We as a Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) community have been celebrating two recent Supreme Court decisions that ruled in favor of Marriage Equality. But as we are celebrating these decisions, let us be aware of another decision, announced a few days earlier, which overturned key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and which could effectively disenfranchise the LGBT community. In fact, Barney Frank, the first openly gay Congressman, said that he would trade the gay marriage rights decisions for the Voting Rights Act decision.
Why Gay people need the Voting Rights Act
We as a Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) community have been celebrating two recent Supreme Court decisions that ruled in favor of Marriage Equality. Both decisions were announced the same day: the one overturning the Defense of Marriage Act; and the decision that let stand a lower court ruling which overturned California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.
But as we are celebrating these decisions, let us be aware of another decision, announced a few days earlier, which could effectively disenfranchise the LGBT community: the decision that overturned part of the Voting Rights Act. In fact, Barney Frank, the first openly gay Congressman, said that he would trade the gay marriage rights decisions for the Voting Rights Act decision. Why?
Because that decision makes it very easy for conservative states to pass laws that will prohibit hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of poor Black and Brown citizens from voting. And if you think that because you are white middle class, and living in New York or California, it doesn’t matter to you whether or not poor Black and Brown voters are kept from the polls in Florida and Texas, then you need to think again.
If Black and Brown voters are kept away from the polls, the candidate supported by the LGBT community for President will probably lose. Studies show that in many swing states, Black and Brown voters tipped the last two elections to the more progressive candidate. Without those votes, the more conservative candidate would have won those states, and therefore would have been elected President.
The Senate and House
In addition, without the Representatives voted into Congress by the Black and Brown communities, LGBT legislation will have a more difficult time being passed. Let me prove this last statement with some statistics.
Poverty and LGBT Scorecards
I looked at the voting record of the 112th Congress, which ended in 2012. I used two respected Congressional Scorecards to make my comparison.
The first scorecard was published by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, which rated members from 1 to 100 based on their votes on bills such as cuts to Food Stamps, federal funding for the workforce, etc. These are issues that are important to low income communities of color.
The second scorecard was published by the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization working on LGBT legal issues. It also scored members of Congress from 1 to 100; HRC looked at votes on bills such as those supporting Marriage Equality and protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
I refer to these scorecard ratings as the “Poverty score” and the “LGBT score.” I divided the votes into arbitrary ranges: 80-100 was good; less that 50 was poor. Without boring you too much with statistics, because you can go back and do the same analysis yourself, let me share a few with you.
Senators and Representatives who vote for the Black and Brown communities almost always also vote for the LGBT community.
In the House, there were 150 members who received good scores on both Poverty and LGBT issues; 71 of these Representatives rated 100% on both. In the Senate, 52 members received good Poverty and LGBT scores; 17 of them received 100% ratings on both.
Senators and Representatives who vote against the Black and Brown communities almost always also vote against the LGBT community.
There were 231 Representatives who received low Poverty and LGBT scores; 16 of them received 0% on both. There were 41 Senators who received poor Poverty and LGBT scores.
A very few Congresspersons or Senators fall in the middle.
There was only one Representative who received a good LGBT score and a poor Poverty score. There were only seven Representatives who received a good Poverty score, and a poor LGBT score. There were a handful who were not rated. And the remaining 22 Representatives had their ratings on the two scorecards fall within 25 points of each other. Some rated 71% on poverty and 90% on LGBT, others rated 100% on poverty and 75% on LGBT. Only six Senators fell within this middle range.
The Black and Hispanic Caucus members received high LGBT scores.
A look at the Black and Hispanic Caucuses, and the three openly gay members of Congress, showed an even tighter correlation.
Analyzing members of those caucuses who were reelected in 2012, we find that of 36 members of the Black Caucus, 30 received good Poverty and LGBT scores. In fact, 19 of them received 100% LGBT scores. Of the remaining six, five of them received a 75% LGBT score. Only one received a poor LGBT score.
Of the 16 members of the Hispanic Caucus, 14 received good Poverty and LGBT scores. One received a 75% LGBT score, and only one received a poor LGBT score.
Of the openly gay members of Congress, all three received 100% on both Poverty and LGBT scores.
Black and Hispanic Caucus members were often the only ones from their states who received a good LGBT score.
In some states, the only member of Congress who received anything above a 0% on the LGBT scorecard was a member of the Black or Hispanic Caucus.
In Arizona, six of the Representatives received a 0% LGBT score, and one received 15%. But the two Arizona Representatives that are members of the Hispanic Caucus received a 100% LGBT score.
From Georgia, eight representatives received a 0% LGBT score, and one received 15%. But three of the four representatives from Georgia who are members of the Black Caucus received a good LGBT score – 2 of them were rated 100%.
From Indiana, the only representative who received a good LGBT score is a member of the Black Caucus.
From Missouri, six members of Congress received a 0% LGBT score. Three members received a good score: two of them were members of the Black Caucus.
From South Carolina, five of the Congress people received a 0% LGBT score. The lone member of the Black Caucus received 100%.
From Texas, seven members of Congress received a good LGBT score. Five of them were from the Black or Hispanic Caucus.
