Queen of daytime talk Oprah Winfrey is omnipresent and omnipotent. Her monthly oracle – O, The Oprah Magazine – pontificates the principles of self-help, self-love and self-giving. Her image floods newsstands. Bookstores stockpile their inventory with her choice for the book of the month. And presidential hopefuls genuflect before her to win voters. In exhorting America to rise to its higher moral ground, Oprah has not only altered the content of TV talk, but also drastically changed the venue in which spirituality is normally discussed.
Now, for the first time, the media magnate is involved in politics. Oprah’s partisan big bucks threw a star-studded fund-raiser for her presidential pick, Barack Obama. And with 1,500 guests at her sold-out private soiree at $2,300 apiece, Oprah’s endorsement of Obama might very well buy him the election. But her “chosen one” is a candidate who would unquestionably deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans their full and equal civil rights, especially when it comes to same-sex marriage.
“I am somebody who has not embraced gay marriage. I’ve said that it’s not something that I think the society is necessarily ready for. And it strikes me that in a lot of ways for a lot a people, it may intrude in how they understand marriage,” Obama said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in late 2006.
But nearly a year later, and after being given much more information and education about the essential need to afford LGBTQ Americans their full and equal marriage rights, his position is unchanged.
And as the beneficiary of the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in the case of Loving v. Virginia – a decision that allowed Obama’s parents to legally marry – he doesn’t see civil unions as reminiscent of this nation’s shameful era of “separate but equal.”
“As I proposed [civil unions], it wouldn’t be a lesser thing [than marriage] from my perspective,” Barack said during the much-ballyhooed HRC-Logo debate last month.
While it is true that none of the Democratic presidential frontrunners support same-sex marriage, Oprah must be asked: Would she endorse a presidential candidate who would give African Americans and women what Obama is proposing for LGBTQ Americans?
And as she tries to take America down an enlightened path in this presidential campaign, is Oprah’s endorsement of Obama more about being an instrument of racial equality in this country, by finally getting a black man elected to the highest office in this nation, than it is about the annoying and politically divisive issue of marriage equality for LGBTQ people? Is Oprah choosing, like many African-Americans ministers have done, which issue is more important for our black communities?
Ironically, LGBTQ people of African descent are a segment of the American population that has the most to gain from marriage equality.
But, you ask, is Oprah really homophobic? Clearly she’s neither a stranger to advocating for queer civil rights nor avoiding queer accusations.
In the April 1997 coming-out episode of Ellen Degeneres’ sitcom, Oprah played Ellen’s supportive therapist. And when Rosie O’Donnell on “The View” stated that Oprah’s longtime gal-pal Gayle and her were like a married lesbian couple, Oprah said to her magazine readers, “If we were gay, we would tell you.”
But would Oprah abandon her LGBTQ African-American brothers and sisters to elect a black man as president?
Unfortunately, civil rights struggles in this country have primarily been understood, reported on and advocated within the context of African-American struggles against both individual and systematic racism. Consequently, civil rights struggles of women, LGBTQ people, Native Americans and other minorities in this country have been eclipsed, ignored and even trivialized at the expense of educating the American public to other forms of existing oppressions.
At the height of the second wave of the women’s movement in the 1970s, for example, women’s civil rights were pitted against African-American civil rights, often forcing African-American women to choose which was a greater oppression for them – being black or being female. And it was black women who had the most to lose from this forced dichotomy.
Today, a similar debate is brewing between African-American and LGBTQ communities, which once again leaves out a population of people who have the most to lose – LGBTQ people of African descent.
The present-day debate between the two communities concerning what constitutes a legitimate civil rights issue – and which oppressed group owns the right to use the term – is both fueled and ignored by systemic efforts by our government and black ministers. They deliberately pit both groups against each other by blurring the lines of church and state rather than uphold the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution affording each of these marginal groups their inalienable rights.
With mostly African-American marquee celebs in attendance at Oprah’s Obama bash – like Stevie Wonder, Sidney Poitier, Forest Whitaker, Chris Rock, Dennis Haysbert, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Halle Berry – Oprah is hoping for the black elite to put Obama in office. But that’s at the expense of not including the entire black community – its poor and LGBTQ members – let alone the rest of America.
“Four decades later, there are now two black Americas. The fat, rich, and comfortable black America of Oprah Winfrey, Robert Johnson, Bill Cosby, Condoleezza Rice, Denzel Washington and the legions of millionaire black athletes and entertainers, businesspersons and professionals. They have grabbed a big slice of America’s pie,” wrote Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst and social issues commentator, on the Huffington Post back in January.
But the elites are the folks Obama goes after, albeit he calls himself a grassroots organizer and the voice for the poor and marginalized. David Mendell, an Obama biographer, told CNN.com: “Obama is very adept at selling himself to people of the black elite. And so, in the last year or so, he has sat down with [Oprah] and they have struck up this relationship.”
Oprah talked to United Press International about why she held the fund-raiser at her home. “I call my home the Promised Land because I get to live Dr. King’s dream. I haven’t been actively engaged before because there hasn’t been anything to be actively engaged in. But I am engaged now to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.”
Oprah has good intentions as she tries to lead America down the high road. However, that reminds me of the old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” For LGBTQ people not included on the Obama road to the White House, it is hell nonetheless. â€¢