NOM Strategy: Use Race to Divide Marriage Equality Supporters

There’s a lot of buzz about the just revealed internal memos from the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) which make plain their divisive racial strategies to oppose marriage equality. The key strategy NOM has employed is wedge politics, that is, seeking to drive a wedge between African Americans, Latinos and those in the LGBT movement.

Here is just some of what the NOM memos say about blacks:

The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party. Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the costs of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persuading the movement’s allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on this issue.

NOM’s strategy for Latinos looks like this:

Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We can interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity.

You can read all the documents here, thanks to HRC.

To say that NOM’s strategy is racist is stating the obvious. Sometimes it’s worth stating the obvious, but I want to make a slightly less obvious point, and that is that the revelations about NOM’s racial politics highlight the LGBT movement’s need for a racial justice agenda.

The truth is that African Americans and Latinos are just as likely to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, as white people. And, Zack Ford makes the excellent point that:

“NOM’s tactics seek to erase an entire population of people who live at the intersections of these experiences, limiting their ability to fulfill their complete identities.”

That’s exactly right. The NOM strategies are not only racist, but they assume that “gay” and “black” or “lesbian” and “Latina” are somehow mutually exclusive categories, that you can’t be both gay and black, or lesbian and Latina. The reality is that the LGBT movement has also ignored the “both/and” identities. How else to explain the popularity of the “Gay is the new Black” slogan popularized by during the Prop 8 campaign? We’re right to get outraged as NOM’s racial strategy to divide “gays and blacks” – but this division is one we have to take a serious look at within the LGBT movement which currently lacks a racial justice agenda.

(Creative Commons License photo credit: tantek)

What would it look like if the LGBT movement had a racial justice agenda?  Well, for starters, we’d see our struggle for equality tied to other movements for justice, not just by analogy. So, for example, there’s been a noticeable silence about Trayvon Martin on most of the mainstream gay blogs, probably because most (white) gay folks don’t see the case as “our issue.”

But, as Zach Stafford pointed out here recently, gay folk should care about Trayvon Martin because all of us who are “outsiders” – whether because of sexual orientation, gender non-conformity, or race – can be targets of violence.

When we say that “gay rights is the new civil rights movement,” we’re playing into the divisive racial politics of NOM.  We have to do better than “gay is the new black.”  We have to see that the fight for sexual equality hasn’t replaced the fight for racial equality, because that’s not over. When the LGBT movement moves beyond shallow slogans like “gay is the new black” to embrace a racial justice agenda that sees our struggle tied to others, then we’ll have truly won a victory against opponents like NOM that can only see “gays” and “blacks” as an easy place to drive a wedge.

~ This post originally appeared on HuffPo Gay Voices.


  1. I agree. I thought it was kinda shady on HRC’s part to even complain about the split between (white) gays and blacks as though HRC hasn’t played a part in that split, too. As for (white) gays and the Latin community, I do remember gay and lesbian Latino/as were none too pleased with the portrayal of Harvey Milk’s Latino boyfriend. So I suspect HRC got some bridge building to do in the Latin community, too.

    And for the love of all that’s good and holy, folks have got to stop with the “[insert new group here] is the new black.” It ain’t. Until blacks stop being “the black” it’s insulting to say the least. To Stafford’s point on Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman didn’t report a suspicious male who “looks like he’s gay.”

    The biggest issue I see is not NOM’s efforts to drive a wedge between (white) gays and blacks. After all, lots of LGBT advocates have been denouncing the black community for years. That’s nothing new. The way it looks to me, the LGBT movement has already put a wedge between themselves and the black community. They need to start sorting out those issues. If not a racial justice agenda, at the very least there should be more coordinated efforts to reach out to communities of color, something that seems to have been overlooked prior to the Prop 8 vote. To some extent, there may have to be some acceptance of the fact that the majority of blacks see homosexuality as a sin. To the LGBT movement’s benefit, the same majority also see no role for government in regulating things like that. It’s just a minority of black Christians who identify with white Evangelicals or Fundamentalists.

    There’s space for the LGBT movement to make their case if they’ll just make it. Even more space if they’ll contextualize it. I agree the first step would be to stop with the false analogies. A coinciding step would be to give up the notion that communities of color, particularly the black community, owe the gay rights movement some sort of blind support. to co-opt our Struggle then demand payment is like a double slap in the face.

    Also, PLEASE give up the whole “Loving” analogy. Same-sex marriage may be illegal, but I don’t recall any stories of white men being lynched for whistling at another man. I’m open to learning if someone wants to shoot my those links.

    @ Jessie – I’m not sure if being published in HuffPo is a big deal to you. If it is, kudos!! I feel bad, though, that you’re limited by/to “Gay Voices.” I’m not overly fond of “Black Voices” either.

    • *Just to clarify, I mean big ENOUGH deal to you. If I were published on HuffPo, I’d be cutting backflips!! But I’m just B Swan. You’re Jessie Daniels. At any rate, belated kudos. Very belated actually, huh?

  2. Joe

    My seminar is now reading Claire Kim’s book (Bitter Fruit) about the black boycott of Korean Am businesses in NYC around 1990 and just after. The Korean American leaders sometimes appropriated the language of the civil rights movement and images of Dr King and other civil rights leaders to counter the black boycott over the poor treatment of black customers at some Korean American stores. Part of the white operation of the US racist system is to encourage non-black groups to take over language of black resistance (like whites do with “reverse racism” language) to support established white-racist ways and the racial hierarchy. The Korean community could have bonded with the black community or at least listened to the black protests carefully, esp. given the Korean experience with Japanese colonialism in Korea, but instead linked up with white racial framing of blacks and with white NYC politicians against the black resistance and community control movements. Check out the Kim book.

  3. cordoba blue

    Even though I appreciate Joe’s observation about the illogic of one minority group opposing yet another oppressed minority, I just don’t think this particular aspect of racism is a conspiracy by whites. I’m sure that, at given points in history, this has certainly been the case. But hardly all the time.
    Asians have never felt comfortable with African Americans. I’ve stated this before because I work with many Asians. It’s not because they are pressured by whites to do this either. It’s the genuine way they view African Americans. To assign fault to some white conspiracy every time one race feels a bias against another just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s an “all or nothing” philosophy that doesn’t apply all over the planet.
    Once again, if every white person vanished from the planet, can we safely claim that racism would then entirely vanish also? Because by this reasoning, that appears to be the case. Is this the case? No it is not. Racism was not “invented” by white men. We can’t go back 60,000 years, when homo sapiens first appeared, and scientifically state that white people initiated racism. Animals fear other animals whose appearance differs from their own. Some of this anxiety and fear is programmed. Some of it is learned. We must un-learn it to advance as a global society.
    Certainly, logic tells us that white men (caucasians) could not have been the very first racists. Surely, fear of “the other” has been around for a very long time. I absolutely believe there is a white racial frame: a lens that taints the way caucasians, in particular, view the rest of the world. But there are other racial frames also. There are Asian racial frames, for one, that view their world through an Asian Oriental Eastern lens, both culturally and biologically.

  4. In case you don’t remember, after exit polls showed 70 percent of black voters had supported Proposition 8, prominent voices in the gay-rights community blamed black Obama voters for the referendum’s passage. At The Stranger, Dan Savage said he was “done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there … are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.” In the days preceding the vote, Andrew Sullivan talked about “[t]he rampant homophobia in urban black culture … as well as the role of the black church in fomenting and entrenching homophobia” (in fairness, Sullivan was one of the first to urge readers not to scapegoat the black community, but only after the vote). Gay-rights activists hurled racial epithets during Prop. 8 protests, and comment threads were full of racial resentment.

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