitalist way to survive. Sure, many African Americans are homophobic, as are many Afro-Caribbeans in the UK, but this is probably largely a matter of faith as well. Most of the arguments against gay people are religious in nature, or resort to evolutionism and biology if that fails (ironically). That also seems to be the flaw in American democracy. Religion has far too much of a hand in the state. This happens in the UK too, but less so since the UK is now largely secular and there's been increasing pressure to get rid of unelected peers. But then, people like Blair have undermined these efforts with their own religiosity.

Now, I believe religious people have the right to be religious, and they have the right to believe that. But I don't believe I have to respect that belief. I believe I should be able to criticise and lambaste it just as much as I can lambaste someone who believes the Moon is made of cheese. Not all ideas are equal, even if the right to hold such ideas exists. So for that reason, I think we need to clarify what religious rights I think you're referring to.

One problem we've had in the UK is religious groups claiming they can be homophobic because otherwise their right to be religious is being infringed. Which I think is wrong. I believe they have a right to free speech, which is fine, but I do not believe they have a right to harass or discriminate based on religious belief (which, of course, they would say they do).

It seems the racism arising as a backlash against the Prop 8 vote allows the religious right to conveniently sidestep their own culpability and get their own way again. The largely white US church has not only threatened queer rights, they've also put back ethnic minority rights by threatening race relations. This is something I'm very worried about.

Let's just hope the courts make the right decision and stick by the constitution. Then they'll have no choice but to repeal Prop 8.

Mel Keegan said...

Adam -- I agree 100%, and you're dead right: I do need to clarify the religious rights I'm talking about. Let me see if I can be specific and unambiguous.

I believe everyone has the right to the faith they feel is right and true ... but no one has the right to proselytize. The point where things start to get ugly is when evangelism tries to foist one religion on another, and we begin to see "red light words" like sin and salvation, judgment, damnation and rapturization.

In context, all this translates out to a very simple, very nasty credo: "I'm going to heaven because I believe in the very letter of the Bible; you're burning in hell, because you're Satan's seed."

America is an extremely volatile religious arena, where education is not something shared by all. The poorer the people, the less likely they are to have the education to tell proselytization from rationale. (It's also very true to say that cold, hard intelligence, not education is all that should be needed to differentiate one from the other; which certainly accounts for the fact that not all impoverished Americans of color are brainwashed by their pastors. Only a majority -- and when you're counting the popular vote, it's the majority that carries the "aye."

My own feeling is this: you may believe whatever you like at home, and pray to whomever you choose; you may say what you honestly believe behind closed doors ... but as you step over the threshold into the street, leave all religious expression behind. It has no place in public debate, much less in the harassment of individuals or communities.

Recently, I read about a new law in France which prohibits public displays of religion, including the headgear worn by Muslim women, crucifixes, the lot. Quite a step for a country which has long been staunchly Catholic.

Something along these lines would help to curtail the virus-like spread of religion ... but even so, the "popular vote" will always show people's true feelings. If the ethnic populations -- voting with their hearts, as they have a right to! -- come out and say "yes on 8" ... the end result is the same.

Right now, my one hope is that James is dead right when he said in a comment on, "Moreover, the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law; it recognizes the integrity of contracts. Marriage has been a civil institution for over two centuries; it's no longer a matter over which any church can legitimately hold forth." I think he's actually right ... but it's going to take a long time to thrash it through the courts --

And the most critical aspect here is to very quickly have it firmly understood by all (especially the religious and/or ethnic Californians) that it is NOT lawful to rewrite the Constitution of state or nation to embrace anyone's religious beliefs!

I'd like to see this get firmed up with sold good, solid law first ... then we need to get some brakes, or limits, on evangelism -- how far they can go, publicly, before their antics reach the "unlawful" line.

(One can also turn their own Biblical law back on them. Homosexuality is a capital crime, due death by stoning? So is adultery -- and here's the rub: the Bible recognizes only one marriage. The second, third and so forth are all adulterous liaisons which should also end in stoning to death. Bend one marriage law because it doesn't suit you, and you can bend them all; uphold one law ... and you should uphold them all. So, who's first in line for a stoning today?)

Then ... we must spend some time, be patient, "work the crowd" and see if we can persuade the ethnic, reform-religious and aged voting groups that we're, uh, "mostly harmless," and certainly deserve a fair go.

As a parting idea, I'd like to propose this: apparently we already have two distinct forms of marriage which are equally acceptable to the community. The Biblical Marriage is the first, and kosher in God's eyes. The Secular Marriage is the model for all the others -- it rubs God well and truly the wrong way ... but the American Christian Right doesn't seem to care about that (eep). The third third marriage model is Secular Marriage Type B., for non-heterosexual unions -- it has exactly the same rights and privileges, but involves ONLY churches that volunteer to put on the show ... churches where the priest and congregation are thoroughly brainwashed are not constitutionally compelled to comform, which accommodates their religious rights to differ -- so long as they keep zipped lips in public about their disapproval!

Interesting thought.


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