Press

False Promises: The courtship of the African-American vote

Date: 
April 04, 2006

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute publishes report exposing right wing's cynical attempt to win black votes. Study shows 'moral values' appeal based on homophobia rather than dedication to priorities of the African-American community

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"It is supremely ironic and profoundly sad that this is the party of Lincoln, a party that once sought to unify a nation. It was a party in which 'freedom' was a principle, not an empty platitude espoused purely for political gain as is done so often by present-day Republican leaders." — Matt Foreman, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

"I'd be excited to see the GOP finally making a serious push for black voters — if the party was offering fresh ideas on police profiling, housing discrimination, unemployment and other issues of importance to black folks. But the focus (isn't) on any of that. Rather, it's on the gosh-darned 'homosexual agenda.' "— African-American author Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON, April 4 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute today released a report that exposes the dishonesty of attempts by leaders of the Republican Party to lure black voters based on 'moral values,' and spotlights the false promises inherent in Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman's call for African-Americans to come "back home" to the GOP. The report, False Promises: How the Right Deploys Homophobia to Win Support from African-Americans, compares the voting records of key Republican policymakers in Congress to polling of African-Americans' top voting priorities and finds that Republican lawmakers have abysmal voting records on these issues. False Promises, authored by Task Force Policy Analyst Nicolas Ray, shows that legislators with low ratings on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality also receive low ratings from organizations that promote the rights of people of color, including the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Strange bedfellows

The report outlines the incongruity between historic Republican strategies, including Nixon's "Southern strategy," Reagan's "welfare queens" and George HW Bush's Willie Horton ads, all with disturbing racist undertones, and the Republican Party's current push for African-American voters to "come home." The study suggests that the current moral values rhetoric espoused by many in the GOP is designed in part to generate support by stoking homophobia in the African-American community.

"The right wing of the Republican Party has a long-standing record of using fear and bigotry to set Americans against each other for its own gain," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It is supremely ironic and profoundly sad that this is the party of Lincoln, a party that once sought to unify a nation. It was a party in which 'freedom' was a principle, not an empty platitude espoused purely for political gain as is done so often by present-day Republican leaders."

"This report should be a wake-up call to all black advocates for racial justice and social equality. We can ill-afford having our voices dissipated by those who would exploit our differences over issues of sexual orientation for their own sinister political gain. Now that their thinly disguised attempts to render our votes meaningless has been revealed, it is up to us rebuild our coalition for change. Poll taxes, literacy tests and lynching didn't stop us and I am confident we will prevail against this new tactic," said H. Alexander Robinson, chief executive of the National Black Justice Coalition.

According to data compiled from polls of the African-American community by the conservative Black America's Political Action Committee and the progressive Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES), top priorities for black voters include economy and jobs; health care and prescription drugs; education; and Social Security. 'Moral values' was not a significant concern of the poll respondents. Despite the Republican Party's attempt to use LGBT equality as a wedge issue, according to the JCPES poll, 47 percent of African-Americans would support some form of legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

"I'd be excited to see the GOP finally making a serious push for black voters — if the party was offering fresh ideas on police profiling, housing discrimination, unemployment and other issues of importance to black folks. But the focus (isn't) on any of that. Rather, it's on the gosh-darned 'homosexual agenda,'" said Leonard Pitts Jr., an African-American author quoted in the report.

Conservative voting record is bad for blacks

The report outlines the voting records of members of Congress who received the highest ratings from conservative political organizations such as the American Conservative Union and the Family Research Council. All but one of these 125 representatives and 34 senators (a group which includes Sens. Trent Lott and Rick Santorum, and Rep. Tom DeLay) are Republican. The most conservative members of Congress also received some of the lowest ratings from people of color rights organizations such as the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. These legislators also received low ratings from other progressive organizations concerned with LGBT equality, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Americans for Democratic Action.

In addition to these GOP legislators' sometimes disturbing affiliations with racist organizations such as the Conservative Citizens Council (Lott) and opposition to reauthorization of parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (DeLay), people of color civil rights organizations were concerned with these legislators' lack of support for established priorities of the African-American community. These legislators have consistently opposed affirmative action, raising the minimum wage, full funding for education initiatives, including No Child Left Behind, and funding for Medicaid initiatives that disproportionately affect African-Americans.

In addition, the report examines in detail the voting index scores of members of Congress from the six states with the highest proportion of African-American residents — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi and South Carolina. Republicans from these states consistently scored high on conservative measures, low on indices addressing African-American concerns and near zero on HRC's measure score of support for LGBT equality. Conversely, while some Democrats managed moderately well with conservative groups, they simultaneously scored much higher on issues of significance to African-Americans, the poor and the LGBT community.

African-American leaders: LGBT rights = Civil rights

Finally, the report points to anti-LGBT rhetoric used by religious right figures, including James Dobson, the Rev. Lou Sheldon and Bishop Henry Jackson, as a part of the attempt to bring African-American voters into the Republican Party, and spotlights just how out of step these folks are with major figures of the African-American community, including the late Coretta Scott King, Rep. John Lewis and the NAACP's Julian Bond.

Rep. John Lewis: "It is time to say forthrightly that government's exclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from civil marriage officially degrades them and their families...this discrimination is wrong."

Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP: "There are no 'special rights' in America; we are all entitled to life, liberty and happiness' pursuit. ... I see this as a civil rights issue. That means I support gay civil marriage."

Coretta Scott King: "I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King's dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."

Download False Promises: How the Right Deploys Homophobia to Win Support from African-Americans at http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/FalsePromisesReport.pdf

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.