From Virginia, seven members of Congress received a 0% LGBT score, and one received 15%. Three members received 100% rating, and one of them was the lone member of the Black Caucus.
From Wisconsin, five members of Congress receive a 0% LGBT score. Three members received good LGBT scores; one was a member of the Black Caucus, and one was an open Lesbian.
Even the 75% from Black Caucus members looks good in context.
There are three states from which members of the Black Caucus received only a 75% LGBT score: Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. But in all three states, every single other member of Congress from that state received a 0% LGBT score; so even the 75% looks pretty good in comparison.
The LGBT community cannot become complacent about the future.
Statistics published by Nate Silver on March 26 of this year show that more than 50% of Americans support marriage equality. However, we need to remember three things:
1. Laws are made by elected officials, not public polls.
A Washington Post/ABC Poll, published on Daily Kos, shows that 56% of Americans support a nation-wide ban of assault weapons and 86% support requiring background checks on the sale of guns at gun shows. Yet no laws have been enacted to this effect.
Another Washington Post/ABC poll, published on politico.com says that 60% of Americans want to increase the income tax on those who make more than $250,000 a year. But that, too, has not happened.
If we want to see laws defending the LGBT community continue to be passed, we need the votes in Washington, not just in public opinion polls.
2. Laws are reviewed by judges appointed by elected officials.
We depend on higher courts to overturn regressive state laws. The highest court is The U. S. Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U. S. Senate. The recent votes on marriage equality were 5-4. The next appointee could change that balance. Who we elect to President and the Senate will determine who the next appointee will be.
3. Public opinion can be changed by a powerful right-wing movement.
A Gallup poll posted recently showed a downward trend in those who identified as pro-choice. In 1996 56% of those polled declared themselves to be pro-choice and 33% were “pro-life.” In 2013, the polls showed 45% pro-choice and 48% “pro-life.” What changed during those seventeen years? A well-funded, virulent attack on abortion rights, including the murders of abortion providers.
The right wing has already begun an equally virulent homophobic campaign against our rights, and we cannot just sit back and ignore it. Just as the abortion rights activists continue to fight on a national and statewide level, so the LGBT community will have to continue to fight.
We need allies in Washington.
Very simply put, the LGBT communities needs to continue to elect officials to Washington who support our issues. And the representatives that are elected by the Black and Brown communities are almost always our allies, too. When poor communities of color are disenfranchised, the people who will be elected instead will be our opponents.
An injury to one is an injury to all.
I would have preferred to have this article take a different approach. I would have liked to have written that the LGBT community should support all disenfranchised groups, because we know what it is like to be disenfranchised. And in fact, many members of the LGBT community already agree. White middle class gay men and Lesbians have always been active within many progressive movements. White middle class gay men and Lesbians worked so hard for the United Farm Workers, that Cesar Chavez became our ally. He was one of the Grand Marshals of the Second March on Washington for LGBT Rights in 1987. White middle class South African gays were so involved in the movement against Apartheid, that their new constitution gave tremendous protection to LGBT people, in a country that is still generally antagonistic to our community.
But most LGBT people, like most people everywhere, are too busy with their day-to-day struggles to take the time to learn about the struggles of other peoples, or to question the lies about other communities they see in the press. So I am addressing this article to them.
Hostility between the two communities.
If we are going to discuss the need for LGBT community support for poor communities of color, we cannot ignore the historical hostility between the communities. The Black and Latino communities are heavily influenced by conservative religious denominations: Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal. Many clergy from within these denominations have made public statements attacking the LGBT communities and our rights. Thankfully, LGBT leaders have not shown this sort of opposition to the rights of the Black and Brown communities. But there certainly is racism within the LGBT community.
Fortunately, the hostility between these communities is being lessened by several forces. First, LGBT people of color are “coming out,” demonstrating that the LGBT community is not just white middle class people. Second, progressive political activists from the Black and Latino communities have become outspoken supporters of LGBT rights. And finally, a surprisingly large number of clergy, particularly Black ministers, have spoken out for LGBT rights.
Hopefully, the prejudice and distrust within our communities can be overcome. But the good news for both groups is that, regardless of how our general communities feel about each other now, our progressive elected officials are allies of both. The LGBT community needs the Black and Latino communities, and they need us.
If you doubt this fact, try this little experiment. Think of all the Black and Latino persons that you know who have expressed homophobic opinions. Ask them who they voted for for U. S. Congress and Senate. If their candidates won, look up those officials’ scorecard on LGBT rights. Chances are, they are very high.
Support the passing of a new Voting Rights Act.
Conservative states are quickly passing laws that will effectively disenfranchise poor communities of color. If these laws are allowed to stand, and therefore if large numbers of Black and Brown voters are kept from the polls, the 2014 mid-term elections could drastically change the make-up of the House and Senate. And it will not be pro-LGBT.
The LGBT community needs to push now for a strong Voting Rights Act. We need to do it for any reason that matters. Whether you are concerned in general with the disenfranchising of U.S. citizens, or just concerned about the future of LGBT rights, we need a new Voting Rights Act, and we need it now.