Faith Cheltenham writes eloquently in The Advocate about her struggles with family and community members as she fought and continues to fight against legalized bigotry in California.
I’ve been waving a sign on street corners since H8 passed: “Black Queers.” Responses have varied — from honks of support to looks of disapproval from blacks and whites. A black woman came up to me at a rally and asked me if I didn’t think the sign was offensive to black people. … I said, “It’s who I am, and people should know,” flipping it over to reveal another slogan: “We Do Exist.” When I carry the sign in the middle of a crowd, it faces in and then out, equally interchanged — a message to my communities.
… My dad used to come to rallies I planned for National Coming Out Week at University of California, Los Angeles; he was the first family member I chose to come out to as a lesbian (and then as a bisexual). He respected and comfortably got along with my transgender girlfriend, always saying, “I love you for who you are.”
“They” got to him and to most of my immediate and extended African-American family over the age of 21. Mormons deviously targeted one of their most unlikely allies for a campaign of misinformation. Enemy of my enemy won the day, but I actually find the subsequent discourse regarding “black backlash” highly encouraging.
Anger is getting people to talk and making them ask hard questions. I met an African-American couple who shared their experience volunteering for No on 8 even while they dealt with discriminatory comments from within. Since we all happened to be at the same rally, we walked over and talked to Lorri Jean of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. She was aghast, saying, “We’ve got a lot of educating to do in our own communities.”
Instead of continuing to talk to my loving mother about how hard the struggle is for black queers, I asked her if she voted yes. “I love you and accept you as you are,” she said, “but I cannot support your marriage to a woman.” Honest, and very to the point — “marriage is religious,” “it is representative of the black family,” it’s the new tent pole for the Christian right, and it’s held aloft by the moral high ground assigned to blacks by mainstream culture. It’s really not a good thing for anyone, for when the backlash against proponents of H8 begins, African-Americans are first in the line of fire. African-Americans did vote disproportionately for Prop. 8, and as a community we are also disproportionately affected by HIV, the cops, access to quality education, and glass ceilings.
Somehow I see a correlation. I see ties between bigotry, fear, and ignorance — but how do you get beyond that to love?””