Though President Obama's re-election was widely celebrated in the Black community, and his victory attributed to the overwhelming support he enjoyed among Black voters, there was another victory on Nov. 6 — credited at least in part to Black voters — that has not received nearly as much attention.
Same-sex marriage was approved in ballot measures in three states, including Maryland. According to exit polls, Black voters played a significant role in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland: Twenty-nine percent of its population is African American, and 46 percent of them voted in support of same-sex marriage.
But an analysis of national data shows that despite high-profile support from African-American men like President Obama and Jay-Z, political support within the Black community for legalizing same-sex marriage is being driven largely by women. The Washington Post notes that nationally, 59 percent of Black women now support gay marriage, compared with 42 percent of Black men, which the Post terms "a huge gender gap."
While this gender gap is not limited to the black community, with predominantly White states like Maine reporting one, too, the gap is more pronounced among African Americans.
In an interview with The Root, Aisha Moodie-Mills, an adviser on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) policy and racial justice at the Center for American Progress, said that she is not surprised there exists a notable gender gap on the issue of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights in general. But Moodie-Mills insisted that the issue is far more complex than just blaming traditional homophobia.
"I think we see in African-American culture — art, pop culture [and] music — a level of misogyny and heterosexism that is embedded in culture," she said. "As a result of this hypermasculinity, there is discomfort among men with anything that does not fit strict gender-conforming lines.
Moodie-Mills explained that in her experience, many Black men are uncomfortable not only with the idea of a man identifying as gay but even with a man identifying as heterosexual but choosing to get a manicure — something that has been described as metrosexual. She compared this to the discomfort some Black men may feel with a woman they are in a relationship with earning more money than they do. "I think it's bigger than just marriage equality," she explained. "In our community we struggle with gender parity and what masculinity and femininity are supposed to look like."
She continued, "We have hip-hop perpetuating misogyny, and we have Tyler Perry perpetuating [stereotypes of blue- and white-collar] masculinity [for the] dominant head of household, and skewing how Black men and women see each other and see masculinity. Those rigid ideas of masculinity don't allow for the fluidity that is sexuality. That's how people get stuck on LGBT issues, because they think, 'That behavior doesn't fit with my idea of being a black man, so I can't get down with that.' "
Moodie-Mills posited that this could in part be a reaction to our community's complicated history, one in which many Black women have assumed the role of head of household, while Black men have found their very existence and their manhood attacked.
Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the African-American LGBT-rights group the National Black Justice Coalition, echoed this sentiment. "Historically, Black manhood and masculinity have been under attack systematically and socially. Anything that doesn't fit within that box of what it means to be a man — specifically a black man — is seen as a threat, and many Black brothers want nothing to do with it."
Moodie-Mills also suggested that something is likely at play that can't be overlooked. "Women in our community are often the nurturers."
Mental-health expert Dr. Jeffrey Gardere concurred. "My clinical opinion is that women — and in this case Black women — are more maternal [than men]," he said. "Where there may be some men who may have significant issues with the sexuality of their children, women give birth to these children. That is an unbreakable bond which leads to quicker acceptance of the child, no matter what the situation may be."
He added this: "It is my experience that Black men are becoming more progressive and accepting of their children being gay, bisexual or transgender, even if it is a major issue for them earlier on when they learn of it."
When asked for solutions on how to encourage more black men to become progressive on LGBT rights, thereby closing the gender gap, Lettman-Hicks offered, "More Black, male allies need to come out and stand up for their brothers." In other words, it's not enough for the Don Lemons and Frank Oceans of the world to come out as gay. More Jay-Zs need to "come out" as supportive of the LGBT community.
Moodie-Mills had another suggestion. Regarding misogyny within the black community, she said, "I think the faith community perpetuates it in a lot of ways." She noted that many Black churches are still "predicated on a pastor being king."
While she is not critical of the church itself, she did note that the idea of one man being dominant over a congregation or community, and the idea that men must be a certain way to be real men — including being dominant over women and dominant in the culture in general — is a notion that many Black churches continue to perpetuate. "Until we challenge this, we are going to keep seeing this gender split on LGBT issues," she said.
Lettman-Hicks noted that celebrating those who have the courage to challenge gender-based stereotypes is also key. "Black women need to laud Black men, gay and heterosexual, who turn gender binaries, stereotypes and roles on their heads. There isn't one way to be a Black man. And Black gay, bisexual and transgender men are Black, too. They are your brothers, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, co-workers and friends, and should be free to live authentically and proud of who they are."