Published in The Advocate, April 13, 2006.
The Republican Party is reaching out to African-American voters with a pitch that hones in on their presumed homophobia. The party’s blatantly antigay “misinformation campaign” is detailed in a new report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives of the 1930s, African-American voting allegiances have largely switched from the Republican Party, the “party of Lincoln,” to the Democrats.
But the Democratic Party, particularly of late, has become more and more an uncomfortable fit for some African-Americans.
“What have the Democrats done for us all that time?” renowned and beloved African-American mystery novelist Walter Mosley asked in the February 27 issue of The Nation. “We are still segregated and profiled, and have a very low representation at the top echelons of the Democratic Party. We are the stalwarts, the bulwark, the Old Faithful of the Democrats, and yet they have not made our issues a high priority in a very long time.”
Exploiting the unease African-Americans feel in the Democratic Party, Republicans have seized numerous moments to speak to black audiences by any means and lies necessary.
“I’m someone who believes that no matter how well we do in elections, no matter how successful we are, no matter how many seats we have in Congress, we can win the White House all we want, if the party of Lincoln does not have more African-Americans come back home, then we can’t call ourselves a real majority,” Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman told Howard University students in March 2005.
The religious outreach to African-Americans by the GOP has been both unprecedented and unrelenting. George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives target conservative African-American churches, and his right-wing Christian evangelical ministers exploit racial and socioeconomic ills by blaming them on LGBT people. By stoking the homophobic flames among African-Americans, the Republican Party now appears to be the party concerned with ameliorating the plight of black Americans.
“You want to know what the single biggest problem facing inner-city black neighborhoods is? Homosexuality,” stated the Reverend Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, a far-right religious organization.
And herein lies the problem for both African-Americans and LGBT people as we jockey for a political place in the upcoming 2008 presidential election by casting our ballots with the party best representative of our interests.
Our issues both as African-American and as LGBT voting blocs will go unaddressed if ballots are cast for the “party of Lincoln.” And with a “moral values” platform steeped in homophobic rhetoric that speaks to the fears and social ills of black people, the Republican Party has craftily tapped into the once-upon-a-time solidly black Democratic voting bloc that is now decidedly divided.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute has just published a report titled “False Promises: How the Right Deploys Homophobia to Win Support From African-Americans,” exposing the duplicitous strategies of the Republican Party and the Christian right to curry black votes for 2008.
The report outlines the Republican strategy of pitting the LGBT civil rights agenda against the black civil rights agenda as a diversionary tactic to not only create enmity between the two groups but also to focus attention away from issues truly important to black people, like police profiling, housing discrimination, unemployment, health care, and education.
I asked Task Force policy analyst Nicholas Ray, author of “False Promises,” what brought about the research. “This project really came about from conversations within the Policy Institute about the nature of representation in the American system of government. How the disadvantaged—the poor, people of color, immigrants—are often targeted for misinformation campaigns by those who seek their support is a concern, and further, how elected officials so often appear not to represent the best interests of their neediest constituents.”
According to data compiled from polls by the conservative Black America’s Political Action Committee and the progressive Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies charting African-American voting patterns in the last presidential election, the Republicans’ lauded “moral values” platform was of no significant concern for respondents.
And despite the Republican Party’s attempt to use LGBT equality as a wedge issue, especially among black people, 47% of African-Americans would support some form of legal recognition of same-sex relationships, according to the JCPES poll.
Both polls revealed that jobs, poverty, homelessness, hunger, incarceration, health care, and education are top priorities among African-Americans.
With overwhelming evidence showing that African-Americans are not political enemies of LGBT people, why then is the prevailing misconception packaged as truth?
The Republicans’ “attempt to secure the support and votes of African-Americans entailed willful ignorance of the needs and priorities of the African-American community combined with an unnecessary and indefensible antigay message regarding the supposed threat of same-sex marriage to America,” Ray stated.
The voting records of Republicans from the six states with the highest population of African-Americans—Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and South Carolina—show that they have the worst record addressing African-American concerns. And not surprisingly, the voting record of these same Republicans scores high on conservative measures and near zero for addressing LGBT equality.
Present-day Republicans of the “party of Lincoln” aim to win the 2008 election with 30% of the African-American vote with a campaign platform of emancipating all Americans from the “immoral” gay rights agenda.
And they will deploy any homophobic means necessary.