- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

RICHMOND — Dyana Mason, the executive director of Equality Virginia, begins each summer with two road trips: one to the District for the black homosexual-pride celebration in May, and a second to its predominantly white June counterpart, Capital Pride.

Through the fall, similar celebrations will unfold in major cities across the nation, underscoring a racial rift that some say splinters homosexual America.

National homosexual groups are responding with marketing campaigns and old-fashioned schmoozing to win over minority homosexuals — who argue white activists want their votes on national issues, but rarely include poverty, racism and other minority concerns on their agendas.

“We have this rainbow of unity — ‘We’re all in it together,’” said Earl Fowlkes, president of the International Federation of Black Prides. “Truth be told, it’s not that way.”

His group represents more than 23 annual black-pride celebrations drawing thousands of black homosexuals to cities such as New York, Chicago and Atlanta. Such culture-specific celebrations are on the rise as the face of homosexual America shifts from the white-male stereotype.

Roughly 4 million homosexual adults live in the U.S., according to the Gay and Lesbian Atlas, compiled by the Urban Institute in the District. Among them are large groups of Hispanics and blacks. In Los Angeles, for example, the atlas says Hispanics lead 32 percent of all same-sex households.

Black homosexuals are primarily in the South, heading more than one-quarter of homosexual households in New Orleans and in all of Mississippi, at least statistically.

The numbers say minorities are just as prevalent as whites. So, why then do their faces number so few at national homosexual-rights events?

In 2000, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) set out to answer that question. Officials surveyed leaders in several communities of color across the country.

“Their perceptions of us were rich, white, male elitist organization with low investment in issues facing the multicultural community,” said Donna Payne, senior diversity organizer with the District-based HRC, the nation’s largest homosexual-rights advocacy organization.

Despite efforts by the HRC to reach out to minority homosexuals, frustrations linger. For one, Hispanics shrink from organizations with people who think translating documents into Spanish is enough, said Noemi Perez, a Virginia homosexual-rights advocate.

She called for more Hispanic hires from the community — not handpicked people whose main qualification is a Spanish surname.

“You can’t just transplant an individual who is Latino,” she said. “That is a big piece of the puzzle as to why it’s hard for these organizations to bring the communities to the table.”

Hispanics and blacks say they feel distanced from a national homosexual-rights agenda focused on same-sex “marriage.” Mr. Fowlkes and Miss Perez named “existence issues,” such as poverty, discrimination and job stability as primary for minority homosexuals — not wedding bells.

“If I don’t have the money I need to have food in my refrigerator or to get on a bus to get to work, the whole issue of the right to marry, that’s secondary,” Miss Perez said. “The lives of the folks on ‘Will and Grace’ are not necessarily reflective of the lives of gay Latinos.”

With anti-homosexual measures gaining ground nationwide, activists see the argument for uniting across racial lines as strong.

Last fall saw homosexual-marriage bans approved in all 11 states that held referendums, including Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas and Kentucky.

Anti-homosexual forces are seeing an increasingly ripe target in minority communities, said Rodney McKenzie, project director with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“We are seeing even more so how the other folks are using people of color’s voices and positions against the gay movement,” Mr. McKenzie said, pointing to an increase in involvement by black pastors that culminated with rallies against homosexual “marriage” in Atlanta and elsewhere around the country.

Mr. Fowlkes said the sudden, vocal campaigns have left many of the nation’s largest homosexual groups scrambling to respond and build bridges with black leaders.

With black and Hispanic populations booming across the country, Mr. Fowlkes said, such disconnects will become increasingly costly at the polls. He cited the 2004 presidential election and precincts where he thinks Republicans won by margins as slim as 200 votes.

“There’s enough black gay folk in those places to make a difference,” he said.

In Richmond, Miss Mason’s staff is taking baby steps to diversify. In April, the flagship Virginia homosexual-rights group hosted an awards dinner with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chairman Julian Bond.

Still, Miss Mason lists a concern of many white homosexual leaders: In areas where minority homosexual communities aren’t well-organized, reaching across racial lines is nearly impossible.

“We don’t have a Richmond black gay pride, for example,” she said. “We don’t have that type of opportunity for us to really find who these folks are.”

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